Richard Huzzey
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Concepts of liberty
Freedom, laissez-faire and the state after Britain’s abolition of slavery
in Emancipation and the remaking of the British imperial world
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In 1830, an article in the Monthly Repository argued that ‘the proper use of government is to teach men the true enjoyment of their liberties’. The ‘men’ in this declaration were slave-holders. And the ‘true enjoyment of their liberties’ meant ‘such a degree of restraint as is necessary to prevent them from infringing on the rights of others’ – in other words, a state enforced abolition of slavery. British emancipation would restrain the slave-holders in the hope of unshackling the liberties of enslaved men, women and children. In this formulation, emancipation was both the use of state power to restrain slave-holders and the withdrawal of state power supporting the legal status of slavery in the British Empire. In this sense, the declaration encapsulated Victorians’ complex attitudes to both liberty and the state. Richard Huzzey explores the post-emancipation debates within Britain about the meanings of an "antislavery nation" and "freedom".

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