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The anti-slavery movement

Issue: how to change the law when you have no influence or power within Parliament

Pressure group politics

Definition: ‘pressure from without’

Pressure applied on Parliament from those outside

Pass new legislation OR

Abolish or amend existing laws

Pressure groups

Seek to influence Parliament and public opinion in order to

Promote a cause OR

Right a wrong

Pressure group politics based on

Issues of principle

Are above party politics or interests of specific groups

Existence of pressure groups in nineteenth century was contested – initially seen as trying to undermine authority of Parliament but

By mid-century more acceptable because increasing recognition of the limits of Parliament’s ability to represent and reflect public opinion


2 major campaigns

chronological order

Anti-slavery campaign


British women and the anti-slavery campaigns

Anti Corn Law League

Aim: repeal of the Corn Laws

Corn Laws – regulations controlling Britain’s import and export of grain by use of tariffs – originated in the Middle Ages

By 1830s Corn Laws not working – price of grain, thus bread, had rocketed – pressure on employers to increase wages to compensate - much economic distress and unemployment


1839 set up in Manchester by manufacturers and businessmen

1841 women invited to join the League – not an organisation with female auxiliaries

initially the campaign was not seen as a women’s cause by its male leaders because it was both political and economic BUT

the League adapted the concept of women’s mission to benefit their campaigns

male Leaguers argued that women’s support gave the campaign moral stature and respectability

cf. Moral/physical force arms of the League – much violence in early years, use of language of class hatred

women’s membership would remove ‘taint of party’ from League’s campaign

1842 Manchester Bazaar

1845 Great Bazaar, Covent Garden Theatre, London

1846 League disbanded because it had achieved its aim


Women’s intervention in the public sphere

Paradox of women and pressure group politics

Public role for women contrary to contemporary views of womanhood

On the other hand, belief that

Women were uniquely qualified to act as upholders of moral and spiritual values which

Justified their intervention as part of the public sphere

Paradox may be explained and justified by consideration of concept of

‘women’s mission’

1832 women specifically excluded from the adult franchise BUT

this exclusion was the basis of their moral influence

women’s awareness of a specifically feminine identity which accompanied the growing importance of domesticity and separate spheres for men and women

women’s campaigns arguable were an extension of their philanthropic, domestic and spiritual roles

religious conviction a powerful motor in encouraging women to attend public meetings, join campaigning associations, and, increasingly, to speak at meetings

women had a ‘duty’ to intervene


How far did their intervention help to foster feminism?

Very complex matter – much of rhetoric based on women’s role in the family BUT

Politicisation of domestic consumption

Questioning of male authority (particularly in anti-slavery)

Comparison between sufferings of slaves (especially female ones) and their own position under English law

Acquisition of transferable skills of organisation - fundraising, committee work, petitioning, networking