Inquiry into the slave trade, 1792
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The slave trade
Following the publication in 1791-2 of Thomas Paine's Rights
of Man, radicals in Britain eagerly embraced the view
that every individual possessed inalienable natural rights.
Yet an inquiry conducted in the same year showed that Britain
was playing a leading role in the slave trade, although ownership
of slaves constituted a complete denial of the most basic
human rights. As a result, the anti-slavery movement gathered
momentum, and evangelical and nonconformist groups led a long-standing
campaign to abolish slavery.
Poor Law reform
Another important piece of social legislation during this
period was the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834. Previously,
help for the poor had been administered in parishes by locally
appointed overseers and monitored by the local Justices of
the Peace. In 1834 the government attempted to centralise
the provision of poor relief. The new system was influenced
by the utilitarian view that poor relief encouraged laziness
- those wanting help now had to enter the workhouse, where
conditions were deliberately harsh.