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Conscience and politics the rise of the ‘Social Conscience’ in antislavery campaigners and nonconformists QUESTION Why were fringe Protestant groups such

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This is generally attributed to a widespread apathy of the population as a whole, with a large degree of the blame placed on the faceless, nameless many that did not care enough to take part. The benefit of this viewpoint is that no one can be held directly accountable for lapses in social conscience and there remains little chance that the issue will generate enough response to force it to be acted upon. However, to become the household word it is today, the concept of a social conscience had to have reached a critical mass at some point in history sufficient enough to initiate change. It did this with the involvement of a few radical groups of the 18th and 19th centuries who felt a need to respond to Britain’s involvement in the slave trade. Prior to this time, the idea of a social conscience had not really been discussed, after this period, it was a part of common vernacular. When it emerged, it was primarily associated with radical fringe religious groups such as the Quakers and the Methodists and other groups that had separated themselves from the Church of England. To understand why these ‘fringe’ groups felt it important to develop the concept and make it acceptable to the more general population, it is necessary to understand the depth of their devotion, for various reasons, to the eradication of slavery as it was being practiced at the time.
It is hard for those of us living in the 21st century to imagine how life was different in the colonial period, but a great deal of the power and influence that was wielded by the Quakers and other non-conformist groups grew out of the traditions of the past. “During that time, religion was a generally more important feature of the social and political landscape than it became after the first World War, and those Protestants who dissented from the Church of England constituted an important interest group.”1 These groups had their differences with each other, but they