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June 27, 2006

Ending Atlantic Slavery: Jeremy Black on the ending of the Atlantic Slave Trade in the Nineteenth Century

Posted by Jeremy Black

Jeremy Black - Professor of History, University of Exeter - concludes his series on the Atlantic Slave Trade by examining the ending of Atlantic Slavery in the nineteenth century.

Polls for important books, dates and such-like are frequently based on a small sample, and that reported in the June 2006 issue of History Magazine on the historical anniversary that should be used to celebrate "British Day" is typical.

The winning item, Magna Carta, polled only 1,334 votes, the second, VE Day, only 1,039. The sixth (with 321 votes) was the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, and as that is likely to be much celebrated over the next year, it is worthy of discussion; although the strong, continuing Arab role in the slave trade thereafter suggests that the abolition tells us more about Britain than about multiculturalism which is likely to be a context of the celebrations. The role of Arab slave traders, however, is widely ignored because it scarcely suits the anti-Western narrative that so many commentators find convenient for their prejudices. A different, but related, set of flawed assumptions can be seen in the reference to the Atlantic Middle Passage as "the African Holocaust", which asserts an equivalence that did not exist.

Although the nineteenth century witnessed the end of legal slave trading in the Atlantic world, this was not a process free from considerable opposition and from serious difficulties. The debate over abolitionism, and therefore the arguments for and against, can be traced back into the eighteenth century.

Among the key abolitionist currents were religious pressure and secular idealism. The first was particularly important in the Protestant world, although there had always also been a significant current of Catholic uneasiness about, and sometimes hostility to, slavery. In Protestant Europe, the slave trade was abolished by Denmark in 1792 by government decree (without an abolitionist campaign), although the law did not come into force until 1803. In part, it was believed in Denmark that Britain and France would soon abolish the trade and would then seek to prevent other powers from participating, an erroneous expectation in the short term. In addition, criticism of the slave trade and slavery developed in the Netherlands.

Changes in Britain were far more important, both because of her imperial position as the leading European imperial and naval power, and due to her potential influence on other states. Christian assumptions about the unity of mankind, and the need to gather Africans to Christ, played a major role in influencing British opinion; although, to supporters of slavery, an acceptance of blacks as fully human did not preclude slavery. Instead, they were presented as degraded by their social and environmental backgrounds. Commercial benefits from the abolition of the slave trade were also predicted by some commentators, Malachy Postlethwayt arguing, in his The Universal Dictionary of Trade and Commerce, that the trade stirred up conflict among African rulers and thus obstructed both British trade and "the civilising of these people".

Abolition took several decades and went through stages. The ruling, in the Somerset case in 1772, that West Indian slave owners could not forcibly take their slaves from England made slavery unenforceable there. In 1787, the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, a national lobbying group, was established. Its pressure helped lead to the Dolben Act of 1788, by which conditions on British slave ships were regulated.

Abolitionist sentiment affected the arts, leading to the production of visual and literary images of the horrors of slavery, such as the medallion of the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade designed by William Hackwood and manufactured at Josiah Wedgwood's factory, as well as a mass of pamphlet literature, and discussion of the issue in humanitarian novels, and also comments on the abolitionist fight. On 7 April 1789, the Leeds Intelligencer reported the collection of £18 for supporting the application to Parliament for repeal of the trade

raised by voluntary contributions in a small part of the high end of Wensleydale… The contributors (being chiefly farmers) were informed of the injustice and inhumanity of the slave trade by pamphlets circulated previous to the collection.
The press resounded with the battle: for example Swinney's Birmingham and Stafford Chronicle of May 1791 included a poem by "H.F." praising William Pitt the Younger's recent parliamentary speech on the slave trade.

Pressure to abolish the trade, however, was hindered by the importance of the sugar wealth of the West Indies to the British economy, as well as by the opposition of George III and the House of Lords, and, in 1792, William Wilberforce's motion for immediate abolition was unsuccessful.

There was also a populist tone to opposition to abolition, one that is too often overlooked with the usual stress on mercantile interest. In William Dent's cartoon "Abolition of the Slave Trade, or the Man the Master", published in London on 26th May 1789, produce is shown waiting for a purchaser because its price has gone up, while a slave in Western clothes beats a semi-clothed white, saying:

Now, Massa, me lick a you, and make you worky while me be Gentleman – curse a heart.
Whites are depicted at work in the sugar fields while blacks feast under the words:
Retaliation for having been held in captivity.
As a reminder of international competition, a foreigner remarks:
By gar den ve sal have all de market to ourselves, and by underselling we sal send Johnny Bull's capitall and revenue to le Diable.
A Briton comments:
Why, if I have my rum and sugar and my tobacco at the old price – I don't care if the slave trade is abolished.
In part, opposition to abolition reflected the conservative response in Britain to reform agitation after the French Revolution, which broke out in 1789. The Revolution indeed had been linked to a secular idealism that had embraced abolitionism as one of its themes, in contrast to the more pronounced religious theme in Britain.

In February 1788, La Société des Amis des Noirs had been founded, with help from British abolitionists. It pressed for the abolition of the slave trade and, eventually and without compensation, of slavery. One of its founders, Jacques-Pierre Brissot, argued that blacks had the same capacities as whites. In the utopian idealism of the French Revolution, the liberties affirmed by the Revolutionaries were believed to be inherent in humanity, and thus of global applicability. In January 1792, for example the attention of the National Assembly was directed by its Colonial Committee towards Madagascar. Instead of a territorial expansion, there was a call:

not to invade a country or subjugate several savage nations, but to form a solid alliance, to establish friendly and mutually beneficial links with a new people … today it is neither with the cross nor with the sword that we establish ourselves with new people. It is by respect for their rights and views that we will gain their heart; it is not by reducing them to slavery … this will be a new form of conquest.
Initially, however, the slave trade was not banned by France; indeed, it reached its peak during the years 1789-91. This reflected the value of the West Indies to the French economy. It was argued that slaves were not French and, therefore, that slavery and revolution were compatible. The major rising in France's leading Caribbean colony, Saint-Domingue, in 1791 altered the situation, and also helped competing sugar-producing areas, especially Portuguese-ruled Brazil. This rising led to a complex conflict in the colony in which, in 1793, the Civil Commissioner, Léger Sonthonax, freed the slaves in the Northern Province in order to win their support. The following year, the National Convention abolished slavery in all French colonies.

This idealism, however, did not protect the French position in Saint-Domingue, which, instead, after a bitter rebellion, became the independent black state of Haiti. This idealism also fell victim to the reaction and consolidation associated with Napoleon: slavery was restored in Guadeloupe and Martinique in 1802, and the entry to France of West Indian blacks and mixed race people prohibited. Slave rebels were less successful in Latin America. The small-scale "Revolt of the Tailors" in Salvador in Brazil in 1798, which included slaves as well as mulattos and whites, called for the abolition of slavery, but was suppressed in the context of white fear.

In Britain, in contrast to France, after the boom in sugar exports caused by the chaos in Saint-Domingue, there was an upsurge in abolitionism in the 1800s, which led to the formal end of the British slave trade.

The end of both this slave trade, and of slavery itself, has been ascribed by some commentators to a lack of profitability caused by economic development, rather than to humanitarianism. This view, however, underplays the multiplicity of factors that contributed to it, including economic problems, stemming from the impact of the American Revolution and subsequent protectionism, on the trade between North America and the West Indies that was so important to the supplies for and markets of the latter.

There are, indeed, indications that slave plantations in the West Indies continued profitable, while the plantation economy anyway remained an important asset base, and the limited convertibility of assets did not encourage disinvestments from slavery: too much money was tied up in mortgages and annuities that were difficult to liquidate in a hurry, and the planters had a good case for the generous compensation they pressed for and received.

Instead of problems within the slave economy, it is more appropriate to look at the outside pressures towards abolition. These included, and contributed to, a marginalization of groups, especially West Indian planters, that had encouraged and profited from British, and indeed European, demand for tropical goods. The reforming, liberal, middle-class culture that was becoming of growing importance in Britain regarded the slave trade and slavery as abhorrent, anachronistic, and associated with everything it deplored.

