Factors Leading to the Abolition of the Slave Trade

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The Economic, Social and Political Factors of the Abolition of the Slave Trade by
Jessica Comeau

The Trans-Atlantic slave trade had deep and far reaching affects on the continent of Africa and its people. Prior to the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, there was an active slave trade within Africa, although the connotation of the word slave was not the same for the Africans as it was for the Europeans. In an African society, a slave could eventually marry into the master’s family and rise to a prominent position within the state. Similarly, in the African society slaves were often taken solely to pay off debts and once the debt had been worked off, the ‘slave’ was free to go. This understanding of the word slave did not denote an entire lifetime of slavery, but merely was used to describe a person who was in a position similar of that to a servant or ward. In the European society at this time, the term slave was used to describe a human who was reduced to the status of being property to another human being. When the Trans-Atlantic slave trade came to be abolished in the 19th century, the economic, social and political landscapes were very different than they had been leading into the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. There are historians who have tried to make a case for economic factors being the largest contributor to the end of the slave trade, but it was the total summary of social, political and economical aspects which led to the eventual abolition of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.

The politics of the abolition of the slave trade were diverse and complex. Abolitionist efforts were taking place on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, with abolitionists working to change laws both in Europe and the United States of America. The first attempt to abolish slavery was the British Act of 1807. Coming shortly after the period of the Haitian Revolution, it would not be hard to say that one led to the other.[1] The Haitian revolt frightened slaveholders everywhere while inspiring other slaves and free blacks to action. It also convinced religiously motivated whites that only peaceful emancipation could prevent more bloodshed in the abolition of slavery.[2] Haiti became the first independent black republic in the world. Having vied for the abolition of the slave trade for almost eighteen years prior to this, the Act of 1807 was a large accomplishment for British abolitionists.[3] In the United States, President Jefferson was the first president to formally address the public on their ability to push for the prohibition of the slave trade. Jefferson went on to announce that no law prohibiting the slave trade could take affect until 1808, which prompted Senator Bradley of Vermont to push a bill through the Senate detailing how to abolish the slave trade. After much complication and debate Bradley’s bill went on to become the Act of March 2 1807.[4] However, during this period of time the Southern United States still did not have the majority public opinion behind the abolition of the slave trade, and this new law was regarded as one which could easily be broken with limited consequences because very few people were willing to enforce it. Despite the lenient attitudes that were present in the United States, public opinion was slowly forcing politicians to stand up against the slave trade.

The 19th century was a volatile century in regards to the abolition of the slave trade in both the United States and in Europe. When it came to looking at the United States, politics were quickly changing to accommodate the abolitionists. Although attitudes were changing towards the abolition of the slave trade, in the beginning of the 19th century, it was still commonplace for people to consider slaves to be a necessary evil in society. When discussing what to do with slaves should they be freed from their masters, it was thought that “…to have among us in any considerable quantity persons of this description is an evil far greater...
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