The righteousness of the cause of the abolition of the African export of the slave trade is now so utterly self-evident that the subject is hard to see clearly. We now remember the Atlantic slave trade as an exceptional horror, standing alongside the 20th-century genocides as one of the greatest crimes in human history

Heroes and Monsters: British Abolition and the Art of CompromiseBy Alec RyrieIt may be the most decisive and complete victory in any moral argument in human history. European and North American elites had, for centuries, deliberately ignored the ethics of the Atlantic slave trade, or justified it as a regrettable necessity, or simply accepted it as a vast fact of life that could not be wished away. Suddenly, in the 1780s, a previously eccentric and extreme view—that the trade ought to be abolished—won a mass following in both Britain and the newly independent United States. In 1807 both countries legislated to abolish the trade, and over the following decades the other European imperial powers were cajoled or coerced into following suit. The righteousness of this cause is now so utterly self-evident that the subject is hard to see clearly. We now remember the Atlantic slave trade as an exceptional horror, standing alongside the 20th-century genocides as one of the greatest crimes in human history. Surely only a monster would defend, excuse, or minimize it; surely those who brought it to an end must be heroes. But while stories populated by monsters and heroes are very comforting, they are not good history. We use such stories to sing ourselves songs we already know and love, but we don’t learn anything from them, and we end up reducing people in the past to bit parts in dramas we have scripted for them. We don’t need to abandon our own hard-won moral insights to recognize that our 18th-century forebears didn’t see this issue in quite the way we do. So, what are we to make of the traditional heroes of slave-trade abolition? William Wilberforce, the English evangelical politician and bon vivant, is the best known of the so-called Clapham Sect of aristocratic evangelicals who campaigned for a series of moral reforms. Wilberforce took the demand for slave-trade abolition into Parliament in the 1780s, kept the cause stubbornly alive during the hard years of the 1790s, and finally spotted and seized the moment in 1807, when the British establishment could be persuaded to do the right thing. His moral revulsion at the slave trade was unmistakable. But this is also the man who wrote, in the very year the trade was abolished, that slavery itself ought to continue for a while yet. “Our poor degraded Negro Slaves are as yet incapable” of enjoying freedom, he reckoned: “to grant it to them immediately, would be to insure not only their masters’ ruin, but their own.” Hero—or monster? Read more >> Subscribe to our magazine, Religion & Liberty! Acton podcastsSubscribe to Acton Unwind >>What Are You Searching for, Dave?This week, we discuss the question of artificial intelligence, particularly the software behind a series of AI chatbots that have become publicly available in the past year. What are the possible uses and abuses? And what happens when they stop being polite and start acting as if they were alive? This and more.Listen now.Subscribe to Acton Line >>Connecting Cops and CommunityHorrific incidents like the deaths of George Floyd and Brianna Taylor have created rifts between communities and law enforcement. How do we bridge the divide? Enter iCI Nation, which brings communities together by uniting citizens, law enforcement, and community organizations to foster a healthy environment for community to build trust with law enforcement. We sat down this week with founder and executive director Jennifer FransonListen now.You might also like (1)MARCH 16, 2023 | 12:00 PM ET | GRAND RAPIDS, MIOne of America’s success stories is its economy. For over a century, it has been the envy of the world. The opportunity it generates has inspired millions of people to want to become American. Today, however, America’s economy is at a crossroads. Many have lost confidence in the country’s commitment to economic liberty. Across the political spectrum, many want the government to play an even greater role in the economy via protectionism, industrial policy, stakeholder capitalism, or even quasi-socialist policies. Numerous American political and business leaders are embracing these ideas, and traditional defenders of markets have struggled to respond to these challenges in fresh ways. Then there is a resurgent China bent on eclipsing the United States’s place in the world. At stake is not only the future of the world’s biggest economy, but the economic liberty that remains central to America’s identity as a nation. But managed decline and creeping statism do not have to be America’s only choices, let alone its destiny. Join us in person or online on Thursday, March 16, for a discussion and Q&A with Samuel Gregg on his new book The Next American Economy: Nation, State, and Markets in an Uncertain World (2022).  $15 General Admission | $10 Student Admission
Cost includes box lunch and beverage. A free livestream of this lecture will be available to view at 12:00 PM ET on March 16 for those who cannot attend in person.Register NowYou Can’t Erase the Past by Changing a NameBy Sarah NegriWe can’t change history or attitudes simply by changing the names of monuments and military bases. Confronting the past, and learning from it to produce a generation of new role models, is much harder, and much preferred. Read more.Follow the Acton Institute on Instagram and share.

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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