Inevitably, this means he neglects, to some extent, the birth of the idea that slavery was wrong among people who never got involved in the formal movement: Dr Johnson's circle, for example, or the group of radicals of which the Darwins and Wedgwoods were part.The formal anti-slavery movement had to make some hard choices and prioritise its efforts. First, it had to put a stop to slavery in Britain itself and then take on the slave trade. Critics have sometimes seen the decision to defer an attack on slavery itself as evidence of bad faith and secret agendas. Hochschild demonstrates convincingly that the attack on slavery never stopped, but that the slave trade, with its mass murders for insurance, its stifling holds and wholesale corruption of African society, was the more practical target. In the event, slaves helped free themselves by rebellion and massacre in Haiti and in Jamaica, where they gave the British army enough of a bloody nose to win reluctant respect.The movement was itself a compromise.
Its leader William Wilberforce allowed himself to be a parliamentary figurehead for Quakers and political radicals with whom he agreed about little else. Without his solid Establishment credentials, the movement might not have survived the political crackdowns of the Pitt government.Pitt himself largely betrayed his early commitment to the movement as the Napoleonic wars wore on. Hochschild stresses the extent to which Thomas Clarkson, even more central than Wilberforce, was marginalised in memory for being too much the democrat firebrand.He is extraordinarily good on the way that the movement brought together people who went on to other political commitments. The reactionary Christian Wilberforce was often upset to find himself allied to women who took the lesson of the struggle against slavery to heart, and applied it to their own position. The parliamentary representatives of Caribbean plantation owners were not slow to draw the same lessons; Hochschild is excellent on their "thin end of the wedge" rhetoric.Indeed, Napoleon's betrayal of the French Revolution's commitment to emancipation was a positive advantage to a movement considered guilty by association with Jacobin ideals. The British suppression of the trade itself, in 1807, was eventually pushed through as a measure of economic warfare against a France that had renewed slavery.
However, the long-standing idealist commitment of the civil servant who suggested this move makes it a classic example of the doctrine of double effect.Britain was the European country that profited most from buying into the pre-existing internal African slave trade and from sugar and cotton: the industries slaves made possible in its colonies. But one reason why the anti-slavery movement could be so successful was that national rhetoric - "Britons never shall be slaves" - made it possible, for once, for radicals to play a patriotic card. And the mere existence of such a movement at the heart of empire gave heart to empire's victims. The most important thing that Clarkson, Wilberforce and the others created was hope.Roz Kaveney's 'From Alien to The Matrix' is published by I B Tauris this month Buy any book reviewed on this site at - postage and packing are free in the UK. ALLEN LANE £25 (380pp) £22.50 (free p&p) from 0870 079 8897 Beware of the new. "Most change, deep change, occurs slowly, experimentally, cautiously, and through deliberation," warns Miri Rubin at the end of her perceptive and illuminating portrait of Britain in the late middle ages: between 1307, when Edward II succeeded his mighty father, and 1485, when Henry Tudor defeated Richard III on the battlefield of Bosworth. She proves conclusively that there was not as much of a rift as supposed between the famous "new monarchy" of the Tudors and the notoriously turbulent centuries of the Black Death, the Hundred Years War and the Wars of the Roses.