Historic Preservation in Ireland, Part III: National Monuments

Where any church or ecclesiastical building or structure appears to the Commissioners to be ruinous, or if a church to be wholly disused as a place of public worship, and not suitable for restoration as a place of public worship, and yet to be deserving of being maintained as a national monument by reason of its architectural character or antiquity, the Commissioners shall by order vest such church, building, or structure in the secretary of the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland, to be held by such secretary, his heirs and assigns, upon trust for the Commissions of Public Works, to be preserved as a national monument, and not to be used as a place of public worship.

Irish Church Act, Section 25.1 (1869)

Not only did the Irish Church Act of 1869 disestablish the Church of Ireland, but it also provided for the protection of the first national monuments in Ireland.  They were to be placed under the control of what is now the Office of Public Works, founded in 1831 and one of the oldest government agencies still in existence in Ireland.

The first group of monuments, those at the Rock of Cashel, were taken into state care in 1874.

rock-of-cashel-aerial-1970

Rock of Cashel, 1970 – photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Rock of Cashel, a medieval site in County Tipperary, contains several 12th and 13th century religious structures, with roots dating back much further as the traditional seat of the kings of Munster. Continue reading

Advertisements

Viewing Canada Live and Online Pt. 2 — Quebec

Viewing Canada Live and Online Pt. 2 — Quebec

A few weeks ago I began a discussion about webcams on the blog. Although certainly an older technology, webcams can provide information, insight, and opportunities to look into places that we might not be able to get to offline. I provided a number of links to webcams in the Maritime Provinces of Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. This week I’m moving west into Quebec for a glimpse at the province’s natural beauty, architecture, and history. Continue reading

Slavery and the Arts, Pt. 2

Slavery and the Arts, Pt. 2

Last week, inspired by a talk I was asked to put together for Black History Month, I wrote an introduction to looking at the history of depictions of slavery in British artwork and across a range of artistic genres. You can (re)visit my introductory post here. This week, I’d like to look at just a few examples of slavery in the arts to demonstrate some of the information that we can gather from artistic works.

I should note that my postgraduate research centred on identifying proslavery arguments, works, individuals and societies, and their efforts to combat popular abolitionism in Britain in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, up to the mid-1830s. As such, much of my work on the history of slavery in art was focussed on pro-slavery works, and the items I’ve selected here reflect this experience.

It’s important to remember that just because a piece of artwork, literature, music, or propaganda seems to state or promote one side of the slavery debates, this does not necessarily mean that the author or publisher held those beliefs. It could have been that he or she (although probably ‘he’ at this point in time) was aware of the market and what the public wanted, in order to maximise their chances of sales. In other cases the author or publisher clearly states that they are trying to contribute to the slavery debates. Finally, in some cases the author is an anti-slavery or West Indian society or representative, and so  the connection and motivation behind the work doesn’t need to be inferred.

Political Prints and Caricatures: ‘The Blind Enthusiast’, published by William Holland

blind-enthusiast

The Blind Enthusiast, pub. William Holland (1792)

The Blind Enthusiast is a very interesting piece. It is a political print, a format that was gaining popularity amongst the politically-aware and active elites in London during this period. Politicians and wealthier Londoners could collect prints: many more could view them in shop windows in London. To be a good print, the characters and scene needed to be recognisable. Wilberforce stands blindfolded in the centre of the scene, therefore his image must have been recognisable by members of the British public by the early 1790s.

The print is making a commonly-advanced anti-abolitionist argument: that the work, information, and propaganda being produced by abolitionists (here embodied by Wilberforce) is actually setting the colonies alight. The islands are labelled, just to make sure that the viewer sees that it is Britain’s West Indian colonies that are being enflamed.

At this time and across the following three decades, abolitionists would be charged again and again that by regularly challenging colonial slavery in Parliament (Wilberforce brought in bills to abolish the slave trade annually), sending missionaries to the colonies to inform and convert slaves, and spreading conflicting ‘incendiary’ information about British abolition through colonial newspapers, they were damaging master-slave relations and threatening the ‘peace’ in the islands.

Environmental Theatre: Using blackface to gain attention and support

‘The delusions practised, too, in order to work upon the people, and excite their sympathy, were of a ridiculous nature; and when his noble friend (the Lord Chancellor) stood for Yorkshire, there were persons led about in chains, with blackened faces, in order to rouse the feelings of the people.’

Alexander Baring, House of Commons, 15 April 1831

On 15 April 1831, MP Thomas Fowell Buxton brought in a motion for the abolition of slavery. The motion is introduced with a lengthy speech, typical of motions for abolition and emancipation at the time, that discusses the history of British slavery in the West Indies, what is believed to be the current state of slavery there, and the pressing demand for abolition. In the discussion that follows his motion receives substantial support and also some strong opposition. In the end, the debate is adjourned until after the forthcoming Reform debates.

