Attitudes to slavery

Anti-slavery campaigns

Wedgewood Medallion

The Wedgwood Medallion, seen here on the right of the page was designed by Josiah Wedgwood. It features a picture of a kneeling slave and the slogan 'Am I not a man, and a brother?'. After Wedgwood sent his medallion to Benjamin Franklin in Pennsylvania, the medallion became very popular and the design featured on many items, including ladies brooches and hair pins, plates and even on tea caddies. You can read more about the Medallion in the resource The Message: Creative Campaigning

Slavery and Politics

The issues around slavery also formed a backdrop to electoral politics of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. As slavery went on after the abolition of the slave trade, it became a hotly debated political issue with voters.


The poster to the right of this page was written before an election in 1832. William Gladstone was running as the Conservative candidate for Newark, and campaigners wrote the poster to remind people that Gladstone was not anti-slavery. William Gladstone's father was one of the largest slave owners in British West Indies at the time, and Gladstone was financially dependent on him. The poster is signed, 'The Negroes real friend'.


The poster is quite difficult to read, but you can download a transcript of it here.


The Quakers and their role in Abolition

Opponents of slavery were known as 'Abolitionists'. Some of the more vocal opponents had some religious views and were often members of Methodist or Quaker churches, which played a prominent role in the fight to abolish slavery.

The Quakers, or 'Society of Friends' as they were also known, were particularly adept at co-ordinating campaigning activity around the country. On the right of the page, this Anti-Slavery Minute of Friends (Quaker) Society, 1790 is a good example of how a national movement sought to influence events in areas such as Nottinghamshire. The Quakers were calling for people to boycott West Indian sugar and rum, which was produced using slave labour. The front page of the Address is shown here, and contains this poem:


Why did all-creating Nature
Make the Plant for which we toil?
Sighs must fan it, Tears must water,
Sweat of ours must drench the soil.
Think, ye Masters, Iron-hearted,
Lolling at your jovial Boards,
Think how many Backs have smarted,
For the sweets your Cane affords!

Discussion Points

The Wedgwood Medallion was a very popular and successful campaigning tool in the campaign against slavery. What do you think made it so successful? Think about the slogan, the power of language and also the visual impact of the piece.


Read the Anti-Gladstone election poster. What are the writers trying to say about Gladstone? What evidence do they present to prove their point? What language features can you find that make the article persuasive to the reader?


The Quakers called for people to boycott sugar and rum. Can you think of a modern-day campaign that asked people to boycott goods? What reasons were there behind the campaign?


Not everybody was opposed to the slave trade. Can you think of reasons why this might be? What reasons or motivations might people have had for wanting to keep things as they were?


Activity Ideas

There were other famous abolitionists who became part of the campaign to end slavery. Using this website or others, find out more about another campaign or campaigner.


Choose an issue that you feel strongly about, and write a persuasive piece that will argue your case. It could be a policy or law that you disagree with, or a call for people to boycott a particular product. Make sure you explain your reasons clearly and try to persuade your audience to agree with you.

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