Papers of Thomas Clarkson

Scope and Content

Papers relating to the abolition of the slave trade and slavery; papers relating to the Republic of Haiti and the Kingdom of Haiti; papers relating to Clarkson Family, including Catherine Clarkson, and friends; and miscellaneous papers including those relating to recent research into Clarkson's work.

Administrative / Biographical History

Philanthropist. Entered St John's 1780. B.A. 1783. Clarkson won the members prize for Latin essay in 1785, the subject being a question 'anne liceat invitos in servitutem dare?' ('is it lawful to make slaves of others against their will?') This contest determined the course of the rest of his life. The essay was read in the Senate House to much applause in June 1785, and published by James Phillips in June 1786. He met William Wilberforce in 1786 and co-founded a committee for the suppression of the slave trade in 1787. Clarkson travelled to France in 1789 in an attempt to persuade the French Government to abolish the slave trade and continued to travel widely in Britain in support of the cause until forced by ill health to retire from his work in 1794. Returning to the struggle in 1805 with much success, he was finally rewarded by the passing of the bill abolishing the slave trade in 1807. With the bill Clarkson was celebrated as a national figure and a model of philanthropy. With Wilberforce he was made a vice-president of the Anti-slavery Society, formed in 1823, and in 1839 was admitted to the freedom of the City of London in recognition of his work. His final appearance on a public platform was at an Anti-slavery Convention held at the Freemason's Hall in 1840. Clarkson published a number of books and pamphlets regarding the abolition movement, including the comprehensive 'History of the Rise, Progress and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave Trade' in 1808, an important record of the movement, and 'Thoughts on the Necessity for improving the Condition of the Slaves in the British Colonies, with a view to their ultimate emancipation' in 1823. Wordsworth addressed to him a sonnet 'on the final passing of the Bill for the Abolition of the Slave Trade' in March 1807 which began 'Clarkson, it was an obstinate hill to climb.'

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