Unit 2: how did thomas clarkson protest?

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Unit 2


Thomas Clarkson spent his whole life trying to end slavery. Join him on a tour round the country and investigate the slave trade in greater detail. You will need to collect evidence and use it cleverly to persuade parliament and the general public to support your anti-slavery campaign?


Clarkson won first prize in the essay writing competition. However, during the summer of 1785 he found it very difficult to get the subject of slavery out of his mind. One day, whilst travelling to London from Cambridge, Clarkson stopped at Wadesmill in Hertfordshire and sat down and reflected on his life. He decided it was about time that someone should put an end to the horrors of the slave trade. Clarkson decided to devote the rest of his life to abolishing the slave trade.

In London, Clarkson met people who were already active in their opposition to the slave trade. A group of Quakers had already sent petitions to parliament and placed anti-slavery articles in newspapers. However, their efforts had passed almost unnoticed. Clarkson also met people such as the Reverend James Ramsay, Granville Sharp and Olaudah Equiano who were already involved in campaigning for the end of slavery. Clarkson was aware that these different groups needed to be brought together. Together with Richard Philips he decided on the tactics for a united national campaign to ban the slave trade. In May 1787 the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade was formed. Their aim was to put pressure on parliament to investigate the slave trade.

The society was able to persuade William Wilberforce, the MP for Hull, to be their spokesman in parliament. Wilberforce was wealthy, influential and an excellent public speaker. He was close friends with the Prime Minister, William Pitt. Wilberforce was able to use his contacts to try and set up a parliamentary investigation into the slave trade. Meanwhile Clarkson had three key roles to play …




Clarkson had to collect as much evidence as possible that would prove how badly slaves were treated. His research could then be used by Wilberforce in parliament to raise awareness of the horrors of the slave trade.


Clarkson had to try and find witnesses that would appear before parliament. Very few people were willing to give evidence against the slave trade as they thought it might put their own lives in danger.


Clarkson had to prepare speeches and pamphlets in order to persuade people in different parts of the country to support the campaign to abolish the slave trade.

Firstly, Clarkson had to educate people. Remember, few people in Britain knew about the horrors of the slave trade. Clarkson believed that human beings would always care about the sufferings of others. Therefore the way to persuade people to take action against slavery was to educate them, to expose the truth about the slave trade.

Secondly, he had to encourage them to form local pressure groups that would:

  • Raise money to support the cause

  • Send petitions to the government demanding them to take action against the slave trade

  • Organise boycotts of goods such as sugar that had been produced as part of the slave trade


  • Which of these roles do you think was the most important?

  • Which of these roles would be the most difficult?


Clarkson and his fellow anti-slavery campaigners faced a major challenge. For people at the time it seemed an almost impossible task. Nearly everyone in the country, from farm workers to bishops, accepted slavery as completely normal. The profits from the slave trade gave a massive boost to the economy of towns and cities throughout the country and provided jobs for tens of thousands of seamen, merchants and shipbuilders. Could a few individuals change public opinion? Could men like Thomas Clarkson make people in Britain care about the rights of other people, of a different skin colour, living thousands of miles away?

Clarkson’s travels would take him 35,000 miles around the country and make him one of the best known men in the country. He spent the summer and autumn months touring the slave ports. The rest of his time was spent in Wisbech or London writing up his findings and keeping in touch with local anti-slavery groups.

It is time for you to follow in Clarkson’s footsteps, on his first tour around the country. It is time to see if you can take on the Clarkson Challenge and organise your own anti-slavery campaign.

Can you collect evidence and use it cleverly to destroy the arguments of those people who supported the slave trade?
As this is a major challenge your task has been broken down into 4 steps.

Good luck!
Before Clarkson started his first tour of the country he already had a good understanding of the history of the slave trade.
Before you start your tour think about what you learnt from UNIT 1.

Make sure you can answer the following questions:

  • Who was involved in the slave trade?

  • Why did the slave trade grow?

  • How did the slave trade operate? Can you explain the slave triangle?

  • Who benefited from the slave trade?

  • What motivated people to take part in the slave trade?

  • Why was the slave trade so profitable?


Clarkson faced a lot of opposition. The slave traders had friends in high places. Members of the royal family and some bishops were against abolishing the slave trade. Many people were making a great deal of money from the slave trade and they did not want it to stop. This made Clarkson’s work was very dangerous. Most of his meetings with informants had to take place secretly in darkness. Slave traders and sailors often threatened Clarkson. On a visit to Liverpool he had a lucky escape from a gang of sailors paid to assassinate him.

It also made Clarkson’s work very difficult. The slave traders could spend a lot of money on their campaign to STOP the slave trade being abolished. You need to know the arguments they put forward to defend the slave trade before you begin your tour and try and find evidence to defeat them. Look at the information box and the sources below. Match each Source to an argument put forward to defend the slave trade.

  1. Most slaves were already prisoners of war. They would have been killed anyway. Most slaves were already prisoners of war. They would have been killed anyway.

