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The British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, 1838–1956A History$
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James Heartfield

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780190491673

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190491673.001.0001

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Slave Trade Diplomacy

Slave Trade Diplomacy

(p.71) 4 Slave Trade Diplomacy
The British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, 1838–1956

James Heartfield

Oxford University Press

The British government drew extensively on the anti-slavery society in making foreign policy. Anti-slavery was made a central plank of diplomatic efforts and Britain put anti-slavery clauses into international treaties. A “West Africa Squadron” of naval cruisers policed the Atlantic Ocean to enforce the treaties. Special “mixed commission” courts were set up with other powers, like Spain, Portugal, the United States and France, to try ships’ officers captured. British government reports from the squadron and the courts were publicized by the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, and a special anti-slavery section created within the Foreign Office. It is surprising, then, that the Society was on record as opposing what it called the “cruiser system” of military enforcement. With hindsight it is easy to see that the differences between the Society’s moral force and the government’s physical force against slavery were more like a division of labor than principle, and later, when the Society turned its attention to the Arab slave trade, they were forgotten.

Keywords:   Diplomacy, Navy, West Africa Squadron, Treaty, Abolition, Slavery

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