Beginning in the late 1830s, a coalition of non-conformists, abolitionists, free traders, and disenchanted East India Company proprietors began to vocally challenge the exploitative policies of the colonial state in British India. Led by lecturer George Thompson, these reformers pursued a rhetorical strategy of associating groups who were converted into ‘mere tools’ by the Company abroad and the aristocracy at home. These monopolistic entities degraded Indian peasant cultivators, the British working classes, and princely sovereigns alike through forms of ‘virtual slavery’ that persisted in the post-Emancipation empire. In staging these protests, reformers ran up against an adversarial Board of Control and Court of Directors who obstructed their efforts to mobilize public opinion. Probing their agitation reveals the existence of a particularly combative strain of liberal imperialist thought that defied the political status quo.