I’d like to take minute here to look at one element of a sceptical MP’s argument. MP Alexander Baring presents a lengthy speech in defence of the colonies that points out holes and errors in the beliefs that underpin the stated arguments for abolition. In his speech, he intentionally downplays the importance of the ‘5,600 petitions’ by suggesting that, while they may indeed contain tens of thousands of signatures, they were all created by the same society. He then goes on to say the abolitionists have been going to towns and creating spectacles through blackface and and chains to bring awareness of colonial slavery to the wider British public.

I think such activities could be interpreted as early environmental theatre. Environmental theatre aims to remove the distinction between the audience/observer and the actors/show by typically removing the need for a stage and instead performing on the streets, in public forums and venues, with or without notice. The action takes place within the audience, and the audience may or may not know that they are viewing a planned or somewhat scripted performance. It can be used to draw attention to causes, which Baring believes to have been the intention here, and the nature of this type of theatre encourages the public to get involved, take a role, learn more, and be motivated to then do something. In Baring’s opinion, spectacles such as these may have unfairly affected both voting and the signing of petitions.

Wedgwood’s ‘Am I Not a Man and a Brother?’ blue jasperware

wedgwood

Many of us are familiar with the phrase, ‘Am I not a man and a brother?’, and the associated image of a kneeling enslaved man of African descent in chains. Josiah Wedgwood, a prominent abolitionist and the founder of the Wedgewood pottery business, worked with The Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade to place the iconic image on the famous medallions.  The resulting image was a massive seller in the 1790s and into the 1800s across a range of formats. Therefore, this was a commercially-successful image.

Wedgwood’s medallions in particular became a popular fashion accessory for women, but the image was also used on Wedgwood’s famous blue jasperware. Through the Society’s efforts and those of Wedgwood and his descendants (he died in 1795), they made this image and the plea for help with the abolitionist cause recognisable across Britain. At the same time, they also made a lot of money for their business and their cause.

This is a very specific image, however, that is being promoted and shared here for the purposes of spreading information and selling goods. It is the image of a man who is begging for help. He is unable to help himself yet he wants help, he is physically restrained by chains, and he is almost naked and therefore even more vulnerable. The Society is sharing a safe, reassuring, commercially-viable image with the British public, one that insists that enslaved Africans need help and that they are not a threat. The man in the picture is child-like, docile even, in need of paternal care. There is no sense of African agency or strength here. It was a success and has left a lasting impression.

You’ll find my list of suggested readings in the first of these two posts on slavery and the arts. If you’d like more information and many more examples of proslavery arts and culture in Britain in the 1700s and 1800s, why not check out Chapter 3 of Proslavery Britain: Fighting for Slavery in an Era of Abolition.

Sources 101: The Legacies of British Slave-ownership database

UCL’s Legacies of British Slave-ownership project holds a lot of promise for historians of British slavery and abolition. It contains vital details and evidence of slave ownership within Britain at the end of slavery in the British Empire. Several academic publications have already come out of the project detailing the extent of slaveholding and financial ramifications of the compensation granted to slaveholders as part of the abolition settlement in 1833. In the summer of 2015, the television channel BBC Two aired a two-part documentary in the UK that examined some of the project’s early findings. This brought the project (and, to some extent, Britain’s slave-owning past) into the public eye. For today’s post, I wanted to go back to the database and share some tips for getting started and making the most of this great resource.

screen-shot-2016-09-11-at-15-30-45

History:

Legacies of British Slave-ownership (LBS) was an ESRC-funded research project based at UCL that ran from 2009 to 2012. The project employed ten staff members and resulted in the creation of an online encyclopaedia of British slave owners as of 1833. On the project website it is noted that the project is not concerned with the identities of the enslaved individuals; such registers are found in the British National Archives. Some of the researchers on the Legacies of British Slave-ownership then moved on to work on the ESRC- and AHRC-funded project, Structure and Significance of British Caribbean Slave-ownership 1763-1833 (also at UCL), which looked at the histories of the slaveowners and the plantations.

What You’ll Find:

The Legacies of British Slave-ownership database is a digitised, searchable version of the Slave Compensation Commission’s records. This Commission was set up in the 1830s to settle the compensation claims of approximately 46,000 British slave holders whose private property in slaves had been taken by the British Government through abolition. These compensation records were then supplemented where possible with biographical information submitted by researchers and developed at workshops that were held across the UK over several years. I was lucky enough to attend one at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow, back in 2010. These elements have combined to turn the database into an online encyclopaedia.

