Gladstone and the Suppression of the Slave Trade
On 19 March 1850, looking back at his parliamentary speech on the slave trade earlier that day, William Gladstone remarked in his diary that he ‘was much amused with the liberality of the compliments from the radicals who with the Tories were (as it happened) the main supporters, being less under the whip’.1 Although he did not know it, this unlikely support from laissez-faire free traders would become a much more significant partnership in the decades ahead. The diary entry captures the young Gladstone at mid-century, unaccustomed to alliance with radical MPs and at a crossroads. The controversy he spoke about – the question of naval suppression of the slave trade – reveals the peculiar ways in which this issue cut across already fragmented party lines. Gladstone’s opinion was typically complex and, on this occasion, cut across the factional positions. This strange clash over the slave trade warrants further attention, both to understand Victorian attitudes to slavery and to understand the evolution of Gladstone’s views on that subject.