In 1805 the ministry of William Pitt the Younger, a statesman who profited from his appeal to this constituency, issued Orders-in-Council that banned the import of slaves into newly-captured territories after 1807 and, in the meantime, limited the introduction of slaves to 30 per cent of the number already there.

This legislation was taken much further by the next government, the more reformist Ministry of All the Talents that took power after Pitt's death in early 1806. That year, the new ministry supported the Foreign Slave Trade Act, ending the supply of slaves to conquered territories and foreign colonies. This was presented on prudential grounds, as a way to limit the economic strength of these territories when some were at the end of the war.

The highpoint of the abolitionist process occurred when the Abolition Act of 1807 banned slave-trading by British subjects and the import of slaves into the other colonies. Furthermore, in 1811, participation in the slave trade was made a felony.

Britain also used its international strength to put pressure on other states to abolish or limit the slave trade, for not only did the trade now seem morally wrong, but it was also seen as giving an advantage to rival plantation economies. Naval power, amphibious capability, and trans-oceanic power projection ensured that the British were in a dominant position. Once war resumed with Napoleon in 1803, the British seized St. Lucia and Tobago from the French, and Demarara, Essequibo (now both in Guyana), and Surinam from the Dutch, in 1803-4, following with the Danish West Islands – St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. Johns in 1807, the French colonies of Martinique and Cayenne in 1809, and Guadeloupe, St. Eustatius and St. Martin in 1810. Fort Louis, the last French base in Africa, fell in 1809.

The British were in a position to make demands. In 1810, pressure was exerted on Portugal, then very much a dependent ally, protected from Napoleon by British troops, to restrict the slave trade as a preparation for abolition; because Brazil and Angola were Portuguese colonies, the Portuguese position was important. In 1815, the returned Bourbon regime in France, another dependent ally, was persuaded to ban the slave trade and, under British pressure, the Congress of Vienna issued a declaration against the trade. In 1817, an Anglo-Portuguese treaty limited the slave trade in Brazil to south of the Equator, and an Anglo-Spanish treaty contained similar provisions. In 1814, with effect from 1818, the Dutch slave trade was abolished. Again, this reflected British influence, as the Netherlands was also a dependent ally.

In 1807, with effect from 1st January 1808, the slave trade was also banished by the United States, although with scant attempt to enforce it. Orders in Council issued on 11th November 1807 were used by the British to justify seizing American slavers.

The Atlantic slave trade continued, however, not least because slavery had not been abolished. Although demand for labour was in large part met from the children of existing slaves, the continuation of slavery ensured that, even where the slave trade had been abolished, smuggling continued, although it was not very extensive to the British West Indies. The French had at least 193 slaving voyages between 1814 and 1820, although few after 1831. Deception extended to the shipping of slaves termed libertos by the Portuguese and engagés à temps by the French.

More particularly, the slave trade to the leading market, Brazil, was not effectively ended until 1850, and that to the second market, Cuba until the 1860s. Prior to its conquest by the USA in 1898, Cuba was a Spanish possession. The profitable nature of their sugar economies, commitment to the lifestyle and ethos of slaveholding, and a lack of relevant European immigrant labour kept the trade profitable. American slavers greatly profited from demand in Brazil and Cuba.

Until the 1850s, the Bight of Benin and the Angolan coast north to Cabinda remained important sources of slaves, and the export of trade to Brazil helped ensure that, whereas in 1801-20, about 1,153,000 slaves crossed the Atlantic, in 1821-43, the figure was 1,486,000. The raiding warfare that provided large numbers of slaves remained important across Africa.

Delays in emancipation enabled British and other investors to continue to invest in other slave systems, and helped maintain the profitability of the slave trade. They also encouraged purchases designed to pre-empt the end of legal imports. Delays in emancipation provided a market for slave trade within the Caribbean, particularly once direct trade with Africa was limited, Caribbean slave supplies, for example, becoming more important to the Spanish colony of Puerto Rico from 1847.