The Legacies of British Slave-ownership website contains details about the research project and its staff, the searchable database with both simple and advanced search options, a form for researchers and historians to send in relevant information on slave owners that they may wish to see added to the database, a list of related publications, and a link to the project’s blog which was last updated in late 2015. Finally, it contains multiple lists of “legacies“: slaveholders who had recognised ties to British commercial, political, imperial, historical, physical, and cultural ventures. It is in these lists that we finally get a sense of the real legacies of British slaveholding.

How to Use It:

Along the right-hand side of the project’s main page contains a large blue box labelled “Search the Database”. This simple search asks you to specify whether you wish to search by an individual’s name, the name of a firm/business, an address, or for something in the notes. Alternatively, clicking on “Search the Database” in the bar along the top of the site takes you directly to the Advanced Search page. Here you’ll find a wide range of potential areas within which to search. You can search by name, sex, role in the claim, location, education, religion, birthday, wealth, residence, and claim details (such as the location of the claimant’s plantation(s)). With such a large number of inputs, I highly recommend visiting the Search Guidance Notes for more information on how to search (including the use of wildcards) and some of the results you can expect to receive from your search words.

To skip searching for individuals or keywords and go directly to the categorised legacies results, click on the category that interests you from the drop-down menu under the header, “Browse the Legacies“, that you’ll find next to “Search the Database” along the top of the page or in the orange box below the “How You Can Help” section on the front page of the project.

Research Potential:

The Legacies of British Slave-ownership database has led to several books and articles listed on their website. There are a number of areas of research that may stem from this resource. First, we are able to see and map where slaveowners lived. Some early mapping has been done for areas of London using Google Maps. Second, we can find out more about how 19th century British businesses and institutions made their money. If, like me, you are interested in understanding the West Indian interest’s fight against abolition in the 1830s, knowing the size and make up of the interest is vital. The records reveal who people were, their money and property, their location, and their connections. There is much more to do to fully utilise these records.

Reflections:

One of the great strengths of this project was that the historians working on this project set out to utilise the knowledge of researchers across Britain to supplement the material contained within the specific records that were being digitised. They travelled around the country, bringing local researchers into their circle and drawing attention to the project in its early stages. They made it easy for historians to contribute information to the encyclopaedia via their “How You Can Help” form. They gained public attention through their television appearances (for example, Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners received a BAFTA in May 2016). And they put the raw data as well as this supplementary information and specialised lists online as a free resource.

Former ties to slavery are making big news in the United States and elsewhere (for example, see the ongoing news items about Georgetown University‘s plans for reconciliation). The need for reparations from institutions and from governments is a pressing, vital issue for many people around the world. Those of us studying the lives, work, and culture of planters within Britain are well aware of the legacy of slaveholding in the buildings, industries, businesses and institutions in our areas. By sharing this information with the wider world, we are not only informing the public about the past (as the Legacies of British Slave-ownership has done), but we can encourage change in the future.

Federalism and Irish Home Rule

In the aftermath of the Brexit vote, I’ve seen the idea of federalism to be applied to the United Kingdom come up several times.  I thought it would be interesting to revisit the debate over federalism in an earlier era to see how it was addressed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  The idea of federalism is especially interesting to me in thinking about how it might work with the structure of the United Kingdom, where powers have been devolved from the center to the national assembly and parliaments of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland – rather than the separate nations/states/provinces coming together to form the central government as happened in the formation of the United States and in Canada.

By the Home Rule era, federalist ideas as applied to the Irish situation were not new: Daniel O’Connell had been tempted by the federalist plans of William Sharman Crawford in the 1840s, and Isaac Butt had originally started the Home Rule movement in the 1870s with ideas of a federal system in the United Kingdom that would help to address Irish grievances.

While not a part of the constitutional system of the United Kingdom, federalism was a frequent undercurrent in British political thought.  As Michael Burgess points out, the United Kingdom became a major “exporter” of federal systems to other places in the world, including Australia, Canada, India, Nigeria, and Malaysia, as well as federalism playing an influential role in the unification of South Africa.

Throughout the Home Rule era, federalist ideas were promoted or suggested by many politicians of different stripes, either to illustrate parallels between federalist systems and the Home Rule bills or to work as alternatives to Home Rule.  Another important element within federalist thought was imperial federation, which operated both within and outside of the Irish Home Rule context.  At one time or another, Joseph Chamberlain, W.T. Stead, Lord Acton, J.R. Seeley, J.L. Garvin of the Observer, David Lloyd George, Walter Long, L.S. Amery, and Edward Carson all espoused federalist ideas.  On the nationalist side, federalism found champions in Moreton Frewen, William O’Brian, and T.M. Healy.

