Who were abolitionists

Also read the article "The Atlantic Slave Trade" in EHNE.

The term "abolitionism" and the beginning of a critical reflection on slavery

The term "abolitionism" is understood to mean the organized protest against the European slave trade and slavery as the working system of the colonies in the New World, which first appeared in the Anglo-American region in the second half of the 18th century.1 On the one hand, there were moral objections of the Enlightenmentists, e.g. on the part of Charles Baron de Montesquieu (1689–1755), and the natural law concept of freedom and equality (formulated, among others, by the Scottish Enlightenmentists Francis Hutcheson (1694–1747), Adam Ferguson (1723–1816) , Adam Smith (1723–1790) or in the French Enlightenment, among others, by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), by Guillaume Thomas François Abbé Raynal (1713–1796) and as a basic idea of Encyclopédie), who prepared the discourse of the protest. On the other hand, the non-conformist Protestant movements, first and foremost among the Quakers (Society of Friends), the conviction emerges that slavery is contrary to Christian teaching.2

It is true that even in the Middle Ages people rejected bondage and were familiar with the Christian principle of equality for all before God.3 However, this has not yet prompted an in-depth critical reflection on the contradiction to slavery. This began in the 15th century, but initially only referred to the enslavement of one's own ethnic and religious group, also within the European framework. In the 17th century at the latest, because of their English birth, the English began to perceive themselves as free and non-enslavable.4 However, this feeling of the right to freedom did not yet extend to members of non-religious, non-European cultures. The framework of thought of the Roman ius gentium,5 allowed the enslavement of non-citizens, for example as a result of war, continued to work and thus supported the profitable transatlantic slave trade with Africans.6

By 1770, the islands of the British Caribbean were economically almost entirely dependent on the use of slaves, who made up over 80 percent of the local population. Because of the high mortality rate, the planters here, unlike in the colonies of mainland North America, where natural reproduction met the need for labor, were interested in maintaining the slave trade. British traders benefited from both the transatlantic slave trade and trade in the raw materials obtained from slaves. It was similar with the French, Spanish and Dutch.7

The Status of Slaves in Europe in the 18th Century

In Europe itself, however, the presence of African slaves was not desired. There were isolated cases of slave emancipation here as early as the 16th century. So that liberated Parlement8 from Guyenne a shipload of slaves put up for sale in Bordeaux, with the remark that "France, mother of freedom, does not allow slavery".9 There was also uncertainty about how to deal with slave owners who brought their slaves back to the motherland. In France, a royal edict of 1716 provided that the property rights of the slave owner were guaranteed if he was only temporarily in the country and brought his slaves to France for religious education or to learn a trade. However, if the owner did not adhere to the formalities of requesting and registering the slaves concerned, then they had the right to enforce their freedom. Not all Parlements however, took up the validity of this edict in their area of ​​jurisdiction, so that the question of whether stepping on European soil meant emancipation had to be clarified in legal proceedings. Some slaves were liberated in this way, albeit in the midst of a racist discourse about tolerating a free colored population in the country. Finally, the ordinance prohibited Police des Noirs from 1777 the stay of free colored people as well as that of slaves in France. However, this regulation was not implemented everywhere either, exceptions were granted and slaves continued to be freed in new court judgments.10

In England, too, the problem of slaves brought along - and then escaped - was dealt with. Although there were slave markets here, court rulings tended not to fully denote the status of enslaved persons as slavery (chat slavery), but in the sense of the bondage existing in England (servitude) as slavish servitude or near slavery interpreting and rejecting the arbitrary power of the owner over his slaves, including brutal punishment.11 Nevertheless, the opinion was also expressed that slaves were free as soon as they set foot on English soil, for example by Sir William Blackstone (1723-1780) in the first edition of his Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765).12 The so-called Somerset Case by 1772.13 This was about the slave James Somerset, who had escaped from his owner during his stay in England, was captured again and was to be sold on to Jamaica. London abolitionists, above all Granville Sharp (1735–1813),14 campaigned for Somerset. The chief judge of the Court of King's BenchLord Mansfield (1705-1793) decided on June 22, 1772 that he could not be forced to return to the British colonies and thus into slavery. The decision, which was widespread in newspapers and magazines - in the Anglo-American region there was already an extensive and little censored communication network at that time15 - emphasized that slavery could only be authorized by positive law, i.e. by parliament, in England and its colonies, but not from the existing one Common law let derive. Since there was no such law in England, Somerset should be released.

