London Printed: Re-printed in Philadelphia with notes: Sold by Joseph Crukshank, 1774. First American edition. Disbound pamphlet with spine holding tight. Occasionally light foxing or toning to margins not affecting text; overall an exceptionally clean copy of an imprint from this era. Measures 101 x 152mm and collates complete: 83, [1, blank]. ESTC reports that this scarce and important work -- the first appearance in America of Methodist leader John Wesley's argument against slavery -- is held by only 8 institutions worldwide. Its last appearance at auction was over 40 years ago, in 1977.
Two years before the American Colonies would declare their independence from England, and a decade before he would officially break with the Church of England and operate independently as a Methodist, John Wesley published this searing tract against slavery. As an Englishman, Wesley was aware of the slave trade happening in the colonies; but it was his first contact with enslaved people during his travels in America and Georgia in particular that opened his eyes to slavery's horrors. It would go on to shape his approach to politics and religion, leading him to incorporate social justice as a cornerstone of Methodism. "In 1774, he wrote a tract called Thoughts on Slavery that went into four editions in two years. In it, he attached the Slave Trade and the slave trader with considerable passion, even proposing a boycott of slave-produced sugar and rum" (The Abolitionist Project). It is notable that this powerful argument made its way to the colonies so quickly after its initial publication. Released in Philadelphia in the same year as the London imprint, Thoughts Upon Slavery held up a mirror to the colonies, forcing them to confront their own systemic cruelty and face their culpability in the maintenance and spread of oppression. "Slavery was nearly extinct till the commencement of the sixteenth century, when the discovery of America and the eastern and western coasts of Africa gave revival to it...slavery has now taken deep root in our American colonies." Documenting the procurement of slaves, Wesley points to "fraud" and "force" as the key methods of seizing "men, women, and children and transporting them to America," where they are then placed into a system of "obligation of perpetual service, an obligation which only the consent of the master can dissolve...giving the master arbitrary power." Lest the Americans seek to blame the practice of slavery on the motherland that founded the practice, Wesley points to specific laws in the colonies that reinforce slavery by ingraining it into government. "In order to rivet the chains of slavery, the law of Virginia ordains 'That no slave shall be set free upon any pretence whatever except for some meritorious services, to be adjudged and allowed by the governor and council."' The remainder of the text focuses on the horrific treatment of slaves, the logical problem of capturing a free man to enslave him as well as declaring someone a slave who has been born into the system, and ultimately to slavery as a sign of a government's failure. "Government was instituted for the good of mankind...governors are not proprietors of those who are subject to their authority...On the contrary, their authority is vested in them that they may, by the just exercise of it promote the happiness of their people." An incredible, important, and progressive take on abolition, positioning enslaved people as humans and citizens wrongly divested of their liberty.
ESTC W28091. (Item #2903)