Some books are just worth reading twice. And Bury the Chains, which I wrote about previously in connection with the film about Wilberforce called “Amazing Grace,” is one of them.

A second reading found me focussing more on Adam Hochschild’s framing the British anti-slavery movement as the first modern social movement with its use of petitions, public meetings, boycotts (sugar), propaganda, organising (with particular reference to the ability of the Quakers here) and, of course, lobbying and legislation in Parliament, than the rest of the narrative.

There’s much here for the animal advocate to learn from while understanding that parallels with social movements only go so far but are enlightening nonetheless. For example, Hochschild considers what was in the minds of the founders of a meeting held in London in 1787 for the “Purpose of taking the Slave Trade into Consideration” that resolved it was “both impolitick and unjust”

We can only imagine how the committee members felt as they dispersed to their homes that night. The task they had taken on was so monumental as to have seemed to anyone else impossible. They had to ignite their crusade in a country where the great majority of people, from farmhands to bishops, accepted slavery as completely normal. It was also a country where profits from West Indian plantations gave a large boost to the economy, where customs duties on slave-grown sugar were an important source of government revenue, and where the livelihoods of tens of thousands of seamen, merchants, and ship-builders depended on the slave trade. The trade itself had increased to almost unparalleled levels, bringing posterity to key ports, including London itself. How event to begin the massive job of changing public opinion? Furthermore, nineteen out of twenty Englishmen, and all Englishwomen, were not even allowed to vote. Without this most basic of rights themselves, could they be roused to care about the rights of other people, of a different skin color, an ocean away?

In all of human experience, there was no precedent for such a campaign.

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