Caution to Great Britain and Her Colonies

Anthony BENEZET

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"THE FOREMOST ADVOCATE OF ABOLITION BEFORE THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION": EXCEEDINGLY SCARCE FIRST ENGLISH EDITION OF BENEZET'S PIONEERING WORK, A CAUTION TO GREAT BRITAIN AND HER COLONIES, 1767

BENEZET, Ant[hony]. A Caution to Great Britain and Her Colonies, In A short Representation of The Calamitous State of the Enslaved Negroes In the British Dominions. Philadelphia Printed: London Reprinted: 1767. Slim octavo, period-style blue-gray wrappers stitched; pp. (1-2), 3-46. $5500.

First English edition, issued a year after the first American edition, of Benezet's electrifying work that broke ground in recording slavery's relentless violence, "set the tone for much of the debate… during the revolutionary period" and documented England's profits from the slave trade, affirming its part in "this evil of so deep a dye."

"The campaign to abolish transatlantic slavery effectively began in Philadelphia in the 1750s, 20 years before the American Revolution, and at its epicenter was Anthony Benezet… he confronted the American Revolutionaries and made them look at the hypocrisy of their demand for their own liberty even as they denied the same freedom to their slaves… because of his influence, he deserves to be regarded as the 'father of Atlantic abolitionism'" (Crosby, Complete Antislavery Writings,1-2). "The foremost advocate of abolition before the American Revolution… Benezet laid the foundation of the first Anglo-American abolition movement" (Sinha, Slave's Cause, 20-22).

Born in France and educated in England, Benezet emigrated to Philadelphia in 1731, where he was a dedicated Quaker educator who taught free classes for Black students. "In the history of abolition, Benezet… should have a place of honor. He was not only a link between the writings of the moral philosopher, such as Montesquieu… but also one between America and Britain" (Thomas, Slave Trade, 473). This first English edition of his Caution to Great Britain and her Colonies, issued one year after the first American edition, employs "a refined and polished argument… wielded like a laser scalpel to excise the practice of slavery from the British dominions." He quotes Montesquieu, and offers blunt descriptions of the slave trade, the brutality of the Middle Passage and the torture of enslaved Africans in the southern colonies. His work brings together key excerpts of works of Enlightenment figures to "show that no man had the right to take possession of another's liberty and make a salable commodity of him" (Crosby, 86). With Caution, Benezet fundamentally "set the tone for much of the debate over slavery during the revolutionary period" (Nash, Race and Revolution, 97)

By using this pioneering work to expose the entrenched profits and practices of the slave trade, Benezet is one of the first abolitionists to cite documents, drawn from commercial sources, that affirm England's part in supplying "her American Colonies with Negro-slaves." He was "the first who embraced, as a matter of public policy, the banning of the slave trade, the gradual but rapid abolition of slavery in the colonies, monetary compensation to Negroes for the years they spent in bondage, and equality under the law for those of African descent." Caution also expresses his determination to convince England's king, "his ministers and Parliament, that they had become unwitting dupes in their empire's perpetuation of 'this evil of so deep a dye,' and that it was time for them to act by decree or legislation to put an end to it" (Crosby, 84). Arguing it is not necessary to prove intent "in order to convict a man of murder," he declares that any who "deprive another of his Liberty… by unjust force or violence," in a way that ends in death, are "actually guilty of murder." Initially issued in 1766 in Philadelphia as A Caution and Warning to Great Britain. ESTC T99557. Goldsmiths 10371. Howes B345. Sabin 4670.

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