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Quotations about Liberty and Power

About this Quotation:

Thomas Clarkson is justifiably in very high spirits in 1808 with the successful passing of legislation in the British Parliament to abolish the slave trade. He and his fellow abolitionists knew that this was a first but important step towards finally abolishing slavery (which would not occur in British colonies until the 1830s). What lies behind the tone of this final passage in the book is the realisation that an injustice which had survived for millennia, and which had become the unquestioned orthodoxy of all “right thinking people”, had been overturned by a peaceful campaign of moral suasion and political campaigning, and not by violence.

Other quotes about Colonies, Slavery & Abolition:

12 March, 2007

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Thomas Clarkson on the “glorious” victory of the abolition of the slave trade in England (1808)

Read the full quote in context here.

Thomas Clarkson, in his History of the Abolition of the Slave Trade (1808), concludes with the following optimistic view of the possibilities of human reason and sympathy:

Thus ended one of the most glorious contests, after a continuance for twenty years, of any ever carried on in any age or country. A contest, not of brutal violence, but of reason. A contest between those, who felt deeply for the happiness and the honour of their fellow-creatures, and those, who, through vicious custom and the impulse of avarice, had trampled under-foot the sacred rights of their nature, and had even attempted to efface all title to the divine image from their minds.

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

Thus ended one of the most glorious contests, after a continuance for twenty years, of any ever carried on in any age or country. A contest, not of brutal violence, but of reason. A contest between those, who felt deeply for the happiness and the honour of their fellow-creatures, and those, who, through vicious custom and the impulse of avarice, had trampled under-foot the sacred rights of their nature, and had even attempted to efface all title to the divine image from their minds.

Of the immense advantages of this contest I know not how to speak. Indeed, the very agitation of the question, which it involved, has been highly important. Never was the heart of man so expanded. Never were its generous sympathies so generally and so perseveringly excited. These sympathies, thus called into existence, have been useful in the preservation of a national virtue. For any thing we know, they may have contributed greatly to form a counteracting balance against the malignant spirit, generated by our almost incessant wars during this period, so as to have preserved us from barbarism.

It has been useful also in the discrimination of moral character. In private life it has enabled us to distinguish the virtuous from the more vicious part of the community* . It has shown the general philanthropist. It has unmasked the vicious in spite of his pretension to virtue. It has afforded us the same knowledge in public life. It has separated the moral statesman from the wicked politician. It has shown us who, in the legislative and executive offices of our country are fit to save, and who to destroy, a nation.

It has furnished us also with important lessons. It has proved what a creature man is! how devoted he is to his own interest! to what a length of atrocity he can go, unless fortified by religious principle! But as if this part of the prospect would be too afflicting, it has proved to us, on the other hand, what a glorious instrument he may become in the hands of his Maker; and that a little virtue, when properly leavened, is made capable of counteracting the effects of a mass of vice!

[More works by Thomas Clarkson (1760 – 1846)]