Twenty Reasons for Total Abstinence from Slave-Labour Produce
An undated post-1852 tract published in London by US social activist Elihu Burritt concerning reasons to support the Free Produce movement against consumption of goods produced by slave labor. Digitized by the Antislavery Literature Project.
Elihu Burritt (1810-1879) was a blacksmith, grocer, linguist, lecturer, writer, journalist, social activist, anti-war organizer, and US consul to England. Massachusetts governor Edward Everett dubbed Burritt “the learned blacksmith” – a title he disliked – and he reputedly memorized some 30 languages. Burritt originally emerged as a New England working-class wunderkind and model of tireless self-education. He became deeply involved in abolitionism, temperance, and peace activism. He joined and began working with the American Peace Society in 1843.
For a decade beginning in 1846 Burritt lived in England. In 1847, Burritt established the League of Universal Brotherhood as an international peace organization. The ‘peace conventions’ he organized in England and Europe drew large attendance and Burritt came to enjoy considerably more stature abroad than in the United States. His ideas, expressed in dozens of books and essays, have been credited as providing impetus to the development of modern international jurisprudence. Burritt was rare among social reformers of the era for achieving a sustained career on both sides of the Atlantic. He died in retirement in New Britain, Connecticut.
The journals Burritt edited or co-edited included The Literary Geminae (1839-1840), The Advocate of Peace and Universal Brotherhood (1846), Bond of Brotherhood (1846-1850), Burritt’s Citizen of the World (1855-1856), and a pacifist antislavery journal The North and South (1858-1859).
This undated brief tract was published in London sometime after 1852, based on internal evidence. The tract supports the Free Produce movement, which sought to provide antislavery consumers with goods that did not rely on slave labour (see also Elias Hicks, Observations on the Slavery of the Africans and Their Descendants and on the Use of the Produce of Their Labour). Burritt argues that all products of slave labor bear a taint of crime and guilt. For a Christian, he states, these products represent sin, so that practice must square with profession. A boycott of the products of slavery does not involve government action, but rather “It involves nothing but the free, voluntary legislation of the individual conscience upon articles of household or personal consumption.” (1) Burritt was convinced that the operation of conscience on the market would solve the issue of slavery. Were this boycott to be successful in Great Britain, he suggests, three-fourths of US slaves would lapse into unemployment and cause their owners bankruptcy. (2) He optimistically views US slavery as being in decline and the Free Produce movement as growing in its ability to provide British consumers with goods from free labour. Burritt concludes by observing that with the publication of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a book “that seems to bear the impress of a Divine mission” (4), there has been a rise in public sentiment against slavery such that will result in its quick overthrow.
For further on Burritt, see Elihu Burritt: Crusader for Brotherhood, Peter Tolis (Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1969), and The Learned Blacksmith: The Letters and Journals of Elihu Burritt, Merle Curti (New York: Wilson-Erickson, 1937).
- Joe Lockard