Essay on the Impolicy of the African Slave Trade

SLAVE TRADE   |   Thomas CLARKSON

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"THE HEART AND SOUL OF THE CAMPAIGN FOR ABOLITION": FIRST EDITION OF CLARKSON'S ESSAY ON THE IMPOLICY OF THE AFRICAN SLAVE TRADE, 1788, AN UNPARALLELED ESSAY IN THE ABOLITIONIST STRUGGLE, RARE UNCUT IN ORIGINAL BOARDS AND WITH A FINE ASSOCIATION

(SLAVE TRADE) CLARKSON, Thomas. An Essay on the Impolicy of the African Slave Trade. In Two Parts. London: Printed and Sold by J. Phillips, 1788. Octavo, original blue-gray paper boards, partial printed paper spine label, uncut; pp. (2), iv, 3-134 (2). Housed in a custom clamshell box. $6800.

First edition of one of the first works by British abolitionist Thomas Clarkson, whose groundbreaking research into the slave trade proved a turning point in the anti-slavery struggle. This copy possesses a distinctive contemporary provenance in containing the owner signature on the title page attributed to English abolitionist and parliamentary leader Thomas Whitmore, who was seen by Wilberforce as a successor and was Vice-President of the Anti-Slavery Society. A rare uncut copy in original boards.

With the end of the American Revolution, "British slave traffic, dominating the business, surged towards new heights" (Bury the Chains, 95). Though many at the time considered slavery "a necessary part of the social economy," Thomas Clarkson, newly graduated from Cambridge, won a major prize for his essay against slavery in 1785, and soon became "the heart and soul of the campaign for abolition" (Thomas, 495). Clarkson soon published an expanded version of that essay and intensified his research into the slave trade's business practices, even managing to board a slave vessel: "the first time on record that anyone not in the trade took measurements on a slave ship" (Bury the Chains, 114). After two years he published this, only his second major work against slavery and one that appeared the same year Clarkson met abolitionist William Wilberforce, to whom this is dedicated. Clarkson's Essay begins with his intent to refute claims of slavery's economic worth: proving "it as impolitick, as I have proved it to be inhuman and unjust." With this work and the publication of his 1808 History, with its famous engraving of the slave ship Brookes, it became "impossible to overrate the effect of Clarkson's unceasing perseverance in the cause" (DNB). Clarkson's landmark research into the slave trade lay behind the 12 propositions which Wilberforce put to parliament in his first great abolitionist speech of May 1789 (ODNB).

"It was largely due to Clarkson's exertion that long before his death slaveholding had come to be regarded as a crime" (Blockson 17). First English edition, issued same year as the first American edition, no priority established. With rear advertisement leaf; mispaginated as issued without a leaf numbered "1" and "2": no loss of text. ESTC T109751. Goldsmiths' I:13688. Kress B1380. See Evans 21789; Sabin13480. Contemporary owner signature on the title page of T. H. Whitmore, reportedly that of a leading figure in Parliament who was "a staunch friend of the abolition of the slave trade" (History of Parliament). Thomas Whitmore was "vice-president of the Anti-Slavery Society, and it appears that Wilberforce had once hesitated between Whitmore and Thomas Buxton in the selection of his successor" (Williams, Economic Aspects of the Abolition of the West Indian Slave Trade, 176-77). In the 1830s Whitmore and Buxton were involved in debates over a "fear that sugar would produce a system of slavery in the East as disgraceful as it had in the West" (Williams in Political Science Quarterly LVIII:76).

Interior fresh with only tiny bit of marginal spotting to one leaf not affecting text, mild soiling, faint dampstaining to rear board. A near-fine uncut copy with an important contemporary provenance, rare in original boards.

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