The first painting, John Bull Taking a Clear View of the Negro Slavery Question, questions the motives of abolition, asserting through subtle political cues that abolitionists are “in it for the money.” The man who claims it is a sin to buy anything other than East India sugar has stock in the East India company. Where the Africans are seen dancing, there is a trick in place to make them appear tortured, to make the general populace agree: slavery should be gotten rid of.
In many ways, this straw-man critique of “oh hey look, abolitionists are bad” can actually be targeted at Equiano. Equiano is one of the abolitionists who wants to see slavery removed for economic reasons. Equiano says “a commercial intercourse with Africa opens an inexhaustible source of wealth to the manufacturing interests of Great Britain… The abolition of slavery, so diabolical, will give a most rapid extension of manufactures, which is totally and diametrically opposed to what some interested people assert.” Here Equiano takes the slavery question, the torturous, “diabolical” act of slavery, and calmly, casually, looks at the question and provides an answer to the question. Equiano says, “listen. If we stop the slave trade, we get to go to Africa, colonize that too, and increase our manufacture. Nobody wants to trade with the diabolical masters. Even if you think slavery is good for industry, you’re thinking small scale, plantation size. Let’s go big scale. Let’s think on a continental scale.”
In this way, Equiano partially exemplifies the abolitionists in the “Clear View” painting. He is the money driven abolitionist who is more economic than moral, but he is not the emotionally manipulative, East India stockholder. He is a calm, rational, money-driven ass.