The British and Foreign Anti-Slavery SocietyThe British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society
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After West Indian slavery was abolished in 1833, the campaign turned to the wider world and the goal of Universal Emancipation. Veteran agitators Joseph Sturge, Lord Brougham and John Scoble launched the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society at a world convention in 1840.

Throughout its long history the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society was instrumental in framing Britain's diplomatic policy of promoting anti-slavery - a policy that projected moral authority over allies and rivals, through naval power and international tribunals.

The BFASS pushed for, and prepared the 1890 Brussels conference that divided Africa between the European powers, on the grounds of fighting Arab slavers. The Society was torn between its belief in the civilizing mission of Europeans, and its brief to protect Africans. Rubber slavery in the Belgian Congo, indentured 'coolies' in the Empire, and forced labor in British Africa tested the Society's goals of civilizing the world.

This first comprehensive history of the Society draws on 120 years of anti-slavery publications, like the Anti-Slavery Reporter, to explain its unique status as the first international human rights organization; and explains the Society's surprising attitudes to the Confederate secession, the 'Coolies', and the colonization of Africa.



‘A very readable book by an accomplished author who handles narrative, argument and analysis with admirable clarity. The work of the Society and the zeitgeist which powered it is a remarkable story and Heartfield’s is a significant contribution to our understanding of an important strand of British social and intellectual history.’ — Richard Rathbone, emeritus professor and professorial research associate at SOAS, London; co-author of African History: A Very Short Introduction

‘This is an excellent book which narrates for the first time, and in fine-grain detail, the works, ideals, tensions and shifts of the Anti-Slavery Society – as the author rightly suggests, the first and longest standing “civil society organisation”. Enthusiastically recommended.’ — Robbie Shilliam, Reader in International Relations, Queen Mary University of London; author of The Black Pacific: Anticolonial Struggles and Oceanic Connections 

‘The most comprehensive history yet of an organisation that laid foundations for Britain’s philanthropic interventions overseas. Heartfield enables us to see how antislavery activists saw themselves reforming the world, while also hinting at their often unintended effects. This is a vital resource for anyone grappling with the complicated legacies of Britain’s Empire.’ — Alan Lester, Professor of Historical Geography, University of Sussex

‘Heartfield’s important and meticulously-documented account shows clearly how the intertwining of ideals and interests in the original abolitionist movement produced the convergence of liberal anti-slavery and British imperialism in the following century.’ — Nicholas Draper, University College London, author of Legacies of British Slave-ownership: Colonial Slavery and the Formation of Victorian Britain


James Heartfield

Hardback • Hurst • Oxford UP
Nov. 2016 £45.00 •$65.00
9781849046336 486pp

Talking about the history of slavery and the BFASS in Birmingham, 30 November 2017

London launch, 5 Dec 2016, at Accent;  Queen Mary U. London, seminar, 15 Jan 2017

With Richard Huzzey at the Liverpool Salon, 22 March 2017

The modern-day successor to the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society,

Can be found here

Available from Hurst Publishers in the UK

Available from Oxford University Press in the US

Available from Amazon


The British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society

Key figures in the Society


Contributors to the BFASS

The Aborigines' Protection Society

British Workers and the US Civil War

The Legacies of Slavery project at University College London

London, Sugar and Slavery at the Docklands Museum

International Museum of Slavery in Liverpool

More reviews

Mark Aldulaimi in Spiked writes, 'Heartfield shows how the Anti-Slavery Society provided the British government with a remarkable degree of moral authority to challenge other imperial powers and intervene directly in the affairs of other nation states.'

Richard Huzzey in Victorian Studies:

David Turley in the Journal of Interdisciplinary History:


Dorothy Smith in Africa Today writes that the 'book can benefit general readers interested in the study of the African slave trade, as well as researchers and students.'

Tabea Dilling writes the following review in Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Law