The Institution of Slavery

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The institution of Slavery The issue of slavery has

been touched upon often in the course of history. The

institution of slavery was addressed by French intellectuals

during the Enlightenment. Later, during the French

Revolution, the National Assembly issued the Declaration of

the Rights of Man, which declared the equality of all men.

Issues were raised concerning the application of this

statement to the French colonies in the West Indies, which

used slaves to work the land. As they had different interests

in mind, the philosophes, slave owners, and political leaders

took opposing views on the interpretation of universal

equality. Many of the philosophes, the leaders of the

Enlightenment, were against slavery. They held that all

people had a natural dignity that should be recognized.

Voltaire, an 18th century philosophe, pointed out that

hundreds of thousands of slaves were sacrificing their lives

just so the Europeans could quell their new taste for sugar,

tea and cocoa. A similar view was taken by Rousseau, who

stated that he could not bear to watch his fellow human

beings be changed to beasts for the service of others.

Religion entered into the equation when Diderot, author of

the Encyclopedia, brought up the fact that the Christian

religion was fundamentally opposed to Black slavery but

employed it anyway in order to work the plantations that

financed their countries. All in all, those influenced by the

ideals of the Enlightenment, equality, liberty, the right to

dignity, tended to oppose the idea of slavery. Differing from

the philosophes, the political leaders and property owners

tended to see slavery as an element that supported the

economy. These people believed that if slavery and the slave

trade were to be abolished, the French would lose their

colonies, commerce would collapse and as a result the

merchant marine, agriculture and the arts would decline....
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