Thomas Clarkson: Took the Long Road
Here's a piece of news that shouldn't surprise you, but, when you think about it, will: Change takes a long time. By this, of course, I don't necessarily mean technological change (those of us who remember Syquest disks can vouch for how fast those things became unnecessary). And I don't mean climate change (happening much faster than we thought). I mean social change: the kind of change that brought an end to slavery or gave women the vote or ended Jim Crow. Or, we might add, could bring an end to animal exploitation.
If there's one thing that Adam Hochschild's magnificent Bury the Chains
makes clear is that it took a really
long time to stop what most of us, I imagine, consider to be a wholly logical slam-dunk of an idea: that a human being should not own another human being.
In Britain in the early 1770s slavery was completely accepted. There were a few people, like the Quakers, who thought it should be banned; but the aristocracy and the working class, as well as (or even especially) the Anglican Church, thought it was natural that dark-skinned people should be ruled by light-skinned ones. So, when Thomas Clarkson and a few other people started riding around Britain calling for the end of the slave trade, people were at first bemused, then amused, then roused to action.
In another blog I'll talk about some of the tactics of these early abolitionists, but, suffice to say for the moment, these very few people were so successful that within a few years Britain was on the verge of abolishing the slave trade. Well, then the slavers and businessmen got their act together and began agitating back (familiar story, eh?), and the result was obfuscation and delay and prevarication. Soon enough the rebellion in America and then the French Revolution and the Napoleonic War got in the way, and it wasn't until 1807 that the trade was abolished in the British Empire. This was some thirty-five years after the initial period of agitation.
The more perspicacious of you will have noticed that it was only the slave trade
that was abolished in 1807, and not slavery itself. That had to wait another twenty-five years or so; and even then that was only in the British Empire. It took another thirty years after that for the U.S. to do the decent thing, and even longer in some other countries. Even now, slavery is not dead
: people are held in bonded labor throughout the world and girls are sold by their families into the sexual slavery. It may not be sanctioned by the world, but it goes on.
So, when we activists for the liberation of other animals reflect on how long it took to free the slaves we should take comfort amid the despair. It is never easy to change something when someone can make a buck at someone else's expense. In future blogs we'll look at some of the ways those who brought about a bit of change, did it; but for now, remember! Change takes a long time.