The elimination of slavery itself, was frequently in the mind of early abolitionists, but it was not the objective of the earliest organised national movements, amongst which was The Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade that established the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade in Britain in 1787. After international trading in slavery became illegal throughout the British Empire and the United States of America on 1 January 1808, and several other countries followed suit within a decade, abolitionists turned their attention to abolishing slavery itself. Subsequently, several organisations in different countries adopted the informal title Anti-Slavery Society.
The two most prominent London-based Anti-slavery Society's to use the term 'Anti-Slavery Society' were the Society for the Mitigation and Gradual Abolition of Slavery Throughout the British Dominions and The British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society . The work of the former was completed on 1 August 1838, when slavery and its associated 'apprenticeship' or 'pre-emancipation' transitional arrangements were abolished throughout the British dominions. When this anti-slavery society closed, a second Anti-Slavery Society began. It sought worldwide emancipation, campaiging for abolition in French colonies, the United States (which was achieved in the 1860s after the American Civil War), in Zanzibar where the slave trade continued much longer, and many other countries. This society, 'The British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society' is still in existence today, though under a new name Anti-Slavery International. It is tackling modern slavery, which is a worldwide phenomenon that exists on a large scale, in many different forms, albeit no longer legal.
The Anti-Slavery Society of 1823Edit
The first British organisation to refer to itself as the Anti-Slavery Society was founded in Britain in 1823. Its official name was the Society for the Mitigation and Gradual Abolition of Slavery Throughout the British Dominions.
Its work included supporting the first account of slavery to be published by a Black woman, Mary Prince. She ran away when her master brought her to England, and Thomas Pringle, Secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society(A.S.S.), gave her employment. In 1831 Pringle arranged for her to publish her influential book, The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave (1831). The publishers were sued by the family she had escaped from, but it was much sought after, the book running into three editions in the year of its publication.
A wide range of views emerged between the three members. Broadly there were abolitionists who insisted on the full working out of the gradual process of abolition and amelioration (which had its successes); and the generally younger, more radical members, whose stern moral outlook regarded slavery as a mortal sin to be ended forthwith.
The latter group sought a public campaign, following the Chartist example of campaigning throughout the cities of Britain by Joseph Sturge and many others. The idea was to engender public pressure for a new Parliamentary Act to outlaw slavery, rather than continue the gradualism of Whitehall's negotiations, mainly with colonial governments. In 1831 George Stephen and Joseph Sturge formed a ginger group within the Anti-slavery Society, the Agency Committee, to campaign for this new Act of Parliament. This campaign, and public pressure, led to the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, though it contained compromises which they disliked.
The indentured labour schemes were particularly opposed by Sturge and the Agency Committee supporter; and the full working out of the Act would take several years, with slavery eventually being abolished throughout the British Empire on 1st August 1838. In response to the new legislation, other members of the 'Anti-Slavery Society' considered their work was over. The original purpose, as reflected in the name of the society (abolition in the British dominions), had, they thought, been achieved.
The Anti-Slavery Society of 1839Edit
The Agency Committee of the Anti-slavery Society considered there was as much reason for abolitionists to continue, as before. Moreover, that a society was now needed to tackle worldwide slavery, extending its campaigns to beyond the British Empire. The committee duly formed a new society, The British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society on 17th April 1839 whose aim was to campaign against slavery world-wide. It became widely known as the Anti-Slavery Society, as had the earlier society.
To help distinguish it as a new, worlwide, anti-slavery organisation, the society has always strictly dated its origins to 1839. Its first Secretary was Louis Chamerovzow, who organised the first World Anti-slavery Convention, in 1840. This was held in London, and attracted people from all over the world, the largest overseas contingent coming from the USA.
Today, a painting at the National Portrait Gallery in London entitled The 1840 Anti-Slavery Convention still hangs in one of the galleries. From this it is possible to identify many of the key participants, including the elderly Thomas Clarkson, the principal speaker at the opening session. The painting shows delegates such as Rev. Thomas Binney the Archbishop of Nonconformity who chaired the conference, and many other notable participants and speakers including Elizabeth Fry, Samuel Gurney, William Allen, William Knibb, Elizabeth Pease, Anne Knight, Mrs Tredgold, Joseph Sturge, Rev John Morison, Rev Frances Augusta Cox, Rev Joseph Ketley, Josiah Conder, Louis Lecesne (leader of the free coloured movement in Jamaica), and M.L'Instant (from Haiti).
This first international anti-slavery convention had been planned as an all-male meeting but its London-based organisers quickly discovered as the conference opened, that this was not the approach being taken in the USA, from where female delegates had arrived. They could not fully participate, and prominent female abolitionists such as Anne Knight were outraged. She went on to form her own society.
The second paid Secretary of the society, appointed under the honorary secretaries Joseph Cooper and Edmund Sturge, was the Rev. Aaron Buzacott (1829-81), son of a South Seas missionary also named Aaron Buzacott. With American slavey abolished, Aaron Buzacott worked closely with Joseph Cooper in researching and publishing work desigend to help abolish slavery in elsewhere, particularly in Africa.
In 1990 the society's name was changed to Anti-Slavery International.
Other anti-slavery societiesEdit
Besides the original London-based Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, and anti-slavery society's for women, others were formed in various countries, such as the USA's American Anti-Slavery Society and later, the Anti-slavery Society of Canada that was formed predominantly to assit slaves that escaped into British territory from the United States, their work being developed by Samuel Ringgold Ward.
There is also a second, contemporary Anti-Slavery Society. This is an autonomous organisation, though allied to Anti-Slavery International and 'Free the Slaves' that forms partnerships to rescue children from slavery and provide social reintegration. It is composed of two entities: the American Anti-Slavery Society (a new organisation founded in 1995 with the same name as the old American Anti-Slavery Society founded in 1833 by William Lloyd Garrison) and the Australian Anti-Slavery Society.