Campaign for Abolition (Summary)

This page provides a summary of the campaign for the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade by breaking it into seven stages or 'steps to success'. These stages are a useful tool for analysing the tactics and also the success of the campaign. Underneath each 'step to success' is information about the campaign as well as links to historical source material. This summary page can also be downloaded as a grid in PDF format.

What was the campaign about?

People in Africa were being captured and traded by Europeans and taken to the Americas to be bought by plantation owners. Evidence to support this can be found in the following historical sources:

The Royal Gazette Olaudah Equiano
The Royal Gazette Olaudah Equiano

What was the goal of the campaign?

Abolishing the slave trade prevented people from Africa being captured, sold and used as slaves by European traders and American plantation owners.

Election Handbill  
Election Handbill  

How did the campaigners become experts on the issue?

By collecting personal accounts from former slaves and former slave traders as well as gathering information about the trade itself, abolitionists were able to support their point of view.

Olaudah Equiano Mary Prince
Olaudah Equiano Mary Prince

Was there a resource pool? Who were their allies?

Josiah Wedgewood, the potter, joined the campaign and designed a medallion for Abolitionist campaigners to wear. William Cowper, the author, also wrote a poem. Both were able to raise the profile of the campaign.

Wedgwood's campaign medallion A Negro's Complaint by William Cowper
Wedgwood's campaign medallion A Negro's Complaint by William Cowper

Who were their opponents and what stood in their way?

Some individuals and groups wished for the slave trade to continue. Often, they had an economic interest in slavery - some owned plantations, others profited from the trade of goods, such as sugar, grown on them. Material published by these individuals and groups reveals an alternative point of view.

A Planter's letter An economic defence of slavery
A Planter's letter An economic defence of slavery

How did they plan for success?

The first meeting of the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade met on 22nd May 1787. The twelve members of the Committee realised that formal organisation was needed to raise the profile of the campaign. William Wilberforce, an MP, was recruited by the Committee to be the campaign's advocate in Parliament.

Abolitionist Committee Minutes  
Abolitionist Committee Minutes  

What campaign tactics and media did they use to get their message across?

Supporters of the Abolition campaign were numerous. They included politicians as well as writers and artists. This meant that the message of the campaign was communicated in a variety of different forms.

Wedgwood's campaign medallion A Negro's Complaint by William Cowper
Wedgwood's campaign medallion A Negro's Complaint by William Cowper
Brookes's diagram of a slave ship  
Brookes's diagram of a slave ship