The political and economic reasons behind the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade Like most historical arguments, there is much controversy about the reasons for the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade and the subsequent progressive abolition of the slave system itself in the New World . Some have argued that in Britain, it was the power of the moral/Christian arguments presented by the abolitionist movement, led by the great parliamentarian, William Wilberforce. Others have pointed to the international impact of the French Revolution, or emphasize the growing crescendo of slave rebellion in the New World colonies, or inter-imperialist competition between the European powers, or to changing economic conditions in the development of capitalism . In support to this background, this paper discusses the political and economic reasons behind the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade. In the first place, the paper discusses the political reasons behind the abolition of the slave trade and then lastly the economic reasons behind the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade.
To begin with, it is worth noting to note that, politically, critical events such as the Haiti and the slave revolts inspired by the French and American Revolutions played a very substantial role in the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade . With regards to this, it is of absolute importance to note that the vital changes that brought the transatlantic trade to an end occurred not in Europe, but in the colonies where the slaves were put to work in the plantation system . Although the abolitionist movements in Britain, the USA, France and elsewhere were important, they played a secondary or auxiliary role to the struggles of the black slaves themselves . Thus, Political and social change inspired by the American and French Revolutions, stimulated both slave revolts and abolition movements alike, which often became inextricably linked with independence movements . The 1791 slave rising in Saint-Domingue (Haiti), which transformed into a struggle for self-determination and national independence, was two years after Revolution in France and the first successful slave revolution . In response, the French revolutionary government was inspired to abolish slavery in 1794, though this was restored under Napoleon in 1802 . The final victory of Haiti’s ‘Black Jacobins’ over British invasion and then Napoleon’s attempt to re-take the island in 1803 led in 1804 to recognition of Haiti’s independence. In 1816 Simon Bolivar was inspired and materially aided by the revolutionaries in Haiti, in the invasion of mainland South America that eventually defeated the Spanish Empire . The army included many black troops.
Very closely related to this, in British Jamaica, the continuing resistance of the Maroons (warrior communities of escaped slaves) was a constant thorn in the side of the colonial government and the planters, despite the compromise treaty that resulted from the Maroon wars led by the woman liberation fighter, Nanny of the Maroons, fifty years earlier . Also it was the revolt of 20,000 slaves in Jamaica in 1831, and its horrific repression, which influenced the passing of the 1833 bill abolishing slavery itself in all British colonies which only finally took effect in 1838 after £20 million in compensation, was paid to the planters for their loss of property (£20 billion in today’s money) .
In the second place, it is of paramount importance to note that, the abolition of the Atlantic Slave trade was a political movement with a social base that was mainly plebeian who saw slavery as a threat to their own liberties . If the motives of the slaves themselves for resistance and revolution are clear, the motives for the abolition movement in Britain are less so . First, it was not just a moral crusade by a few upper class leaders but a political movement with a social base that was mainly plebeian who saw slavery as a threat to their own liberties . The movement...
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