Some Irish unionists viewed the Home Rule bills as introducing a federal-state dynamic into the relationship between Britain and Ireland.  Carson questioned why the bills did not adhere more closely to the American system.  In parliamentary discussions on the second Home Rule bill, Carson reasoned, “As in America, where they had a distinction between Federal matters and State matters, so under the Bill, where they had a distinction between Imperial matters and local matters, they would necessarily have disputes between the Irish Government and the Imperial Government.”  Given the inevitability of future conflict, Carson wondered why the Home Rule bill failed to set up a court system similar to that of the United States.  He hoped for a Supreme Court to settle potential disputes between the two governments.

In a later speech, Carson again emphasized the parallels with the American system of federalism.  He questioned, “The only parallel they had for the Constitution they were now setting up in Ireland was the Constitution of America.  It had been taken from the American Constitution, but why did not the Government follow the provision of the American Constitution, which set up a Federal Executive in each State?”  Carson wished for greater adherence to the American federal system, including a federated state-style government, to ensure protections of unionist interests and preservation of the Union.

On the other hand, W.E.H. Lecky argued that the federal system would not matter in the slightest if the same Irish nationalists were in charge of the Home Rule parliament.  He wrote, “It is this profound division of classes in Ireland that makes all arguments derived from the example of federal governments in Europe or America so utterly fallacious.  The first question to be asked before setting up a local legislature is ‘Who are the men who are likely to control it?’”  Lecky believed that the strong divisions in Ireland meant that unionists would not be represented in the new government no matter what system was in place.

J.A. Rentoul, MP for East Down, pointed out another inherent problem in the comparisons of federalism in the two countries.  Ultimately, the United States presented an example that was the opposite of Home Rule.  Rentoul argued,

There was no one of the United States of America that claimed to be a nation or that asked for national privileges.  Each State of the United States gave up certain powers of its own, in order that it might be met by other States giving up those same powers to what I may term a supreme legislature which governed them all…. In the United States, then, it was not the case of a number of nations being restrained from exercising their proper rights and privileges, but of States voluntarily giving up to a Constitution, which they themselves had founded, certain of their rights, in order that they might assist in exercising similar rights over other States.

As Rentoul asserted, the federal system of government in the United States was not regulating a number of separate nations devolving power from a central government, as would be the case with Ireland under the Home Rule Bill.  The United States represented the exact opposite: a number of states coming together into a voluntary union with each other when they would have otherwise been separate.  It was apparent, therefore, that unity was enshrined in the American constitution.

By the time of the third Home Rule Bill, federal options were gaining more consideration.  This was especially the case after the passage of the 1911 Parliament Act meant that it was increasingly likely that some form of Home Rule would be passed.  By the end of the Home Rule period, the most important federalist thinkers were F.S. Oliver and the Earl of Selborne.  With increased support for federalist options, unionists continued to criticize the Liberals for the system set up in the Home Rule Bill.  Many of these criticisms were based on the idea that it was the Liberal Party’s intention to eventually implement a federal system for the whole United Kingdom.

Oliver was active in this criticism.  In a series of letters to the Times, he questioned the tariff provisions within the Home Rule Bill.  He wrote,

At what stage of the proceedings, for instance, was the tariff concession wrung from a Government pledged to the maintenance of Free Trade – a concession which will inevitably entail the erection of a Customs barrier between Ireland and Great Britain?  Of all the farcical features in the Bill this perhaps is the most absurd.  For it has been the aim hitherto of every confederation in the world to get rid of hindrances and restraints upon trade between its various members.  This principle of freedom is the foundation upon which not only the unity but the prosperity of the United States is based.

Oliver argued that the United States, Canada, Australia, and South Africa had all fought and sacrificed to get rid of customs barriers.  Oliver believed that unity could not be maintained with customs barriers cutting through the heart of the United Kingdom.

The Ulster Unionist Council saw the existence of customs barriers within the Home Rule Bill as creating a farce of the idea that the Liberal government ever intended to implement a wide-reaching federal system.  In 1912, the UUC issued a resolution stating, “The hypocrisy of the pretence that the present Bill is the forerunner of a Federal Constitution for the United Kingdom is shown by the Customs barriers proposed to be set up between Great Britain and Ireland, an arrangement unknown in any existing Federal system.”  This was again an example of unionists calling for the Home Rule Bill to adhere more closely to existing federal systems such as that in the United States.

