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Fall 2007, 37:4, pages 481-507

Adam Smith's Moral Economy and the Debate to Abolish the Slave Trade

Adam Smith's contribution to antislavery rhetoric has been well-documented by scholars. However, few have thought to examine his impact on the writing of slavery advocates. In the late eighteenth-century debate to abolish the slave trade in Great Britain, abolitionists appropriated Smith's rhetoric to create a "moral economy" that could not tolerate the practice of slaving. Proslavery writers, perceiving the sincere threat to their livelihood, also manipulated Smith's rhetoric and the concept of "moral economy" to formulate arguments in defense of the slave trade. This article complements and expands analyses of Smith's rhetorical and economic theories as well as the rhetoric of the first abolitionist campaign in order to open avenues of inquiry that examine both sides of the debate.


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