Sir John Gladstone made a fortune as a Demerara sugar-planter and a key supporter of the British policy of amelioration in which slavery would be “improved” by making it more “humane.” Unlike resident planters in the British West Indies, who were firmly opposed to any alteration to the conditions of enslavement, and unlike abolitionists, who saw amelioration as a step toward abolition, Gladstone was a rare but influential metropolitan-based planter with an expansive imperial vision, prepared to work with British politicians to guarantee his investments in slavery through progressive slave reforms. This article intersects with recent historiography highlighting connections between metropole and colony but also insists on the influence of Demerara, including the effects of a large slave rebellion centered on Gladstone's estates (which illustrated that enslaved people were not happy with Gladstone's supposedly enlightened attitudes) on metropolitan sensibilities in the 1820s. Gladstone's strategies for an improved slavery, despite the contradictions inherent in championing such a policy while maintaining a fierce drive for profits, were a powerful counter to a renewed abolitionist thrust against slavery in the mid to late 1820s. Gladstone showed that that the logic of gradual emancipation still had force in imperial thinking in this decade.
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