The slave trade to the USA was no longer legal, but, within that country, the extent of the slave states ensured that there was still a very extensive slave trade, particularly from the Old to the New South; a situation similar to that in Brazil, where the sugar planters of the northeast sold slaves to the coffee planters further south.

Aside from slave sales, the prevalence of slave hiring in the American south ensured considerable geographical mobility among slaves. This helped keep slavery responsive to the market and thus an economic system. Without a trade in slaves, there would have been no room for such entrepreneurship, nor for the interaction with capital that purchase and hiring offered. While Texas was under Mexican rule (1821-35), the attempt by the Mexican government to prevent the import of slaves there aroused much anger.

Britain expended much diplomatic capital on moves against the slave trade, so that the granting of recognition to the states that arose from the collapse of Spain's empire in Latin America depended on their abolition of the slave trade, while British recognition of the then-independent Republic of Texas in 1840 was made on the same basis.

Pressure was also exerted on other states, including France and the USA, to implement their bans on the trade. New treaties were signed with Portugal in 1842 and France in 1845. This issue caused particular problems in Anglo-Brazilian relations. In 1826, Brazil accepted a treaty, ratified in 1827, promising to end the trade within three years, and, accordingly, the General Assembly passed a law in 1831. Enforcement, however, was pathetic, and the inflow of slaves greatly increased, to an annual flow of over 50,000 in the late 1840, so that by 1850 there were over two million slaves. Many worked in the booming coffee industry which benefited from increased demand from the growing population of Europe.

In 1845, however, the British Parliament passed a Slave Trade Act authorizing the navy to treat suspected slave ships as if pirates. This led to the pursuit of ships into Brazilian waters, much to the anger of Brazil. Greater pressure was exerted from 1850 when the slave trade was formally abolished by Brazil in the Eusébio de Queiroz law, a measure that, in turn, owed much to British action. Pressure was also exerted on the Spanish colony of Cuba, sufficiently so for David Turnbull, the Consul, to be accused of incitement to slave risings.

The sense of moral purpose behind British policy rested on the state's unchallenged naval power, and was given a powerful naval dimension by the anti-slavery patrols off Africa and Brazil and in the West Indies. The most important active British anti-slavery naval force in the first half of the century was that based in West Africa (until 1840 part of the Cape Command), which freed slaves and took them to Freetown in Sierra Leone, a British colony for free blacks; and the anti-slavery commitment led to a major expansion of this force from the 1820s to the 1840s. Warships based in Cape Town, a British possession from 1806, also played an important role, and anti-slavery patrols were extended south of the Equator in 1839, enabling Britain to enforce the outlawing of the slave trade Brazil had promised in 1826 but failed to implement. In 1839, unilateral action was taken against Portuguese slavers after negotiations had failed.

The advent of steam power added a new dimension to the struggle. It increased the manoeuvrability of ships, making it easier to sound inshore and hazardous waters, and to attack ships in anchorages. This made a major difference in the struggle against the slave trade, as slavers were fast, manoeuvrable and difficult to capture, and could take shelter in inshore waters. In West Africa, Lagos, a major slaving port, was attacked by the British in 1851, with the steamship Penelope playing a prominent role, and the slaving facilities were destroyed. It was also necessary, from the 1840s, to respond to the use of steamships by slavers keen to outpace the patrols. Aside from action against the trade itself, pressure was brought to bear on African rulers by the British government in order to agree to end the slave trade and, instead, to agree to legitimate trade.

The American navy also took part in the struggle with slavery, sometimes in co-operation with the British. This action overlapped with the protection of trade against privateering and piracy, and again contributed powerfully to a sense of moral purpose. The combined goals led to a major American naval commitment to the Caribbean from the 1820s, with operations offshore and ashore Cuba, Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo and the Yucatán. In 1822, Commodore James Biddle commanded a squadron of fourteen ships in the Caribbean, and in 1823 David Farragut won notice in command of a shore party in Cuba while on anti-slavery duties.

American naval activity also ranged further afield. In 1843, sailors and marines from four American warships landed on the Ivory Coast in West Africa in order to discourage the slave trade and to act against those who had attacked American shipping. The Dutch navy, in contrast, made scant effort against slave traders.

