Abolition of the Slave Trade

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August 23rd is UNESCO’s International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. It commemorates the night in 1791 of the uprising in Haiti against the slave trade. This led to a 13 year war with France, and on the first day of Haiti’s independence, in 1804, slavery was totally outlawed.

Of note, in 1777 the State of Vermont, an independent Republic after the American Revolution, became the first sovereign state to abolish slavery.

It is often commented that Britain led the way on abolition of slavery. Certainly the 1787 founding of The Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was critical. But despite the 1807 Act banning the Atlantic Slave Trade it wasn’t until 1833 that the full Abolition of Slavery Act was passed, ordering gradual abolition of slavery in all British colonies, and compensating slave owners. As noted by Professor Kehinde Andrews, ‘Britain used 40% of its national budget, which was £20m – roughly £1.3bn in today’s terms – to buy freedom for all slaves in the empire. Compensation was paid directly to slave owners, and not a penny was handed to the people who had been enslaved‘.

Other Western countries acted faster (e.g. Spain, 1811, abolished all slavery, including in its colonies, though Cuba rejected the ban).

In France, full abolition was 1848. Worthy of note, though – unlike Britain, France has a national day commemorating the abolition of slavery on 10th May, always attended by the President.

Like most history, slavery is worthy of careful study and not simply political rhetoric.

As Professor Olivette Otele’s article notes ‘Britain would rather be remembered as a saviour and emancipator than a perpetrator. As a result, we hear far less about other parts of its history, such as how, in the scramble to colonise parts of Africa in the 19th century, abolitionist arguments helped to justify imperial expansion. The solution to this collective amnesia should be honest conversations about the past and its impact on 21st-century Britain’.

Olivette Otele’s article: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/aug/23/world-remember-slavery-britain-imperial-history

Kehinde Andrews Interview: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/aug/23/uk-public-holiday-remember-slave-trade

Header: Mick Yates. 2017. Martinique, Memorial to Abolition of Slavery, 1848.


Also of interest: Liverpool’s support for the Confederacy in the American Civil War. The last Confederate surrender occurred in Liverpool on 6 November 1865, when the warship CSS Shenandoah surrendered at the Pier Head, Liverpool.


And this describes the involvement of the US’s Sons of Confederate Veterans in Liverpool, even today.


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