Through the campaign against the Atlantic slave trade, some British abolitionists hoped to make the British people better Christians. That was the possibility first anticipated by Anglican evangelicals gathered at Barham Court in Teston, Kent during the 1780s and subsequently at Clapham Common south of London. These evangelicals within the Church of England - Hannah More, William Wilberforce, James Ramsay, Charles and Margaret Middleton - had grown uncomfortable with the distaste for earnest Christianity among certain elements of polite and fashionable society. Like many of their contemporaries, they had been profoundly affected by the humiliating outcome of the American War. Unlike their peers, however, they responded by looking for ways to enhance the role of religion in private and public life. For these purposes, abolitionism looked like an ideal cause. It would not alarm those usually suspicious of moral reform movements, since the crusade against the slave trade could be understood also as a campaign for liberty, a triumph of the humanitarian sensibility, and a blow against outworn tradition. These pious and well-placed men and women did think of the slave trade as a sin, and hoped for the gradual abolition of slavery. Yet what gave the antislavery movement unusual importance to them was the opportunity to bring Christianity into politics. Slave trade abolition, accomplished with overwhelming public support in 1807 but orchestrated by Clapham Sect leadership, offered concrete proof that the British people had come to embrace in form and substance a devotion to practical Christianity. The evangelicals' crusade for the reform of British manners and morals in the early nineteenth century would be indebted to the moral capital the Clapham Sect first accrued during the campaign against the slave trade.
Antislavery commitments often took shape in the context of religious fellowship. The Society of Friends provides the best and most important example. Quakers not only set a model for Christian witness by renouncing their involvement in slavery during the third quarter of the eighteenth century. They also devised the tactics that would force the imperial and colonial governments to take up the question of slavery as a matter of government policy. The rise in antislavery pamphleteering during the last quarter of the eighteenth century depended considerably on Quaker efforts. Several opponents of slavery, the Methodist leader John Wesley most famously, took their cue from the writings of Anthony Benezet and other Friends who devised in the 1760s and 1770s a detailed case against the Atlantic slave trade. The Quakers helped guide anti-slavery tracts into print, subsidizing, in many instances, their publication and distribution. Perhaps most importantly, Friends organized the first antislav-ery societies, not only in Britain but also across the new United States from
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