It is very easy to move from the abolition of the slave trade to that of slavery, but it is important to note that these were not simultaneous, and that there were cross-currents.

Indeed, there is a sense that the slave world was being strengthened at the same time that the slave trade was being ended. This was true not only of Mauritius in the Indian Oceans but also of the colonies of Demerara-Essequibo and Berbice on the Guiana coast of South America, seized by the British from the Dutch in 1803. Plantation agriculture, the large-scale importation of African slaves, and a switch from cotton and coffee to sugar, all followed British conquest there, as they did on Trinidad, seized from Spain by Britain in 1797. Thus, these colonies were more like those of the late seventeenth-century West Indies than the more mature slave societies of the West Indies of the period, where a lower percentage of the slaves were African-born and where the work regime was less cruel.

Racism, at all events, remained strong in the Caribbean world, and was brutally displayed in the harsh suppression of slave rebellions, as on Barbados in 1816, in Demerara in 1823, and on Jamaica in 1831-2.

The American determination to end slave flight from Georgia to Florida lay behind the Seminole Wars (1817-18, 1835-42, 1855-8), as the Seminole Indians in Florida provided refuge for escaped slaves. Indeed, in the second war, an armistice came to an end and Seminole resistance revived in 1837 when the Americans allowed slavers to enter Florida and seize Seminole and blacks. In contrast, an important success for the Americans was obtained in 1838 when Major-General Thomas Jesup announced that blacks who abandoned the Seminole and joined the Americans would become free, costing the Seminole 400 black fighters.

Religious zeal played an important role in slave risings in this period, for example on Jamaica and also around Bahia in Brazil between 1808 and 1835: the 1835 Male revolt was of Muslim slaves and freedmen. The conditions of slave labour in Brazil remained harsh, particularly in the sugar and coffee plantations, although the 1872 census showed that 30% of slaves worked in towns. In Cuba, which, like Brazil was a low-cost producer, slavery remained important to the sugar monoculture of much of the economy, especially in western Cuba. The sugar economy depended on American investment, markets and technology.

In the USA, the initial acceptance of slavery was a product of the federal character of the new state, and of the role of slave holding, not only in the economies of the southern states, but also to their sense of identity and distinctiveness. Indeed, the importance of the loyal border states (Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri) was such that, on 1st January 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln declared that Union victory would lead to the end of slavery, this related only to the Confederacy.

In Britain, the Whig ministry that pushed through the Great Reform Act of 1832, that revised the electoral franchise (right to vote) to the benefit of the middle class, also passed the Emancipation Act of 1833, with slaves emancipated from August 1834. Many Whig candidates had included an anti-slavery platform in their electoral addresses. Anti-slavery agitation in Britain continued thereafter, with the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society founded in 1839 being particularly influential.

Anti-slavery was less important and popular in most of Continental Europe, whether in Catholic France or the Protestant Netherlands, but the end of slavery in the French colonies followed in 1848. The increased influence of reforming middle-class circles was important in France.

The same year, slavery in the Danish West Indian islands (now the American Virgin Islands) was abolished, when the threat of rebellion among the slave population forced the Danish Governor-General to free the slaves. The Dutch colony of Surinam followed in 1863, the USA in 1865, Cuba in 1886 and, most importantly, Brazil in 1888.

Already the majority of blacks in Brazil were free, in part because of increased manumission under the Law of the Free Womb of 1871, which stated that all future children born to slave mothers would become free, while slaves were allowed to purchase their freedom. Slavery was regarded in influential circles as a cause of unrest, and a source of national embarrassment and relative backwardness; while slavery was seen by some as an inefficient system compared to wage labour. In 1884, two provinces emancipated slaves, and in 1885 all slaves over 60 were freed. Furthermore, increased numbers of slaves fled, so that, by 1887, there were fewer than one million slaves: only about 5 per cent of the population.

The end of slavery in the Western world, however, did not completely transform labour relations in Britain's colonies and in other former slave societies such as Brazil. Control over labour continued, many former slaves being pressed into continuing to work in sugar production, while labour continued to flow to the colonies. In place of slaves, the British West Indies, especially Trinidad, as well as British Guiana and other colonies, received cheap Indian indentured labour, although sugar production declined. The conditions of labour for slaves and ex-slaves reflected far more than the legal situation.

