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Guillaume de Félice - Abolitionism

It was at Montauban that de Félice first expressed his opposition to slavery, though it is probable his interest in the abolitionist movement would have started at Bolbec, due to its proximity to the slave-port of Le Havre. As one of the few influential men in France willing to actually put words into action, he was immediately recognised by the British anti-slavery society as a useful contact.

In 1844, Joseph John Gurney, a wealthy English banker, Quaker minister, and abolitionist (his sister Elizabeth Fry is depicted on the current British £5 banknote) employed the services of the Courtois brothers to make contact with him.

At their meeting with de Félice, they requested that he write “immediatist” pamphlets and become the British anti-slavery society’s agent for the abolition of slavery in France. Félice agreed on the need in France for an active campaigner to “speak, write, agitate opinion, press the men in power, hold assemblies and provoke petitions”. Unfortunately he was obliged to decline the offer to act on a full-time basis due to his heavy teaching duties at the Faculty.

To try and sway de Félice into devoting more of his time, in autumn 1845 the British society sent their secretary, John Scoble to visit and hold another meeting. Scoble stayed nine days in Montauban, and Guillaume eventually pledged to devote more of his time to the cause. They discussed in detail emancipationism, and de Félice promised to “prepare a pamphlet forthwith, after which to organise committees on that principle…”

A few months later, in 1846, de Felice published the agreed work, entitled “Émancipation immédiate et complète des esclaves: appel aux abolitionists”. It requested petitions to be signed against slavery, especially by women, and was distributed across the country. The results in 1847 were 11,000 signatures from both Catholics and Protestants (including 86 Pastors) being handed to the Assemblée Nationale. Following this, slavery was abolished in 1848.

Now an incredibly valuable and rare text, it is quoted in practically all academic works on (French) abolitionism.

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