  2. Slaves were not captured in a cruel way.

  3. Conditions on the slave ships were good.

  4. Slaves were well treated on the plantations.

  5. Slavery may be evil but it is a necessary evil. It produces a great deal of wealth for our society. Africa is undeveloped – no other type of trade is possible.
OURCE A: Robert Norris (1788) describing conditions on the slave ships

[The slaves] had sufficient room, sufficient air, and sufficient provisions. When upon deck, they made merry and amused themselves with dancing… In short, the voyage from Africa to the West Indies was one of the happiest periods of a Negro’s life.

SOURCE B: James Penny (1789) – a former slave ship captain
If the weather is hot, when the slaves come upon deck, there are two men attending with cloths to rub them perfectly dry, and another to give them a little cordial. They are then supplied with pipes and tobacco. They are amused with instruments of music from their own country and, when tired of music and dancing, they then go to games of chance.
SOURCE C: The following extract is taken from a manual for plantation owners.

‘How pleasing, how gratifying it is to see a swarm of healthy, active, cheerful, obedient boys and girls going to and returning from their puerile (childish and silly) work in the field.’

Now you are fully prepared it is time to begin your tour of England. Remember your task is to find evidence that will help you destroy the arguments put forward to defend the slave trade.
You could use the evidence collection table below to help you organise your research

Slave Traders’ arguments

Your counter argument

Supporting Evidence


Clarkson’s journey around the country has been broken down into 6 stops. There are 3 source cards for each of these 6 stops. See file named ‘STACS Sources for Clarkson Challenge’.
An evidence collection grid is also provided. See file named ‘Evidence Collection Template for Clarkson Challenge’.
PowerPoint 2b can be used to set up and model this task.

By the time Clarkson returned from Plymouth in 1788 he had collected a great deal of evidence. However, if you want to run a successful campaign it is no use just collecting evidence. You have to use it to win support and influence people. This is the final part of your challenge.
You need to from a campaign team. Use your research and the 3 advice sheets provided to produce:

  • A detailed PAMPHLET or LEAFLET that will inform the general public of the horrors of the slave trade

  • A powerful IMAGE that will capture the public’s attention

  • A well written and thoughtfully performed SPEECH that will persuade members of parliament to introduce a law banning the slave trade.

Why were pamphlets important at the time?

Clarkson published a number of pamphlets during the campaign to abolish the slave trade. These were very important. Remember, many people at the time knew little about Africa, how the slave trade operated and what conditions were like on the slave ships and plantations. Pamphlets were designed to inform and educate people about the true horrors of the slave trade. They would be distributed throughout the country with the aim of encouraging as many people as possible to join the anti-slavery campaign.

Important Tips

  • Your audience is the general public. You must provide people with clear, easy to understand information.

  • You need to connect with people. You need to make links between the choices people make in Britain and what is happening in Africa and the West Indies. You need to make British people understand what is behind the sugar they eat, the tobacco they smoke and the coffee they drink.

  • You need to do more that just say what the slave trade was like. You need to prove that the arguments put forward to defend the slave trade were wrong. You need to convince people that slavery must be stopped.

  • Support your arguments with specific examples and include quotes from key witnesses.

EXTRA CHALLENGE – Produce an abstract

Clarkson often produced an abstract of his essays and pamphlets. An abstract was a summary of the really key points .They often produced pocket sized and sold all over the country. Today we would call this a synopsis. Think in terms of 10 things everyone should know about the slave trade.

Important Tips
(1) Colour code what you have included in your pamphlet. Decide what is

    • Essential – This should be less than 10% of what you have written.

    • Interesting and important but not essential

    • Should definitely be left out

(2) Take the information that you have colour coded as essential and turn it into a list of 10 things that everyone should know about the slave trade.

(3) Edit what you have written. Make sure that it is no more than 200 words.

Why were images important at the time?

William Hackwood designed this famous medallion for the campaign to abolish the slave trade. It was produced by one of Britain’s leading industrialists, Josiah Wedgwood, who was a keen supporter of the campaign to end slavery. The medallion portrayed a kneeling African in chains framed with the words ‘Am I not a man and a brother? This motto became the rallying cry for the campaign. The image was distributed in thousands. Clarkson alone gave out 500 on his travels and the medallion became the movement’s most powerful symbol. It was probably the first widespread use of a logo designed for a political cause.
Clarkson’s diagram of the slave ship Brookes was also very influential (see page 00). It was one of the first widely produced political posters. 7000 copies were printed and hung on the walls of homes and pubs throughout the country. It also appeared in newspapers, magazines, books and pamphlets.
Important Tips

  • Your audience is the general public. Your image must capture peoples attention. It must also contain a clear message. It must make people stop and think.

  • Include a motto or slogan. This needs to be short (no more than 10 words) and memorable.

EXTRA CHALLENGE – Can fashion promote your cause?

The abolitionists also found that fashion promoted justice. Hackwood’s image was inlaid in gold on snuff-boxes and set into cufflinks. Women wore them in bracelets and hairpins. Think carefully about your image. Make sure your design could be used in the same way.

Why were speeches so important?

