*LONGLISTED FOR THE ORWELL PRIZE FOR POLITICAL WRITING*
‘A critical piece of history and a devastating expose’ Shashi Tharoor, author of Inglorious Empire
For two hundred years, the abolition of slavery in Britain has been a cause for self-congratulation – but no longer.
In 1807, Parliament outlawed the slave trade in the British Empire, but for the next quarter of a century, despite heroic and bloody rebellions, more than 700,000 people in the British colonies remained enslaved. And when a renewed abolitionist campaign was mounted, making slave ownership the defining political and moral issue of the day, emancipation was fiercely resisted by the powerful ‘West India Interest’. Supported by nearly every leading figure of the British establishment – including Canning, Peel and Gladstone, The Times and Spectator – the Interest ensured that slavery survived until 1833 and that when abolition came at last, compensation worth billions in today’s money was given not to the enslaved but to the slaveholders, entrenching the power of their families to shape modern Britain to this day.
Drawing on major new research, this long-overdue and ground-breaking history provides a gripping narrative account of the tumultuous and often violent battle that divided and scarred the nation during these years of upheaval. The Interest reveals the lengths to which British leaders went to defend the indefensible in the name of profit, showing that the ultimate triumph of abolition came at a bitter cost and was one of the darkest and most dramatic episodes in British history.
*A DAILY TELEGRAPH BOOK OF THE YEAR 2020*
‘Scintillating … gripping … compulsively readable’ Guardian
‘Fascinating … riveting and first-rate’ The Times
‘A thoroughly researched and potent historical account’ David Lammy MP
Michael Taylor's The Interest is an absorbing and unsparing account of a wilfully distorted episode in British history and a vital antidote to the Rees-Moggification of the national past. As readable as it is timely, the book will appeal to the academic and the lay reader alike in contributing significantly to current reappraisals of Britain's relationship with its colonial past -- Simon Skinner, Associate Professor, University of Oxford Taylor skillfully weaves careful research, astute judgements and elegant writing into a vital new interpretation of the efforts to prevent emancipation in the British Caribbean. In doing so, he shows just how the defence of slavery was pursued as a national interest before its abolition was claimed as a national achievement -- Dr Richard Huzzey, Durham University As Michael Taylor demonstrates in this highly original, passionate, deeply researched and beautifully written book, opposition to slavery abolition was rooted deeply in British culture and values, which permeated the thinking of many contemporary radicals as well as conservatives. A disturbing story but a very important one -- Boyd Hilton, Professor of Modern British History, University of Cambridge Skilfully written with a powerful and passionate narrative, this is a seminal work that carries the burden of phenomenal relevance. It shows how the enslavers' battle to protect their trophy became the most dramatic public affair in early 19th century Britain -- Sir Hilary Beckles, Chair of the Caribbean Community Reparations Committee A thoroughly researched and potent historical account, The Interest exposes the truth behind the longstanding narrative of Britain as a leading abolitionist force and makes a powerful case for reparations -- Rt Hon David Lammy MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Justice This fascinating history of Britain's approach to slavery makes short work of the argument that Britain's main role in the atrocities of the slave trade was to abolish it. In debunking this argument, Taylor writes with vivid clarity about one of history's greatest crimes, introducing us to people and places that have long since been consigned to the past and yet loom over the present. Meticulously researched and timely, The Interest is a critical piece of history and a devastating expose of a misleading colonial narrative -- Shashi Tharoor, author of Inglorious Empire One achievement of Taylor's fascinating book is that, for the first time in a book about abolition, it gives equal weight to the force of pro-slavery ... Taylor's political analysis is first-rate and riveting ... He argues that emancipation was neither inevitable nor altruistic; party politics in Westminster and rebellion from the West Indies played as much a role as moral outrage. Taylor's achievement [is to] show that, thanks to the power of the Interest, being pro-slavery was seen as a respectable, even popular, position in British politics until the day of its demise. Above all, he reminds us of the role of those who have been unsung in this story - of Mary Prince, Samuel Sharpe and Quamina -- Ben Wilson * The Times *
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