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Westminster Hall Exhibition

Documents on this site and much more featured in an exhibition at Westminster Hall that is now closed.

About the Archives

Behind the scenes look at the Parliamentary Archives.

Parliamentary Archives

History

Our History pages tell the story of Parliament's role in the abolition of the slave trade in 1807.

They also explore Parliamentary involvement in the wider story of the slave trade and slavery. We might today think of Parliament as an abolitionist legislature, but throughout the 17th and 18th centuries it was instrumental in shaping the progress and development of the transatlantic slave system. These histories give context to the archive.

The Wider World

What attracted English traders to Africa and the Americas and what risks did they take? How was Parliament involved?

Detail of a historical map.

Parliament and the Economy

Goods linked to slave trading became staples of British life from the 1600s. Parliament was under pressure to support this trade.

Detail of a satirical political cartoon.

The Africa Trade

Africa became a lucrative source of income for Europeans as Parliament passed Acts to encourage and regulate the slave trade.

Extract of a printed document.

The Westminster Village

Westminster was a hive of activity, bringing together key players in the story of the abolition of the slave trade.

Detail of drawing of a man's face.

The Beginnings of Abolition

The abolition movement in England began in earnest in the 1780s, but faced a protracted and difficult struggle.

Close-up photo of wooden chest with several lidded compartments, some of which are open showing glimpses of seeds, pebbles and other natural materials.

Petitioning Parliament

Varied interest groups and petitioning movements gathered momentum, both for and against the trade.

Extract from petition showing several signatures.

Enquiry

The collection of evidence by Parliament and the state was central to the development of arguments in favour of abolition.

Illustration of human figures lying cheek to jowl on a slave ship.

Parliament and the Slave Trade 1792-1805

Why wasn't the slave trade abolished before 1807?

Detail of a certificate.

Parliament Abolishes the Slave Trade

Key events of 1806 and 1807 as the Abolition Bill was debated and finally passed by Parliament.

An extract from a handwritten document.