The cartoon titled John Bull taking a Clear View of the Negro Slavery Question, by Robert Cruikshank, I believe is satirizing the abolitionists; anti-abolitionist. In discussion, we discussed (ha) that because there were young kids signing the petition that would be “…removing the duties on East India Sugar,” according to the poster/board above their heads, it is a demonstration of weakness while also being illegitimate signatures. That could represent that the people who are supporting the termination of the East India Sugar don’t know what they’re doing, that they’re foolish. I don’t know if they actually had children signing the petition but what often does happen is that the young people—high school students, college students and the general people aged 15-30 are the ones speaking up against injustices (that’s an estimate, I don’t know the statistics either, but c’mon, who do we mostly see protesting?). It would make sense, that a salty old cartoonist would make this type of satirical image.
To connect that with Olaudah Equiano’s narrative, we can look at the letter he sends to the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, where he writes,
“It is the duty of every man, every friend to religion and humanity, to assist the different Committees engaged in this pious work…” (219).
Pious work… with the context it is clear that he means the work is being done as a duty to religion but another definition of pious is, in similar words, a hypocritical approach to something for the sake of religion.
With that being said, let’s acknowledge that he himself had slaves as well. While also, looking at the quote we discussed in lecture that goes,
“Recollecting a passage I had read in the life of Columbus… where, on some occasion, he frightened them, by telling them of certain events in the heavens, I had recourse to the same expedient…” (191).
In class, my group and I agreed that in this situation, Equiano was trying to control the situation, and he used religion to do so—because it’s guaranteed to work! In his letter there’s also an emphasis on religion and how the freeing of slaves was a duty that people had at least in respects to their religion. Though he does address the inhumanity and injustice being done to the slaves, it seems as if religion is a tool for him. And because he used the word pious, whether he meant the hypocritical version of it or not, he’s still referring to the rightfulness of abolishing the slave trade as a “duty of friends to religion” while it should have been “duty to your fellow human” (though I could understand why it would have been easier to get people on board through religion rather than the humanity of slaves at the time—but still).
I’ll admit that I might have a bias on this as a non-religious person in assuming that he is only taking advantage of religion…
Relating that to the cartoon, I can understand why the Robert Cruikshank depicts the abolitionists as child-like because it may appear to him, and many people that think like him, that the abolitionist don’t have their ideas or reasoning together. For example, Equiano is an abolitionist with slaves, in the picture there’s three dudes with black coats that seem to be going on false tangents as they are altering what people are seeing, kids are supporting them and it’s just all over chaotic—in the eyes of people like the Robert Cruikshank. I am not justifying their degrading of the cause, but I can understand why they would think it’s foolish and why cartoonist make things like this.