Additional Reading:

  • Duncan Bell, The Idea of a Greater Britain Empire and the Future of World Order, 1860-1900 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007).
  • Andrea Bosco, ed., The Federal Idea, Vol. I: The History of Federalism from the Enlightenment to 1945 (London: Lothian Foundation Press, 1991).
  • George Boyce and J.O. Stubbs, “F.S. Oliver, Lord Selborne, and Federalism,” Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 5, no. 1 (Oct. 1976).
  • Michael Burgess, “Federalism: A Dirty Word? Federalist Ideas and Practice in the British Political Tradition” (London: Federal Trust Working Papers, 1988).
  • A. Kennedy, “Sharman Crawford’s Federal Scheme for Ireland,” in Essays in British and Irish History in Honour of James Eadie Todd, ed. H.A. Cronne, T.W. Moody, and D.B. Quinn (London: Muller, 1949).
  • Lawrence J. McCaffrey, “Irish Federalism in the 1870s: A Study in Conservative Nationalism,” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 52, no. 6 (1962).
  • Alan J. Ward, “Frewen’s Anglo-American Campaign for Federalism, 1910-1921,” Irish Historical Studies 15, no. 59 (Mar 1967).

Using Twitter for Research

Two weeks ago I wrote about learning to use Twitter as a tool for research from my own Twitter handle, @HistoryByPaula. I began by seeking out a few slavery historians whose work I’ve read to see the types of information they share on Twitter. Then the ‘Who To Follow’ suggestions along the left-hand column of my page began suggesting other slavery historians whom I might want to follow. Slavery historians often included information about their institutions, organisations, and/or blogs in their short bio, leading me to even more Twitter accounts.

Nowadays my homepage is filled with new information and updates relating to British and American slavery, anti-slavery activities, new and forthcoming publications, conferences, and commentary on race and slavery in the news. I’ve also come across links to great resources. Here are a few that stood out me:

Slavery Footprint’s How Many Slaves Work for You?

This website, run by Made In A Free World, combines information on the frequency of slave labour use in various supply chains with your responses to their quiz to estimate how many slaves have worked for you. It then asks you to take action and provides a simple way to contact specific companies. Follow them @madeinafreewrld

Slate’s The Atlantic Slave Trade in Two Minutes

This beautifully simple map records over 20,000 journeys made by over 12.5 million Africans. It draws on the work and findings of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database. The size of the dot used to represent each voyage reflects how many enslaved persons were on the ship. The map also has a handy chart superimposed on top of it showing the numbers of slaves transported and to where they were sent. Follow them @Slate

The Slave Dwelling Project

Founded by Joseph McGill, the Slave Dwelling Project is a non-profit organisation dedicated to preserving slave dwellings in the United States. They work with communities, property owners, and government agencies to help preserve buildings and educate communities about the history of these properties. Perhaps their most innovative idea for spreading awareness are their Overnight Stays. Follow them @slavedwelling

The History of Parliament: Research

This database contains over 21,000 fully-cited articles on British MPs. For anyone who has spent hours searching through the many volumes of Thorne and Fisher to find out about the professional (and sometimes personal) history of an MP, this is a fantastic resource AND a huge time saver. The authors are currently developing additional thematic resources that build on this wealth of information. Follow them @HistParl

One of the neatest things about websites and organisations having Twitter accounts is that they then participate in a wider dialogue and encourage greater interaction with their work. As such, these web resources no longer seem to be static, unchanging sources of information, but instead become open to interpretation, collaboration, and change.

Welsh Language and Nationalism in the 1960s and 70s

When I looked at the Irish language recently, it reminded me of the research I had done on the connections between the Welsh language and the nationalist revival of the 1960s and 70s.  One story that has stood out in my memory over time was Gwynfor Evans, the first Plaid Cymru Member of Parliament, writing that when his daughter was arrested for participating in a Cymdeithas y Iaith Gymraeg (Welsh Language Society) protest, he visited her in jail and wasn’t allowed to speak in Welsh to her.  They had never spoken English to each other before, and he felt like they were completely different people than when conversing normally in Welsh.

wales_from_iss

Wales from the International Space Station – photo credit: NASA/Cmdr Hadfield (Wikimedia Commons)

More than any other historical or cultural factor of Welsh identity, Evans used language as a way to legitimize the Welsh nationalist cause.  Lacking the institutions of nationhood (that had, for example, been maintained in Scotland even after the 1707 Union) and without well-known victorious national heroes to celebrate, language was the key element for Evans’ view of Welsh nationality.  After he was sworn in at the House of Commons, Evans asked to be allowed to repeat the Oath in Welsh.  When the Speaker refused because of the precedent of only allowing English to be spoken in Parliament, Evans replied, “May I say that this Parliament is the only Parliament that Wales has, that Wales is a nation with a national language that has been spoken there for nearly 2,000 years and that the people of Wales will regard it as an affront if that language cannot be spoken now in this House at least to take the Oath?”

Plaid Cymru, the Welsh nationalist party, was primary outlet for Welsh nationalism in the twentieth century.  The party formed in 1925 with the aim of reviving Welsh language and culture.  Self-government was not part of its platform until 1931.  Primarily led by Saunders Lewis, Plaid Cymru acted as a pressure group for Welsh interests rather than as a political party.  Gwynfor Evans was elected President of the party in 1945, and held the position for the next thirty-six years.

