To better understand his subject, he conducted fact-finding trips. Traveling throughout Britain, on horseback, he obtained firsthand information about the slave-trade.
Later writing a history of slave-trading - an industry so massive that its scope can be compared to the modern housing industry - Clarkson relates (in Chapter 2 of his 1839 History) how European slave-trading began:
So early as in the year 1503, a few slaves had been sent from the Portuguese settlements in Africa into the Spanish colonies in America. In 1511, Ferdinand the Fifth, king of Spain, permitted them to be carried in great numbers. Ferdinand, however, must have been ignorant in these early times of the piratical manner in which the Portuguese had procured them.
Britain joined the slave-trade in 1562, during the reign of Elizabeth I:
The first importation of slaves from Africa, by our countrymen, was in the reign of Elizabeth, in the year 1562.
Clarkson notes the Queen was greatly concerned about these events:
She [Elizabeth I] seems to have been aware of the evils to which its continuance might lead, or that, if it were sanctioned, the most unjustifiable means might be made use of to procure the persons of the natives of Africa.
Summoning Captain John Hawkins, to brief her regarding his voyage to Africa, the Queen:
expressed her concern lest any of the Africans should be carried off without their free consent, declaring that "it would be detestable, and call down the vengeance of heaven upon the undertakers."
Disregarding Her Majesty's directive, Hawkins commenced centuries of British slave-trade:
Captain Hawkins promised to comply with the injunctions of Elizabeth in this respect, but he did not keep his word; for when he went to Africa again, he seized many of the inhabitants and carried them off as slaves, which occasioned Hill, in the account ['Naval History'] he gives of his second voyage, to use these remarkable words: "Here began the horrid practice of forcing the Africans into slavery, an injustice and barbarity which, so sure as there is vengeance in heaven for the worst of crimes, will some time be the destruction of all who allow or encourage it."
During the ensuing centuries, 'injustice and barbarity' was inflicted on approximately 12 million Africans.
ISSUES AND QUESTIONS TO PONDER: Queen Elizabeth I was worried about the very types of slave-trading abuses which soon followed its inception. Yet ... can you think of any African who would be "carried off" with "their free consent?"
If not, was the Queen tacitly encouraging slavery, turning a blind eye toward it or just not understanding how human beings are capable of harming each other?