Saturday, 15 January 2011

After Abolition – The Legacy of Slavery: Part 2

by Marjorie H Morgan © 2013

After Abolition – The Legacy of Slavery : British Perceptions 

Britain used her stance on abolition in 1807 as a sign of being a nation of liberty compared with the slave-owning French and Americans.

Many anti-abolitionists saw the cessation of the slave trade as economic suicide for the financial system of Britain. They held the view that ex-slaves would cause the local West Indian economies to disappear as they became lazy and inactive. Many merchants, MPs and their supporters, often located in the port cities of Britain like Liverpool, Bristol, Lancaster, Plymouth, London and Glasgow, argued that slavery was the natural order of the world and was vital for the economy of colonies as well as for the national and local British economies. The fundamental argument of planters and merchants was that abolition would only assist their international competitors, like the French and the Dutch, who retained the system. Some anti-abolitionist argued that slavery made the slave ‘happy’ and that the system was not oppressive. Those against ending the trade in Africans suggested that the slave traders were in fact saviours to the captives, who had led miserable, barbaric lives before they were rescued and enslaved. These anti-abolitionists professed that the slave was in an elevated position because of the guarantee of a job for an entire life time and a supply of food every day. 

The beginning of the 19th century (1807) saw the prohibition of the transportation of captive African people in British ships or to British colonies. However, it was 26 years later, in 1833, before the horrific system of slavery was legally abolished throughout the British Empire.  The law, however, did not end the traffic in humans within the British Empire. The anti-abolitionists in the British Parliament and the colonial plantocracy resisted enforcing the law to end servitude. The 1833 law initially required that adult slaves and children over six years of age had to provide either four or six more years of labour before they were freed. 

This controlled ‘freedom’ came into force on Emancipation Day, 1st August 1834. The apprenticeship system was slavery by another name and it was a form of conciliation to the West Indian planters. The main duty of the plantation owners during this period was to provide the ex-slaves with religious and moral education. The planters were also compensated £20 million, from public funds, for the loss of what they considered their ‘property’: the slaves. 

The ex-slaves were given no reparation. 

William Wilberforce, an anti-slavery campaigner, had investigated how the slave trade had affected the economy of the African continent. His conclusions were that the trade in Africans had devastated and ruined the economy, and that there was an outstanding debt to assist Africa. In one of his many speeches against the barbarous trade in humans Wilberforce also equated condoning slavery to sanctioning mass murder.

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