Plaid Cymru gained a place on the national stage when Evans was elected the party’s first Member of Parliament in 1966.  The victory brought confidence to Plaid Cymru and was a major force in justifying the party’s message and policies to the electorate.  Evans served in Parliament from 1966 to 1970, and again from 1974 to 1979, when he was joined by two additional Plaid Cymru MPs.  Evans’s parliamentary career ended with the devolution referendum of 1979, which, despite increased electoral support for Plaid Cymru in the preceding years, was defeated by an enormous majority.  Evans wrote, “That day, 1st March 1979, went down as the blackest day in Welsh history.”

In his maiden speech in Parliament, Evans proclaimed, “Since Wales was incorporated in England, in 1536, it has been the policy of successive Governments, pursued fitfully, it is true, to assimilate the Welsh people and so destroy the Welsh nation.  The attitude to language is an example of this.  In the middle of the last century virtually the whole of Wales was Welsh speaking.”   He also underlined that the Welsh language was the only language that had ever been used in Wales to conduct the business of government.  “The language which was the language of laws and government in Wales, of kings and princes, scholars and artists has been made a pariah language in this country…. It is the English order which robbed them of their heritage.”

Evans essentially treated language as a historical character that had managed to survive hundreds of years of oppression by the English.  Though the Welsh language was in severe decline in usage by the 1960s and 1970s, the memory of the majority of Wales being Welsh-speaking was relatively recent and the language could be considered victorious for having survived so long.  The 1891 census revealed that 54.4 percent of the Welsh population spoke Welsh, and in 1801, it was 80 percent.  To me, it is even more remarkable that in 1801, 70% of the Welsh population were monoglots!

As he did with his characterization of the Welsh nation itself, Evans emphasized the durability and permanence of the Welsh language, which he believed would be able to endure for years to come:

If Welsh people only had freedom, they would be found to do more than justify their existence.  After all, we have been there a long time, and there is a growing movement throughout the country now, mainly among the younger generation, which is determined that this ‘ancient nation proud in arms,’ as Milton called her, will be there for a long time to come and that the language, so greatly enriched by the Romans when they lived among us – there are over 1,000 Latin words in the Welsh language from those distant days – will again be spoken through the length and breadth of our land.

Perhaps the most appealing aspect of language to Evans as a way to legitimize the cause of national freedom was that, while national heroes like Llywelyn ap Gryffudd and Owain Glyndŵr were relegated to history and could not be brought back, there was still hope that the language would be revived and would continue to play a defining role in Welsh national identity.

In his first term in Parliament, Evans received negative reactions from several of his fellow MPs.  One accused him of spouting “folklore” instead of focusing on important economic issues.  Joined by two other Plaid Cymru MPs in his second term, Evans gained greater freedom to concentrate on constituency issues.  Responses to Evans from other parties became more positive.  The one issue which consistently garnered respect from his fellow MPs was the Welsh language, with MPs referring to the language as “vital” and “beautiful.”

Within Wales itself, however, the language was controversial.  By the 1960s and 1970s, less than a quarter of the population spoke Welsh.  Gwyn A. Williams wrote that by the beginning of the 1980s, English-speaking Welsh people felt that they were increasingly being denied membership of the Welsh nation precisely by the linguistic nationalism of Plaid Cymru: “Such people constitute four-fifths of the Welsh population and over two-thirds of those who could be considered biologically Welsh.  What sort of Welsh nation or Welsh people is going to survive this?”  How could Evans reconcile the realities of the situation with his belief in the prominence of language?

Evans insisted that Welsh identity was inclusive, open to anybody regardless of descent, blood, or language.  However, Welsh-speakers were the traditional basis of support for Plaid Cymru.  By 1979, Welsh speakers were five times more likely to vote for Plaid Cymru than non-Welsh speakers.  Plaid Cymru faced the difficulty of endeavoring to be the party of Wales while being perceived to exclude four-fifths of the population.  However, if Evans had imagined Welsh nationalism as separate from the Welsh language, what would have been the fate of the language itself?

After 1979, Evans continued to be an important force for Welsh nationalism and language.  Largely due to his threatened hunger strike in 1980, Conservatives followed through with establishing a Welsh-language television channel.  Evans was the only non-Labour politician whom Alun Michaels, the initial First Secretary of the National Assembly, cited as having contributed to the establishment of devolution.  Evans imagined a Welsh identity which was an incomplete picture of the Welsh situation, but which had important lasting effects in helping to lead to devolution and in helping to protect the Welsh language.

