The Abolition of Slavery

Slavery first began in the West when Portuguese slave-trading ships, loaded with captured African men, women and children, landed in the harbors of the Americas. Although this trade was begun by Portugal, England, Holland and France joined in the 17th century.

The slaves were taken on ships from West Africa to Brazil, the Caribbean Islands and British North America. One of the worst parts of these voyages, other than the cramped and un-sanitary quarters, was that when a slave fell ill and threatened to contaminate the ship and sailors, the ruthless seamen would throw the ill slave overboard.

It wasn’t surprising that anti-slavery ideas began to form in the people’s minds. England, one of the main slave-trading countries, abolished slavery in 1833. This came about as follows.

William Wilberforce (1759-1833) was a key figure in getting the 1808 law abolishing English slave trade to pass. In 1833, just a month after this influential man died, the law abolishing English slavery was passed.

Proclamation of Abolition of Slavery in French Colonies

Proclamation of Abolition of Slavery in French Colonies

Wilberforce may have been one of the persons involved in the English anti-slavery society, begun in 1787.  This society had several arguments against slavery that led to its abolition:

  • An economic argument: that slavery does not improve the economy, but rather does the opposite.
  • The humanitarian argument: against the cruelty of the slave traders towards the slaves and the poor conditions in which they were kept.
  • The natural rights argument: this idea had begun with the Levellers and John Locke, who both said that you own yourself and have individual rights.
  • The argument regarding national security: research done by Thomas Clarkson proved that slave trade was diminishing the number of sailors, therefore making the country more vulnerable regarding naval defense.

In Brazil’s abolition of slavery different techniques were put to use. Slave free zones encouraged runaway slaves. There were also several slave revolts. Anti-slavery groups would go door-to-door offering to buy the slaves’ freedom. All this led to the Brazilian slave abolishment in 1888.

Although not all Western countries, including America, abolished slavery peacefully, most did. The abolition of slavery was an enormous step forward towards the creation of a free Western world.


  • France and Danish countries: 1848
  • Holland: 1863
  • Cuba: 1886
  • Brazil: 1888
  • England: 1833
  • S.A: 1863-65

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