Today's Articles

People, Locations, Episodes

Mon, 06.18.1804

George Thompson, Orator, and Abolitionist born

George Thompson

*George Thompson was born on this date in 1804.  He was a white-British anti-slavery orator and abolitionist.

George Donisthorpe Thompson was from Liverpool, England, and had little formal education; he was largely self-taught. In early adulthood, he began a life of professional activism, starting with his role in founding a mutual improvement society at eighteen and his membership in debate societies. This suggests an early interest in self-betterment and the issues of the day. His father worked aboard a slave trading vessel, and his stories of the horrors of the slave trade planted the issue in the younger Thompson's mind from an early age. He recalled the stories his father told in some of his later writings, recounting his father's observations of the inhumane treatment of African slaves.

Initially, Thompson had little knowledge of slavery, though he had gained a reputation as an able orator. The society hired him to try to get slavery immediately abolished on moral and religious grounds, a concept called "immediatism." He quickly took up the dissemination of the Society's creed: "To uphold slavery is a crime before God, and the condition must, therefore, be immediately abolished." On January 29, 1831, in Islington, Thompson married Anne Erskine Lorraine Spry. Thompson had several children who survived to adulthood: Louisa Eliza Spry, Amelia Ann Everard, George Herbert, and Edith. Another son, named after William, died aged 15. A daughter, Elizabeth Pease, died aged 6.  

In 1832 he traveled to Scotland, where he met William Lloyd Garrison, who would remain a lifelong friend and colleague, and Nathaniel Paul, a Black abolitionist. In Glasgow in 1833, he debated with Peter Borthwick, who the West India Association had appointed to defend slavery.  Garrison invited Thompson to visit New England, and this proposal was not only accepted by his supporters in Glasgow, but the Edinburgh Emancipation Society was formed so that it too could back Thompson's journey.  From 1836 to 1847, he was active in every major anti-slavery debate in Britain, including the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention in London.  In 1847 he was elected to the House of Commons as a Member of Parliament (MP) for Tower Hamlets.  

Thompson was also an advocate of East Indian reform, free trade, Chartism, nonresistance, and the peace movement. However, he was most prominent in his work to eliminate slavery at home and abroad, often protesting legislation that offered limited or gradual restrictions on slavery. Favoring quick and decisive emancipation of all slaves, he was ultimately unsatisfied with the British Emancipation Act because it forced slaves to work as apprentices for six years after their "liberation." He, therefore, used his position in Parliament to push for additional legislation. Thompson was an active lecturer, and he willingly pointed out America's role in perpetuating slavery. He first traveled to the United States in 1834, where he attracted the attention of pro-slavery men and barely escaped being captured by them after one of his lecturing sessions.  The resistance to his platform did not abate, and he was forced to return to Britain via Tasmania (Australia).  

When the Fugitive Slave Law was passed in 1850, Thompson returned to the United States, and he was, this time, popular among proponents of abolitionism now that the movement had increased in size and influence.  In 1859, with his son-in-law Frederick William Chesson, he founded the London Emancipation Society, which strongly supported the Union side in the American Civil War. During a final visit in 1864, he allied with William Wells Brown in advocating the destruction of slavery. He also met Abraham Lincoln, and both supported and witnessed the final defeat of the Confederacy.  Thompson became ill and returned to his home country, where he died on October 7, 1878.  

While his advocacy of abolitionism went relatively unnoticed after his death, his efforts to affect a worldwide abolitionist movement allowed him to make a living by supporting the cause that he cared about and enabling him to make unprecedented steps in freeing enslaved peoples around the world.  

New Poem Each Day

Poetry Corner

I do not want to stand Beside you at the feast; You eat of rot. Or walk Beside you; your pace is not my pace. To follow You or be... MY OWN HALLELUJAHS by Zack Gilbert.
Read More