Bury the Chains Term Paper

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Abolition of Slavery

Abolition of European Empires' Slaves

From sixteenth to early nineteenth century, European imperial powers practiced slavery as if it was a normal way of running business. The institution of slavery for many powerful entities in Europe was essential for maintaining their positions of political and economic power. Slavery helped Europeans to enrich themselves and increase their military power, gaining military edge over their rivals, and played a significant role in strengthening Europe's overall position in world affairs. While Europeans enslaved many people around the world, the crucial to Europe was the Atlantic slave trade and sugar plantations in the Caribbean. And whereas slave owners and slave traders often received the blessings of their political as well as religious leaders, many people increasingly became appalled at witnessing the horrors of the inhuman institution. At the same time, discontent with their extremely sordid conditions, many slaves rebelled against their slave masters. These developments together, and the accompanying intellectual debates over these developments, played a crucial role in ending slavery.

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Although slavery was justified on not only political and economic but also religious and moral grounds three- and four hundred years ago in Europe (mainly because of racist beliefs and the profitability of slavery), many religious activists, especially Quakers, and Enlightenment humanists began to oppose it in the seventeenth century. As a result, many European states began to ban the ownership of slaves. In Britain, it became illegal to own slaves in 1772. However, it was not the end of slavery in the territories held by the British Empire. The practice continued and pro-slavery persons managed to keep the unjust practice for some time because the horrors of slavery were no longer in sight for conscientious citizens to see. Therefore, the main task of abolitionists was to expose the cruelty of slavery which was the norm in British territories outside the metropole by running an anti-slavery public relations campaign.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Bury the Chains Assignment

The abolitionists in Britain used existing democratic institutions, print media, and general public awareness campaigns to discredit slavery in the eyes of the majority. In a matter of years, the efforts of abolitionists paid off. As Adam Hochschild argues, in Britain "it was the first time a large number of people became outraged, and stayed outraged for many years, over someone else's rights" (5, italics original). The outraged Britons began to boycott sugar, tobacco, coffee, and other products that were grown through brutal exploitation of slaves. These boycotts hit hard at the businesses that profited from slavery. Abolitionists who spoke in Parliament and other public spaces as well as churches discredited pro-slavery arguments by appealing to the empathy of the people and exposing the lies of slave owners who claimed that Africans had no objections to slavery or that slaves working in sugar plantations in the Caribbean were better off than those living in Africa. Some abolitionists criticized slavery by drawing a comparison with other forms of oppression. Elizabeth Heyrick, a woman who became known for being one of the first to call for immediate abolition, said that she was "especially qualif[ied] . . . To plead for the oppressed," and compared anti-slavery insurrections in West Indies to Greek struggle for independence: "Was it not in the cause of self-defence from the most degrading, intolerable oppression?' Why were these revolts, she asked, any less 'heroic and meritorious' than the Greek battle for independence from the Turks?" (Hochschild 325).

Abolition of slavery in France was different than in Britain although there were many similarities. Some enlightenment humanists in France, too, challenged slavery on moral grounds, comparing it to other forms of oppression. In a passage from a history of European colonialism, Denis Diderot wrote in 1780 that France must stop participating in slave-trading and declare war on those who practiced it. Describing slave trade as "this infamous and criminal traffic of men who are turned into herds of cattle," he called for "saintly enthusiasm of humanity." Diderot argued that slaves, just like other men, wanted freedom and that it would be natural for slaves to rise up against slave masters. "Nature speaks louder than philosophy or interest," he said: "all that the Negroes lack is a leader courageous enough to carry them to vengeance and carnage" (Dubois and Carrigus 56).

The most widely used argument against slavery in France and the French colonies was that slavery was against Republican ideals of freedom, liberty, and equality. Many revolutionaries in France and those in Saint-Domingue compared slavery to tyranny. Jean-Paul Marat, arguing that the colonial masters in French colonies had the right to rebel against the tyranny of metropole France, nevertheless condemned them "as the despotic masters of the mulattoes and the tyrannical masters of the blacks." "If the laws of nature precede those of society and if the rights of man are inalienable, then whatever complaints the white colonists have against the French nation, the mulattoes and the blacks have against the white colonists," he continued, justifying the violence slave rebels may resort to in their struggle against tyranny. "To bring down the cruel and shameful yoke that oppresses them, they have the right to use all possible means, even death, should they be forced to massacre their oppressors to the last man" (Dubois and Carrigus 112).

Among rebel leaders, Bramante Lazzary also equated slavery with royal tyranny. In a letter he wrote to a general fighting on Spanish side in 1793, he compared Saint-Domingue's battle against slave masters to French Revolution: "The cause of my co-citizens and myself is the same; it is that willed by twenty-five million Europeans who have annihilated tyranny and persecution." "While the Frenchmen shudder at the word king," Lazzary said, calling Frenchmen his brothers, "all my brothers and I shudder at the memory of our tyrants" (Dubois and Carrigus 126). These revolutionary ideas resonated with the views of abolitionists in France. One of them, Thomas Clark, argued that it was not abolitionism that caused Insurrection in West Indies, but the barbarity of slavery. "That the slave trade, and the oppression naturally resulting from it, was the real and only cause of this Insurrection," he proclaimed (Dubois and Carrigus 114).

Revolutionaries on both sides of the Atlantic often combined their anti-slavery arguments with anti-imperial arguments. At the heart of both systems, they argued, lay system of oppression and forceful imposition of one's will over another. They argued that slavery and imperialism supported each other and both were tyrannous. To European enlightened humanists, slavery and imperialism denied liberty and equality to all men and women. Many slave revolutionaries and abolitionists saw their fate as similar to those who perished under the shackles of colonialism. Quobna Ottobah Cugoano, an African slave who became a free man in Britain, wrote of the Spanish colonialists in the Americas, suggesting that the indigenous Americans were treated as brutally as slaves: "Led on by the treacherous Cortes, the fate of the great Montezuma was dreadful and shocking . . . no man of sensibility and feeling can read the history without pity and resentment" (Hochschild 136). Since imperialism facilitated Atlantic slave trade and other forms of servitude for colored peoples of the world, revolutionaries argued that imperialism must be opposed to end slavery.

A theme of focus that helps us explain revolutionary and independence movements during abolitionist era is the tangible past, which refers to material culture and consumer goods of the past. Just like many consumer goods drive international trade today, sugar, cotton, tobacco, coffee, indigo, and other products drove global slave trade in the past. Among these, sugar in the eighteenth century was most important. Hochschild equates the importance of sugar for the eighteenth century to the importance of oil today (54). Unaware of the negative side effects of consuming large amounts of sugar, Britons continuously demanded the sweet substance coming from canes. The demand helped the slave trade continue and prosper as more and more slaves were needed to grow greater amounts of sugar cane and meet the increasing demands in Europe. Likewise, when Europeans exposed to the horrors of plantation slavery decided to boycott products coming from brutal slave labor, it stroke a blow to the business for which slavery was essential. For this reason, some abolitionists in Britain called for the boycott of sugar and tobacco coming from the British colonies where slaves were being brutally exploited.

Sugar was also important because, unlike cotton and tobacco, sugar needed to be refined which required almost industrial level labor. Sugar plantations were more dangerous and required greater labor. Dubois and Carrigus explain: "a sugar plantation was as much a factory as a farm. Planters invested in expensive refining equipment, counting on years of profitable crops. The more land they could plant and the more workers they had tending and processing the cane, the faster they could recoup their outlay. Sugar was most profitable for the biggest planters and for those who could bend their workers to the industrial discipline that the crop imposed" 10-11).

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