Info

fault-finding, as men and women on both sides of the Atlantic looked for reasons that might explain how a civil war had emerged within the British Empire.

Religious enthusiasts seized on the opportunity. For those inclined to interpret collective misfortunes as providential, it seemed that God was punishing the British Empire for its sins. More than a few commentators pointed to the enslavement of Africans, a view particularly common in New England among the Calvinist theologians of the New Divinity who declared that patriots could only expect to escape God's judgement and achieve independence if they prohibited the slave trade to America and set the enslaved free. These views acquired importance in England too, where the deeply pious antislavery pioneer Granville Sharp explained the civil war within the empire as proofof God's displeasure with both the British nation and the American colonies. Some in Britain came to agree with Sharp during the 1780s and suggested that the loss of thirteen colonies represented divine punishment for the buying and selling of African men, women and children. Only 'Acts of Benevolence and Righteousness', Reverend Gilbert Wakefield declared in 1784, could save Britain from 'the pit of Destruction, into which we have been gradually sinking'.17

If dependence on slavery was becoming a sign of collective vice during the 1770s, an organized attack on slavery now could be interpreted as proof of collective virtue. Some American patriots described their emergent antislavery agenda as one way to sanctify the pursuit of colonial independence. The only way to restore the affections of those patriots now in rebellion and to restore the moral authority ofthe British Empire, Granville Sharp argued in response, was to align imperial practice with the laws of God, a project that might begin by abolishing the Atlantic slave trade. The British abolition movement, which commenced in 1787, would acquire much of its urgency from the desire for national redemption. And this aim to rectify a shameful record held within it the hope, among British evangelicals in particular, that through abolitionism activists might restore the image of the nation, improve the reputation of Christianity, and clear a path for its advance. British abolitionists, in particular, waxed rhapsodic when contemplating the ways in which the abolition of the slave trade would enable Christian missionaries to settle on the West African coast and teach the gospel of love, fellowship and forbearance, in the place of war and avarice. The antislavery campaigns of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries inspired the first sustained attempts to establish on the Upper Guinea Coast, in the new British province of Sierra Leone, a beachhead for the propagation of the faith.18

0 0

Post a comment