The Slave Compensation Commission distributed no less than £20 million between 1834 and 1845, making compensation “the largest single financial operation undertaken by the British state to date.” In his book The Price of Emancipation, Nicholas Draper uses the commission's untapped records to construct what amounts to a forensic prosopography, endeavoring to “locate the accountability for slavery more precisely” than has previously been possible. Reviewing Draper's text, this essay locates compensation in relation to other public policies of the period associated with the rise of what George Soros has called “free market fundamentalism.” The New Poor Law's role in the criminalization of poverty is widely acknowledged. So too was the emergent gospel of free trade strengthened by the British state's “disciplined” response to the Irish famine. Slave owner compensation also performed important ideological labor: it not only stripped abolition of any semblance of apology, it shielded private profiteering from public or political scrutiny, emancipating the pursuit of material self-interest from any moral fetters. Thus did mammon assert its priority over humanity and religion, even if not especially in slavery's aftermath.

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