Thrilling account of the first grass-roots human rights campaign, which freed hundreds of thousands of slaves around the world. In 1787, twelve men gathered in a London printing shop to pursue a seemingly impossible goal: ending slavery in the largest empire on earth. Along the way, they would pioneer most of the tools citizen activists still rely on today, from wall posters and mass mailings to boycotts and lapel pins. This talented group combined a hatred of injustice with uncanny skill in promoting their cause. Within five years, more than 300,000 Britons were refusing to eat the chief slave-grown product, sugar; London’s smart set was sporting antislavery badges created by Josiah Wedgwood; and the House of Commons had passed the first law banning the slave trade. However, the House of Lords, where slavery backers were more powerful, voted down the bill. But the crusade refused to die, fuelled by remarkable figures like Olaudah Equiano, a brilliant ex-slave who enthralled audiences throughout the British Isles; John Newton, the former slave ship captain who wrote “Amazing Grace”; Granville Sharp, an eccentric musician and self-taught lawyer; and Thomas Clarkson, a fiery organizer who repeatedly crisscrossed Britain on horseback, devoting his life to the cause. He and his fellow activists brought slavery in the British Empire to an end in the 1830s, long before it died in the United States. The only survivor of the printing shop meeting half a century earlier, Clarkson lived to see the day when a slave whip and chains were formally buried in a Jamaican churchyard. Like Hochschild’s classic King Leopold’s Ghost, Bury the Chains abounds in atmosphere, high drama, and nuanced portraits of unsung heroes and colourful villains. Again Hochschild gives a little-celebrated historical watershed its due at last (Houghton Mifflin, Publisher).
Hear an NPR review of Adam Hochschild’s book Bury The Chains here (streaming audio, 5 minutes)