Public support for the campaign to abolish the slave trade was very important. Speeches played an important role in persuading people to join the campaign. As part of his 1787 tour around the country, Clarkson visited Manchester where he was invited to speak at the Collegiate Church. Clarkson gave specific examples from his own research into the cruel way in which slaves were treated and ended by calling on the congregation to join the cause of abolition so that ‘the stain of the blood of Africa is not upon us’. Clarkson’s speech had a significant impact. A few months later Manchester sent a petition to parliament calling for them to end the slave trade. It had been signed by more than a fifth of the town’s population.

However, if the campaign was going to be successful, members of parliament had to be persuaded to introduce a law to ban the slave trade. William Wilberforce was seriously ill in 1788 but still managed to persuade William Pitt, the Prime Minister, to raise the issue of slavery in parliament. Over the next few years the speeches of both men played an important role in persuading members of parliament to abolish the slave trade. Their only real weapon was the power of speech.
Important Tips: Preparing your speech – learn from a master!
Remember your key task is to persuade members of parliament to abolish the slave trade. You need the MPs to do more than simply listen and agree with what you are saying. You need to persuade them to take action! Before you start planning your speech, look at the techniques used by William Pitt in 1792. Read all the extracts from his speech then work your way through the tasks below.
(1) Think carefully about how you structure your speech.

(a) Study Extract 1. How does Pitt provide a powerful opening to his speech?

(b) Study Extract 4. What does Pitt say is the main argument people in Britain have for keeping the slave trade? How does Pitt destroy his opponent’s arguments?

(c) Study Extract 5. What is the main reason Pitt gives for ending the slave trade in his last paragraph?

(2) Include emotive words and phrases to make your speech more powerful.

(a) What impact does the word ‘tearing’ have on the last sentence of Extract 1. Imagine that Pitt had used the word ‘moving’ instead. Why would this be less powerful?

(b) Can you find three other examples of emotive words of phrases in Pitt’s speech? Explain the impact they would have on a person listening to the speech.
(3) Use clever techniques to persuade your audience.

Pitt uses all the techniques listed below. Can you spot them?

  • Playing on the audience’s guilt – making them feel bad about something.

  • Making key points easy to follow by using short, sharp sentences.

  • Creating thought provoking images or pictures in the audience’s mind.

  • Clusters of three – three phrases or describing words are used to emphasise a point.

  • Raising rhetorical questions – questions that don’t require an answer but make the audience think about a key issue.

  • Using words like ‘we’, ‘us’ and ‘you’ to make the audience feel involved or responsible.

  • Using repetition - saying the same word or phrase more than once for emphasis.

(4) Think carefully about how to perform your speech.

Think carefully about how you would perform this speech.

  1. Where would you add emphasis or change your tone?

  2. Where would you pause so that that a key point really sinks in?

SOURCE: William Pitt’s speech to the House of Commons, 1792

On April 2nd, Pitt stood up in the House of Commons ready to keep his promise to his close friend William Wilberforce that he would do everything in his power to abolish the slave trade. Pitt was ill and exhausted and had to take medicine before he could continue. Somehow he managed to find enough strength to deliver one of the most powerful speeches ever delivered by a Prime Minister.

Extract 1

Now, sir, I come to Africa. Why ought the slave trade to be abolished? I know of no evil that ever existed, nor can imagine any evil to exist, worse than the tearing of seventy or eighty thousand persons every year from their own land.


We ourselves tempt them to sell their fellow creatures to us. It was our arms in the river Cameroon, put into the hands of the slave trader that gave him the means to push his trade. Can we pretend that we have a right to carry away to distant regions men of whom we know nothing? Those that sell slaves to us have no right to do so.

Extract 3

But the evil does not stop here. Do you think nothing of the ruin and the miseries in which so many individuals, still remaining in Africa, are involved as a consequence of carrying off so many people? Do you think nothing of their families left behind? Of the connections broken? Of the friendships, attachments, and relationships that are burst asunder? Do you think nothing of the miseries in consequence that are felt from generation to generation?

Extract 4

I am sure the immediate abolition of the slave trade is the first, the principal, the most indispensable act of policy, of duty, and of justice that this country has to take. There are, however, arguments set up to [defend the slave trade]. The slave trade system, it is supposed, has taken such deep root in Africa that it is absurd to think of it being eradicated and the abolition of that share of trade carried on by Great Britain is likely to be of very little service. ‘We are friends,’ say they, ‘to humanity. We are second to none of you in our zeal for the good of Africa – but the French will not abolish – the Dutch will not abolish. We wait, therefore, till they join us or set us an example.’

How, sir, is this enormous evil ever to be eradicated, if every nation waits? Let me remark, too, that there is no nation in Europe that has, on the one hand, plunged so deeply into this guilt as Great Britain; or that is so likely, on the other, to be looked up to as an example.

Extract 5

The great and happy change to be expected in the state of her [Africa’s] inhabitants is, of all the various and important benefits of the abolition the most extensive and important. I shall oppose to the utmost any attempt to postpone, even for an hour, the total abolition of the slave trade; a measure which, on all the various grounds which I have stated, we are bound, by the most pressing and indispensable duty, to adopt.

Thomas Clarkson was a quiet, hardworking student from Cambridge University. Can you work out what made him so upset and angry?

Dale Banham Page 15/02/2016

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