Thursday, April 27, 2006

Abolitionist movements

Slavery has existed, in one form or another, through the whole of recorded human history — as have, in various periods, movements to free large or distinct groups of slaves. According to the Biblical Book of Exodus, Moses led Israelite slaves out of ancient Egypt — possibly the first written account of a movement to free slaves. Later Jewish laws (known as Halacha) prevented slaves from being sold out of the Land of Israel, and allowed a slave to move to Israel if he so desired. The Cyrus Cylinder, inscribed about 539 B.C.E., abolished slavery and allowed Jews and other nationalities who had been enslaved under Babylonian rule to return to their native lands.

Abolitionism should be distinguished from efforts to help a particular group of slaves, or to restrict one practice, such as the slave trade.

Portugal was the first country in Europe to abolish slavery, at least in its European territory. This was done by a decree issued in February 12, 1761 by the prime minister, the Marquis of Pombal.

In 1772, a legal case concerning James Somersett established the illegality of slavery in England.

Proclamation of the abolition of slavery by Victor Hughes in Guadeloupe, 1 November 1794There were slaves in mainland France, but the institution was never fully authorized there. However, slavery was vitally important in France's Caribbean possessions, especially Saint-Domingue. In 1793, unable to repress the massive slave revolt of August 1791 that had become the Haitian Revolution, the French Revolutionary commissioners Sonthonax and Polverel declared general emancipation. In Paris, on February 4, 1794, Abbé Grégoire and the Convention ratified this action by officially abolishing slavery in all French territories. Napoleon sent troops to the Caribbean in 1802 to try to re-establish French control. They were successful at doing so in Guadeloupe and Martinique, but the ex-slaves of Saint-Domingue defeated the French army and declared independence. The colony became Haiti, the first black republic, on January 1, 1804. To prevent the reimposition of slavery, the new state broke up the plantations into small private land holdings. However, these also proved too small for economic development, leading to widespread poverty. In France's other Caribbean colonies, where slavery was re-established, abolition did not take place until 1848.

Following the work of campaigners in the United Kingdom, the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was passed on March 25, 1807. The act imposed a fine of £100 for every slave found aboard a British ship. The intention was to outlaw the slave trade within the British Empire. The Slavery Abolition Act, passed on August 23, 1833, outlawed slavery in British colonies. On August 1, 1834 all slaves in the British Empire were emancipated, but those still working were indentured to their former owners in an "apprenticeship" system, which was abolished in 1838 after peaceful protests in Trinidad.[11]

Around this time, slaves in other parts of the world, aided by abolitionists, also began their struggle for independence. Beginning during the American Revolution, states in the Northern parts of the U.S. began to free their slaves. Pennsylvania passed the first Gradual Emancipation act in 1780, and Massachusetts ended slavery wholesale in 1783 by judicial decree. By 1804, NJ would be the final "Northern" state to end enslavement. Slaves in the United States who escaped ownership would often make their way north with white and black abolitionist support to the northern part of the country or Canada through what became known as the "Underground Railroad". Famously active abolitionists of the U.S. include William Lloyd Garrison, Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner, Frederick Douglass and John Brown. Disputes over slavery, and its extension into new territories, helped to lead to the American Civil War, which took the lives of more than 620,000 soldiers. The Emancipation Proclamation, issued during the war, and the Thirteenth Amendment, ratified in 1865, finally abolished slavery in the United States.

Portugal abolished slavery in its overseas territories in 1869, following British lobbying and prior agreements to the gradual abolition of slavery throughout the Portuguese Empire. Spain abolished slavery in Cuba and Puerto Rico in 1873 and 1886, respectively. The last nation in the Americas to abolish slavery was Brazil, who did so in 1888.

The abolition movement was fueled in part by a growing sense that slavery was morally repugnant, but also for economic reasons. Most of the former slaveowners (those that did not go bankrupt) found they could get cheaper labor costs by simply hiring the former slaves only when they needed them, instead of committing to feeding and housing them in perpetuity. The invention of the electric motor and a myriad of household machinery that had taken most of the drudgery out of housework removed the necessity of household slaves. The invention of labor saving devices has made farming and industrial production so labor-free that slaves are in actuality not cost effective; not considering of course the importance of the equity value involved in slave ownership.

Abolition led to new concerns, notably the question of what to do with the massive increase in the number of people needing work, housing, and so on. To answer this question, Sierra Leone and Liberia were established for former slaves of the British Empire and United States respectively. Supporters of the effort believed the repatriation of slaves to Africa would be the best solution to the problem as well as setting right the injustices done to their ancestors. While these efforts may have been in good faith, and indeed some blacks (notably parts of the Harlem Renaissance) embraced repatriation, there were other motives as well; for instance, trade unions did not want the cheap labor of former slaves around, and racism (i.e. solving the problem by getting rid of the blacks) may have played a role. Regardless of the motives, both efforts were largely unsuccessful.[citation needed]

The 1926 Slavery Convention, an initiative of the League of Nations, was a turning point in banning global slavery. Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 by the UN General Assembly, explicitly banned slavery. The United Nations 1956 Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery was convened to outlaw and ban slavery worldwide, including child slavery. In December 1966, the UN General Assembly adopted the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which was developed from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 8 of this international treaty bans slavery. The treaty came into force in March 1976 after it had been ratified by 35 nations. By November 2003 104 nations had ratified the treaty.