Here is a website for the film Amazing Grace, due for release soon. It centres on the life of William Wilberforce, friend of great British Prime Minister William Pitt, and the man most people will associate with the abolitionist movement. The campaign to end slavery lasted for years before eventually succeeding in the first decade of the 19th Century, although it lingered as an institution in the colonies for many years before ending in the conflagration of the US civil war. I have no idea whether this new film will be any good and what sort of “point” it will make, but if there is a point worth making on a libertarian blog like this, it is that slavery in all its forms is an abomination, a stain on humanity and should be resisted. Furthermore, man since ancient times has known that slavery is an evil but for many centuries was either resigned to the institution, or was cowed into thinking that it was part of the natural order of things. I have read comments on this blog – by an individual who thankfully no longer bothers us – that slavery was a product of its economic times and it would be quite wrong for us to “lord it over” our ancestors by condemning the practice. This is moral relativism, pure and simple.
Some people have tried to argue that the British slave trade proves the wickedness possible through capitalism, although I think it demonstrates a quite different point. Kidnapping people from their homes and then forcing them to work in conditions as appalling as a plantation has not, as far as I know, got anything to do with consensual acts of commerce as classical liberals might understand it. Quite the reverse. What slavery shows is that trade without respect for the rights of individuals is in fact a form of thuggery.
Here is an article I wrote over a year ago about a less well known opponent of slavery, Thomas Clarkson. On the 200th anniversary of Britain’s outlawing the slave trade, let’s celebrate what these men achieved.