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Slavery and steel

Steel in the backbone, that is.

Powerline has a fascinating post on how the Royal Navy devoted much of the 19th century to ending the slave trade.

The subject was raised because PM Brown's gifts to President Obama included an ornamental desk pen holder made from the oak timbers of Victorian anti-slaver HMS Gannet. . .

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Image: Historic Warships

Powerline quotes Ted Bromund at the Heritage Foundation who explains:

HMS Gannet was not, as a casual reader might guess, employed against the trade of slaves from Africa to the New World, and since it was built in 1878, it has nothing to do with Lincoln or slavery in the United States. It sailed the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, patrolling against Islamist slavers. In the Red Sea, the Africans it saved would have come, among other places, from Kenya.

Obama has made mention of his grandfather's antipathy to Britain, stemming from his experiences in colonial Kenya. It is quite possible that grandfather's ancestors would, had it not been for the Royal Navy, have been carried away to slavery in Arabia.

The British campaign against the slave trade is instructive for another, more important, reason. By volume of business, it was the Foreign Office's most important concern for much of the 19th century. In the courts of Europe and the New World, Britain sought to negotiate effective treaties against the trade. But Britain did not restrict itself to diplomacy. Far too often, treaties were negotiated and then not enforced. Britain's first response to this was usually to negotiate again, but its patience was not infinite.

[In June 1850], British warships entered Brazilian ports to flush out vessels being fitted for the slave trade. The subsequent burning and scuttling of suspected slave ships, and exchanges with coastal batteries, resulted in a predictable outcry in Brazil, including a call for the government to consider war with Britain. Wiser counsels prevailed, and in the summer of 1850 new legislation placed a comprehensive ban on the importation of slaves and measures for the seizure of vessels fitted for the trade. Unlike previous acts, these provisions were rigorously enforced and within twelve months the Brazilian slave trade was effectively extinct.

In short, Britain's campaign against the slave trade combined diplomacy and unilateral force in a highly effective and sustained way. Diplomacy provided legitimacy, but the British were not willing to be bound by treaties that did not bind the other side: if they felt they were being made fools of, they acted. Negotiations were meant to achieve a distinct aim: they were a means of policy, not an end in itself. . .

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The file on abolishing slavery is here.

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