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Title: The Scottish Enlightenment and the politics of abolition
Author: Doris, Glen Ian
ISNI:       0000 0004 2725 9629
Awarding Body: University of Aberdeen
Current Institution: University of Aberdeen
Date of Award: 2011
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This thesis examines the relationship between Scottish Enlightenment philosophy and Abolitionist activism. This work asserts that Scottish philosophers opposed legislative Abolition, and that Henry Dundas’s ‘gradual’ amendment to Wilberforce’s 1792 Slave Trade bill was partly motivated by fear of radical change. This amendment has been acknowledged by many as the reason the Slave Trade was allowed to continue, despite public disapprobation, until 1807. First, by examining the writings of those Scottish Enlightenment thinkers critical of slavery, this work demonstrates that their ideas were largely theoretical and lacked engagement with the problem of slavery in British society. Second, in examining why, when their writings against slavery have been so lauded, they made so little a direct contribution to the Abolitionist movement, this thesis explores the Scottish Enlightenment theory of spontaneous order in the generation of social institutions. Drawing upon the warnings of some of these Scottish literati, this thesis will argue that their belief in spontaneous order encouraged them to view any attempt at altering social structures (such as the Slave Trade) through legislation as dangerous innovations that should be opposed by enlightened thinkers and politicians. This thesis next examines the parliamentary debates surrounding the 1792 Abolition bill, highlighting the similarities between the Scottish Enlightenment polemic against radical change and the arguments of those opposing Wilberforce’s Slave Trade bill. MPs embraced Dundas’ gradual Abolition idea despite petitions in support of the original bill signed by their constituents, the views of whom were considered secondary to their own judgement on such matters. That the 1792 failure of Abolition was not due to a denial of the principle of ending slavery but a rejection of abrupt change demonstrates that the Scottish Enlightenment, through the agency of Dundas, encouraged delaying the abolition of the Slave Trade for fifteen years.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Enlightenment ; Abolitionists