Critics claimed that the indentured labour systems employed in Cuba and the French Caribbean, not least due to their coercive character, represented the continuation of the slave trade in decline, although different notions of freedom were involved.

Across the world, for most former slaves, there was no sweeping change in their lives, and many remained dependent in some form or other on their ex-masters or on new masters. This was seen in the USA, where the Reconstruction Acts of 1867, which dissolved the Southern state governments and reintroduced federal control, were not sustained. Federal troops were withdrawn from the south in 1877, the black militias recruited by Radical Republican state governments lost control or were disbanded, and the blacks in the South were very much left as second-class citizens. Furthermore, the very flexibility of economic service and subjugation ensured its continuation. The same was true of Russia, where, in 1861, Tsar Alexander II emancipated the serfs.

The former plantation societies of the West Indies and British Guiana became far less important to the British economy, a process accentuated by the equalization of the sugar duties in 1846, under which protection for British sugar was progressively reduced. This further encouraged imports into Britain from Brazil and Cuba. As the exports of the former British plantation economies declined, so they were less able to attract investment, afford imports from Britain and elsewhere, and develop social capital; and this had an impact on the living standards of the bulk of the population of these colonies. In 1815, the West Indies had been the leading market for British exports, but, by 1840, it had been passed by India, Australia and Canada, in that order, and the role of the West Indies in British shipping needs was also reduced.

The decline of the plantation economies indeed helped ensure that the share of the empire in British trade fell, although the expansion of trade with other countries was also important. In the former slave colonies, the problems centred on slavery had changed, not ended, as was to be made clear in Jamaica by the harsh (and illegal) suppression of the Morant Bay uprising in 1865.

The end of the trans-Atlantic slave trade also led to the development of plantation economies in parts of Atlantic Africa, particularly the Portuguese colony of Angola. This represented a response to labour availability, but also a shift in the terms of trade with Africa, away from a willingness to pay for labour in the shape of slaves, and toward one to pay for it in the form of products. There continued to be multiple overlaps between servitude and trade in the Atlantic African economy.

Colonies for free Africans, many freed slaves, also developed. Sierra Leone, established by the British in 1787, was the first. Both the Committee for the Relief of the Black Poor and key government supporters appear to have been motivated by humanitarianism springing from Christian convictions, gratitude towards Loyalist blacks from the former North American colonies, and abolitionist sympathies. The settlement explicitly forbade slavery.

In 1849 the French founded Libreville in Gabon for freed slaves. The American equivalent, Liberia, was an independent republic, originally established by an anti-slavery group, the American Colonization Society (founded in 1816), as a home for freed American slaves. The first settlers landed in 1821. Colonists were transported to Liberia by American warships.

Elsewhere in West Africa, the end of the slave trade hit those kingdoms that had derived wealth from it; although the Arab-run slave trade increased in East Africa, seriously affecting much of the interior of the continent. Indeed, there is a link between the Arab racism seen then, and the recent and current treatment of blacks in southern Sudan and Darfur.

Slavery and the slave trade are understandably contentious issues. Charges of exploitation and of historic wrongs explaining present circumstances are advanced and, in some cases, contested. There is no doubt that the trade played a formative role not only in the demographics of the Atlantic world, but also of its varied political cultures and collective memories.

This piece draws on the introduction to Jeremy Black (ed.), The Atlantic Slave Trade IV: The Nineteenth Century (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006).

Jeremy Black is Professor of History, University of Exeter. Amongst much else, he is the author of The European Question and the National Interest (Social Affairs Unit, 2006) and The Dotted Red Line: Britain's Defence Policy in the Modern World (Social Affairs Unit, 2006).

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Is the lack of comment on these four articles because

(a) a heap of knowledge has exposed a mountain of opinionated ignorance (interesting mathematical concept there),

(b) we are all drowning in have-tos (perhaps that is why we are seemingly less happy than 50 years ago), or

(c) is it that people simply don't care?

