i'm gearing up to teach the writings of the amazing quaker saint john woolman, who in the mid-1700s was arguing for indian rights and the immediate abolition of slavery, and traveling around trying to convince masters to free their slaves, etc. in his rather remarkable essay "a plea for the poor", he argues as clearly as can be for peter singer's 'effective altruism': the idea that we have a moral obligation to devote most of our resources above subsistence to helping those in need. really, quite the same argument as singer.
more surprising, perhaps, is that in 1763, for god's sake, he's arguing straight up for reparations to the descendants of slaves, and calculating what they should be.
Having thus far spoken of the Negroes as equally entitled to the benefit of their labour with us, I feel it on my mind to mention that debt which is due to many Negroes of the present age. Where men within certain limits are so formed into a society as to become like a large body consisting of many members, here whatever injuries are done to others not of this society by members of this society, if the society in whose power it is doth not use all reasonable endeavours to execute justice and judgment, nor publicly disown those unrighteous proceedings, the iniquities of individuals become chargeable on such civil society to which they remain united. And where persons have been injured as to their outward substance and died without having recompense, so that their children are kept out of that which was equitably due to their parents, here such children appear to be justly entitled to receive recompense from that civil society under which their parents suffered. . . .
Suppose an inoffensive youth, forty years ago, was violently taken from Guinea, sold here as a slave, laboured hard till old age, and hath children who are now living. Though no sum of money may properly be mentioned as an equal regard for the total deprivation of liberty, yet if the sufferings of this man be computed at no more than fifty pounds, I expect candid men will suppose it within bounds, and that his children have an equitable right to it. Fifty pounds at three percent, adding the interest to the principal once in ten years appears in forty years to make upwards of one hundred and forty pounds.
i wonder whether anyone else was making arguments like that in the 18th century.