Suggested Reading:

Evans, Gwynfor. For the Sake of Wales: The memoirs of Gwynfor Evans. Trans. Meic Stephens.  Caernarfon: Welsh Academic Press, 1996.

Evans, Gwynfor. Land of my Fathers: 2000 Years of Welsh History. Swansea: John Penry Press, 1974.

Parliamentary Debates, Fifth Series.

Balsom, Denis. “No Going Back,” in Birth of Welsh Democracy: The first term of the National Assembly for Wales. Ed. John Osmond and J. Barry Jones. Cardiff: Institute of Welsh Affairs, 2003.

Butt Philip, Alan. The Welsh Question: Nationalism in Welsh politics, 1945-1970. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1975.

Davies, John. Plaid Cymru since 1960. Aberystwyth: Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru, 1997.

McAllister, Laura. Plaid Cymru: The Emergence of a Political Party. Bridgend: Seren, 2001.

Williams, Gwyn A. When Was Wales?: A History of the Welsh. London: Black Raven, 1985.

Proslavery Britain is out now!

Proslavery Britain is out now!

I am very pleased to announce that my first book, Proslavery Britain: Fighting for Slavery in an Era of Abolition, comes out today from Palgrave Macmillan!

Dumas, Proslavery Britain

Proslavery Britain tells the story of how slavery was encouraged, defended, and repeatedly justified in the face of growing opposition in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It seeks to provide a fuller understanding of the story of the abolition and emancipation in the British Empire, a story that up until now has been largely one-sided. We know of the great work of the humanitarian abolitionists in Parliament and on the ground across the country. Proslavery Britain provides us with insight into the sometimes formidable force they were up against, right up to 1833.

A detailed examination of a wide range of sources, including parliamentary records, committee minutes, pamphlets, sermons, art, literature, drama, and poetry, placed within the wider context of national and international unrest, provides us with a greater understanding of the fights for and against abolition. It reveals the struggle to defend slave trading, slave holding, the colonists, and the colonies in the face of widespread opposition.

Here’s what early reviewers have said:

“As scholarly focus on Britain’s era of colonial slavery continues to grow, Paula Dumas has provided a valuable and wide-ranging analysis of pro-slavery advocacy in the age of abolition. This book reminds us that while the slave-owners lost the battle over abolition, they won the war over racial subordination.” -Nicholas Draper, Co-director of Structure and Signification of British Caribbean Slave-ownership 1763-1833 project, University College London, England

“Comprehensive in its range and focus, Proslavery Britain offers a fascinating insight into proslavery arguments and rhetoric during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This painstaking study promises to reshape our understanding of slavery debates in Britain, not least through its attention to things such as proslavery arts and culture. We have long needed a book of this kind and Dumas has risen to the task magnificently.” -John Oldfield, Professor of History, Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation, University of Hull, England

Order Proslavery Britain: Fighting for Slavery in an Era of Abolition from Amazon, Palgrave, or tell your local library or booksellers about Proslavery Britain today!

The Case of the Missing Proslavery, Pt. 2

Earlier I began writing down some of my thoughts on why I think historians haven’t talked much about “proslavery” in British history. If you missed my first post, please click here. I wrote that I believed there were 5 main reasons for British proslavery to be missing from our understanding of British slavery and abolition.

Here’s a quick reminder of my first four points:

  1. The first histories of British abolition were written by abolitionists and tell their story.
  2. There are many more abolitionist primary sources to study.
  3. Abolition took place decades earlier in Britain than in the US.
  4. British colonial planters had less power and influence than their American counterparts by this period.

I had decided to leave the fifth point for another day, because I think its worthy of a discussion all its own. It’s also a bit more complicated than the others to get across.

I believe that British proslavery has been pushed aside, ignored, and downplayed in the traditional story and historiography of British slavery and abolition because people don’t want to remember it.

I think it’s a morality issue. Slavery, and definitely pro-slavery, is an awful thing to remember. The moral and ethical issues surrounding the study of how groups of men could justify, support, and encourage the enslavement of other groups of men are challenging to say the least. People said despicable things about the men, women, and children who were enslaved. They insulted, degraded, and demeaned them using a wide range of means that had long-lasting consequences, not least for colonial life and race relations. And a better understanding or official acknowledgement of the mind-set and historic support of Parliament might very well be used against the British Government to justify the case for reparations.

In the later 18th and early 19th centuries, people used the Bible to explain and justify slavery and the enslavement of people of African descent. They used contemporary beliefs and the latest “scientific” studies about race and “civilization” to justify it. They could draw on past parliamentary decisions and legal rights to explain and support it. These are not things to be proud of to say the least.

