1902 Encyclopedia > Slavery > Anti-Slavery Movement.

(Part 18)


Anti-Slavery Movement.

Meantime another and more radical reform had been in preparation and was already in progress, namely, the abolition of slavery itself in the foreign possessions of the several states of Europe. When the English slave trade had been closed, it was found that the evils of the traffic, as still continued by several other nations, were greatly aggravated. In consequence of the activity of the British cruisers the traders made great efforts to carry as many slaves as possible in every voyage, and practised atrocities to get rid of the slaves when capture was imminent. It was, besides, the interest of the cruisers, who shared the price of the captured slave-ship, rather to allow the slaves to be taken on board than to prevent their being shipped at all. Thrice as great a number of negroes as before, it was said, was exported. from Africa, and two-thirds of these were murdered on the high seas. It was found also that the abolition of the British slave trade did not lead to an improved treatment of the negroes in the West Indies. The slaves were overworked now that fresh supplies were stopped, and their numbers rapidly decreased. In 1807 there were in the West Indies 800,000; in 1830 they were reduced to 700,000. It became more and more evident that the root of the evil could be reached only by abolishing slavery altogether. At the same time, by the discussions which had for years gone on throughout English society on the subject of the slave trade, men’s consciences had been awakened to question the lawfulness of the whole system of things out of which that trade had taken its rise.

An appeal was made by Wilberforce in 1821 to Thomas Fowell Buxton to undertake the conduct of this new question in parliament. An anti-slavery society was established in 1823, the principal members of which, besides Wilberforce and Buxton, were Zachary Macaulay, Dr Lushington, and Lord Suffield. Buxton moved on 5th May of the same year that the House should take into consideration the state of slavery in the British colonies. The object he and his associates had then in view was gradual abolition by estiblishing something like a system of serfdom for existing slaves, and passing at the same time a measure emancipating all their children born after a certain day. Canning carried against Buxton and his friends a motion to the effect that the desired ameliorations in the condition and treatment of the slaves should be recommended by the home Government to the colonial legislatures, and enforced only in case of their resistance, direct action being taken in the single instance of Trinidad, which, being a crown colony, bad no legislature of its own. A well-conceived series of measures of reform was accordingly proposed to the colonial authorities. Thereupon a general outcry was raised by the planters at the acquiescence of the Government in the principles of the anti-slavery party. A vain attempt being made in Demerara to conceal from the knowledge of the slaves the arrival of the order in council, they became impressed with the idea that they had been set free, and accordingly refused to work, and, compulsion being resorted to, offered resistance. Martial law was proclaimed; the disturbances were repressed with great severity ; and the treatment of the missionary Smith, which was taken up and handled with great ability by Brougham, awakened strong feeling in England against the planters. The question, however, made little progress in parliament for some years, though Buxton, William Smith, Lusbington, Brougham, Mackintosh, Butterworth, and Denman, with the aid of Z. Macaulay, James Stephen, and others, continued the struggle, only suspending it during a period allowed to the local legislatures for carrying into effect the measures expected from them. In 1828 the free people of colour in the colonies were placed on a footing of legal equality with their fellow-citizens. In 1830 the public began to be aroused to a serious prosecution of the main issue. It was becoming plain that the planters would take no steps tending to the future liberation of the slaves, and the leaders of the movement determined to urge the entire abolition of slavery at the earliest practicable period. The Government continued to hesitate and to press for mitigations of the existing system. At length in 1833 the ministry of Earl Grey took the question in hand and carried the abolition with little difficulty, the measure passing the House of Commons on 7th August 1833 and receiving the Royal assent 28th of the same month. A sum of 20 millions sterling was voted as compensation to the planters. A system of apprenticeship for seven years was established as a transitional preparation for liberty. The slaves were bound to work for their masters during this period for three-fourths of the day, and were to be liable to corporal punishment if they did not give the due amount of labour. The master was, in return, to supply them with food and clothing. All children under six years of age were to be at once free, and provision was to be made for their religious and moral instruction. Many thought the postponement of emancipation unwise. Immediate liberation was carried out in Antigua, and public tranquillity was so far from being disturbed there that the Christmas of 1833 was the first for twenty years during which martial law was not proclaimed in order to preserve the peace. Notwithstanding protracted and strenuous opposition on the part of the Government, the House of Commons passed a resolution against the continuance of the transitional system. When this was done the local legislatures saw that the slaves would no longer work for the masters; they accordingly cut off two years of the indentured apprenticeship, and gave freedom to the slaves in August 1838 instead of 1840.

The example of Great Britain was gradually followed by the other European states, and some American ones had already taken action of the same kind. The immediate emancipation of the slaves in the French colonies was decreed by the Provisional Government of 1848. In 1858 it was enacted that every slave belonging to a Portuguese subject should be free in twenty years from that date, a system of tutelage being established in the meantime. This law came into operation on 29th April 1878, and the status of slavery was theceforth illegal throughout the Portuguese possessions. The Dutch emancipated their slaves in 1863. Several of the Spanish American states, on declaring their independence, had adopted measures for the discontinuance of slavery within their limits. It was abolished by a decree of the Mexican republic on 15th September 1829. The Government of Buenos Ayres enacted that all children born to slaves after 31st January 1813 should be free; and in Colombia it was provided that those born after 16th July 1821 should be liberated on attaining their eighteenth year.

Share this page:

Read the rest of this article:
"Slavery" Article - Table of Contents

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-23 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries