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Literature IncorporatedThe Cultural Unconscious of the Business Corporation, 1650-1850$
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John O'Brien

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780226291123

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226291260.001.0001

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“Bodies of Men”

“Bodies of Men”

Abolitionist Writing and the Question of Interest

(p.136) Chapter Four “Bodies of Men”
Literature Incorporated

John O’brien

University of Chicago Press

The first abolitionist movement of the 1780s and 90s was aimed at breaking the power of what Thomas Clarkson called the “bodies of men,” the corporate entities that ran the transatlantic slave trade. Clarkson’s unconscious use of the metaphor of the body when talking about the trade in human bodies suggests a curious homology between the abolitionist movement and the slave trade. This chapter takes the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade, founded by Clarkson and others, as a corporate body in its own right, one that took the form of the entities like the Royal African Company that it was attacking. Reading abolitionist texts by writers like Clarkson, William Cowper, Quobna Ottobah Cugoano, and Olaudah Equiano, the chapter worries the question of the extent to which the interest that such texts attempted to inspire in readers could be analogized to the corporate interest of those who aimed to profit from the slave trade.

Keywords:   slave trade, abolition, interest, Royal African Company, Thomas Clarkson, Olaudah Equiano, Josiah Wedgwood

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