If someone wants to look at this era of history from a moral perspective, or with a view of finding something to celebrate or of which to be proud, then it sure isn’t going to be how the West Indian interest and their supporters within Britain continued justifying slavery right up to 1833. It’s going to be the hard work of the abolitionists – the winning side – that gets remembered and celebrated. That’s what the statues will remind us of. That’s what the memorials will be dedicated to. That’s what the ceremonies will commemorate on the anniversaries of beating the proslavery side.

The opinions and efforts of the British West Indian interest have been discussed in some of the major 20th century studies of British abolition, but from the earliest works they were judged and placed on the losing side of a moral, humane battle for liberty and good. Therefore, proslavery people couldn’t be discussed without being placed firmly in the context of the abolitionist fight. Any attention that was paid to them focussed on their decline, their doomed position, and their inability to compete against the moral campaign for abolition.

But we know that Wilberforce and his supporters lost many bills for abolition. They faced growing, substantial opposition and had to fight to earn public support and then fight for that public support to mean something within the halls of Parliament. By downplaying or even casting aside the opposition to abolition in the story of British abolition, then not only can we not fully understand abolition, but we aren’t giving the abolitionists enough credit for what they were able to achieve in spite of a strong, powerful, knowledgeable, legally-supported opposition.

Suggested Reading:

Dumas, Paula E. Proslavery Britain: Fighting for Slavery in an Era of Abolition. Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

Klingberg, Frank J. The Anti-Slavery Movement in England: A Study in English Humanitarianism. 1926. Reprint, Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1968.

Ragatz, Lowell Joseph. The Fall of the Planter Class in the British Caribbean, 1763-1833: A Study in Social and Economic History. 1928. Reprint, New York: Octagon Books Inc., 1963.

Tise, Larry E. Proslavery: A History of the Defense of Slavery in America, 1701-1840. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1987.

The Case of the Missing Proslavery, Pt. 1

Why don’t we know more about British proslavery?

I have contemplated this question for years. Proslavery argument and rhetoric is a legitimate topic for historical study. We only need to look at the American case to see a fully developed historiography on the subject. When it comes to the absence of understanding of proslavery on the far side of the Atlantic, I don’t think there’s a simple answer, but I have five educated guesses that I’m happy to lay out here.

First, the first historical accounts of British abolition were written by the abolitionists. Thomas Clarkson’s The History, Rise, Progress and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave Trade by the British Parliament was first published in 1808 and provided a triumphant narrative of British abolitionists overcoming adversity to achieve abolition in 1807. He wrote a history of the abolitionists and portrayed it as though it were a history of abolition. This is a problem. We see the legacy of his work and this emphasis on the abolitionists last into the later decades of the 20th century.

Second, it is far easier to find primary sources created by abolitionists in their quest to end slave trading and slavery in Britain and her colonies than it is to find clear defences of slavery and slave trading. Abolitionists made mobilizing public opinion a goal and were impressive in their ability to reach groups that had not traditionally been involved in the political process, whereas West Indian organizations focussed much of their efforts on legitimising their position and defending the colonies in Parliament. As such, the amount of abolitionist propaganda dwarfs that of the anti-abolitionists.

Third, Britain abolished slavery in her Caribbean colonies in 1833, whereas it continued in parts of America for another 3 decades. From a historian’s perspective, that means an additional 30 years’ worth of sources to draw upon, a wider range of sources, and more modern, reliable sources. For example, a historian of American slavery could draw upon first-hand accounts, personal records, and interviews created in the first few decades of the twentieth century. American slavery was also far more visible to the American people, whereas by the late 1700s British courts had acted to end slavery at home, confining it to the colonies.

Fourth, for a variety of reasons American slave owners had far more political power and influence by the early 1800s than their British counterparts in the Caribbean and back in Britain. It’s not that the British West Indian interest couldn’t pull together a solid defence or that they were doomed (which is what you might think if you read some of the earlier studies on them). They won debates, defeated bills for abolition and emancipation, and earned several significant concessions in the final debates on emancipation, particularly compensation and continued labour via the apprenticeship scheme. But evidence also shows that their fortunes were waning and their positions in Parliament were increasingly under threat from the growing franchise and outpouring of public abolitionist sentiment.

I mentioned above that I have five main theories as to why we don’t know much about British proslavery. I know I’ve only listed four so far, but this post is getting far too long for my liking and my last point is worthy of its own discussion, so stay tuned for Part Two.

Want to know more? Check out my new book, Proslavery Britain: Fighting for Slavery in an Era of Abolition, coming soon from Palgrave Macmillan.

Suggested Reading:

Anstey, Roger. The Atlantic Slave Trade and British Abolition 1760–1810. London: Macmillan Press Ltd., 1975.

Draper, Nicholas. The Price of Emancipation: Slave-ownership, Compensation and British Society at the End of Slavery. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Ryden, David Beck. West Indian Slavery and British Abolition, 1783–1807. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.