Posted by: Robert H. Olley at July 7, 2006 07:59 AM

Some of the best articles here never have any comments - perhaps a good thing.

Posted by: james mcqueen at July 10, 2006 12:41 PM

One aspect of the topic of Atlantic Slavery that gets little attention is how the Northern United States became free states.

In 1782-3 Massachusetts abolished slavery by court decree in the Quock Walker case.

The future Midwestern states became free of slavery under the provisions of the Northwest Ordinance of July 13, 1787 (which also provided for freedom of religion at the state level.)

This ordinance was passed by the American Congress under the Articles of Confederation, before the adoption of the American Constitution. It may be the first legislative act prohibiting slavery, but I am not sure of this.

Most of the other Northern States abolished slavery by legislative action at different times before the Civil war.

Finally, the subject of the slave trade was addressed in the 1789 American Constitution. The North wanted the trade abolished, The South did not. The compromise prohibited Congress from abolishing the slave trade before 1808. So the American abolition of the slave trade was rooted in political compromises made at the founding of the country.

Posted by: rich at August 17, 2006 07:10 AM

As an aside, one of the more famous slave smugglers after the American abolition of the slave trade in 1808 was the pirate Jean Laffite (along with his brother Pierre) whose story is told in "The Pirates Laffite" by William C. Davis.

Jean Laffite is credited with participation, on the American side, in the Battle of New Orleans. Davis says Jean was in Barataria, when the battle occurred and that it was actually Pierre Laffite, his brother, who assisted General Andrew Jackson in the battle.

Posted by: rich at August 17, 2006 06:17 PM

Book review on Slavery and the Legacies of the American Revolution by John Stauffer in the New York Sun.

Books covered in the review:

"Rough Crossings" Simon Schama, (Ecco, 475 pages, $29.95)

"In the Name of the Father" François Furstenberg, (The Penguin Press, 335 pages, $27.95)

"Inhuman Bondage" David Brion Davis, (Oxford University Press, 440 pages, $30).

Posted by: rich at August 30, 2006 06:06 PM

Brown University has issued a final report on its involvement in the slave trade. It is quite interesting. It is a 6.2 mb .pdf download available at this link:

Posted by: rich at October 19, 2006 05:25 PM

Islam and the Abolition of Slavery (2006), by W G Clarence-Smith. A curious book, in which the tacit claim of the title (that Islam set itself to abolish slavery) is controverted by the contents, as the Author, is spite of making every effort, can find little evidence that Muslim society ever got round to abolition . . .

Posted by: jon gower davies at January 17, 2007 03:43 PM

Comments by Abraham Lincoln on the prohibition of slavery in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and The provision in the United States Constitution of 1789 allowing for the abolition of the slave trade.

From Lincoln's Speech at Chicago, Illinois July 10, 1858;c=lincoln;cc=lincoln;sid=10bbb949054d75f198b923fa56686c80;rgn=div1;q1=electric;op2=and;q2=cord;op3=and;view=text;subview=detail;sort=occur;idno=lincoln2;node=lincoln2:526;start=1;size=25;hi=0

Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 2 page 492.

". . . I have always hated slavery, I think as much as any Abolitionist. [Applause.] I have been an Old Line Whig. I have always hated it, but I have always been quiet about it until this new era of the introduction of the Nebraska Bill began. I always believed that everybody was against it, and that it was in course of ultimate extinction. (Pointing to Mr. Browning, who stood near by.) Browning thought so; the great mass of the nation have rested in the belief that slavery was in course of ultimate extinction. They had reason so to believe.
The adoption of the Constitution and its attendant history led the people to believe so; and that such was the belief of the framers of the Constitution itself.

Why did those old men, about the time of the adoption of the Constitution, decree that Slavery should not go into the new Territory, where it had not already gone? Why declare that within twenty years the African Slave Trade, by which slaves are supplied, might be cut off by Congress? Why were all these acts? I might enumerate more of these acts---but enough. What were they but a clear indication that the framers of the Constitution intended and expected the ultimate extinction of that institution. . . . "

Posted by: rich at July 25, 2007 11:38 PM
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