The Somerset case gave rise to transatlantic cooperation between abolitionists in the North American colonies and motherland England.16 The fact that a year later the emancipation of the descendants of Portuguese slaves was decreed in Portugal met with significantly less response in the transatlantic region.17

The beginning of the abolition movement in North America and Great Britain until the slave trade was banned in 1807

Even before the court ruling in the Somerset case, there had been statements against slavery in Great Britain and North America.18 In Germantown, Pennsylvania, Quakers had passed the first known resolution against slavery in 1688. In the 1750s, John Woolman (1720–1772) campaigned in Philadelphia against the slave trade and the keeping of slavery among Quakers19 and in 1758 the Quakers of Philadelphia forbade their fellow believers to engage in the slave trade. Similar resolutions, increasingly rejecting the possession of slaves, were later taken in other Quaker meetings in New England and, in 1761, in London. Anthony Benezet (1713–1784), who had emigrated from France via London to Philadelphia, finally gave the impetus for a more extensive agitation against slavery. The slave trade and possession should not only be banned among the Quakers, but should be abolished throughout the British Empire. In this context, he corresponded in 1772 in the area of ​​the Somerset Falls with the British Granville Sharp. He proposed a petition by residents of Maryland and Virginia against the slave trade. Sharp advised that this should be addressed to the King and not to the British Parliament, so as not to indirectly recognize Parliament's authority over the colonies. The Quakers should also try to raise import taxes on slaves in the colonies in order to make the slave trade unattractive. Sharp himself turned to the British government on this matter, but he was ignored.20 In 1775 the first anti-slavery societies were founded in Philadelphia, New York and other American cities.

The measures planned by Sharp to restrict the importation of slaves were not a very controversial topic at the time. In the northern colonies of the North American mainland in particular, the prevailing opinion was that the proportion of the slave population was high enough. Accordingly, the prohibition of the slave trade after the independence of the United States found its way into the federal constitution of 1787. However, the validity of this prohibition only from 1807 reflected the general compromise character of the American constitution with regard to slavery.21

Seymour Drescher, in his recent overview of the abolitionist movement and the political measures to abolish slavery, assessed the independence of the United States in 1776 as a (temporary) setback for the anti-slavery movement. The English abolitionists would have lost the political support for ending the slave trade within the Empire, the American the political weight of a slave-free European state for an international settlement of the question.22 In addition, the War of Independence initially masked all abolitionist efforts on both sides of the Atlantic. On the other hand, Christopher Leslie Brown has pointed out that it was precisely the American Revolution that drew attention to "the moral character of colonial institutions and imperial practices" and thus gave rise to active abolitionism in Great Britain.23

The Quakers who formed a transatlantic network24 remained strong in the anti-slavery movement. Benezet had already sought contact with the British in the early 1770s, and John Woolman attended the London annual meeting of Quakers in 1772, shortly before his death.25 After the peace treaty between Great Britain and the United States in 1783, the British Quakers were finally ready, at the suggestion of their American fellow believers, to petition the House of Commons against the slave trade and to send a corresponding letter to the king.

In the independent United States, meanwhile, the anti-slavery movement spread particularly in the northern states, where there were few slaves and no plantation system. New associations emerged, around 1787 the Philadelphia Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery under Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790), who petitions to the individual states and also to the federal congress, here for the abolition of the slave trade and the participation of American citizens in it. Often there were also so-called Manumission Societies in the northern and southern states, who wanted to persuade slave owners to give their slaves freedom of their own accord.26 In 1794, the first meeting of various North American anti-slavery associations took place in Philadelphia to coordinate their activities. Some northern states gradually began to abolish slavery and also called for the early termination of the slave trade.27

These American developments in turn influenced the British abolitionists. In 1787 the first English anti-slavery organization, the London Abolition Committee, of which Granville Sharp became chairman.28 The English politician William Wilberforce (1759–1833), who repeatedly introduced bills to parliament, was also in the lead here,29 as well as Thomas Clarkson (1760–1846), the organizer of the society, who through reading Anthony Benezets Some Historical Account of Guinea (1771) won over to the cause of abolitionism and carried out detailed studies on the treatment of slaves on the transatlantic crossing.30 Local associations quickly emerged under the umbrella association, which was also founded in 1787 and active until 1807 Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade connected to each other. The London Committee specifically focused on lobbying politicians during the Manchester Abolition Committee Organized petitions to Parliament against the slave trade.31 The abolitionists filed lawsuits and from 1791 organized a boycott of the sugar produced by slaves.

In the 1790s, however, British abolitionism experienced a slump due to the French Revolution - the support of English Jacobins for the abolition of the slave trade and the outbreak of war against France. Thomas Clarkson also had to temporarily withdraw from the exercise for health reasons.32

In 1804, however, the British abolitionists became active again and succeeded in making the abolition of the slave trade and later of slavery a question of national and thus patriotic interests. With their active public relations work through the publication of tracts and brochures, the publication of their own association newspapers and the organization of lectures as well as mass meetings to collect signatures for the petitions, they succeeded in a mass mobilization that was before this time in the United States and also on the European continent so had not given.33

As in America, the base in non-conformist Protestant movements in Britain was remarkable. Above all Quakers, Unitarians and Methodists, here above all the church founder John Wesley (1703–1791),34 used existing networks in the course of their work for a variety of reforms.35 The evangelical movement, which preached grace to all converted to God, regardless of their origin or culture, also played an important role in the abolition of slavery.36 Historians, however, are divided on the question of what significance - in addition to this religious and humanitarian motivation - the social basis of the activists in the middle class and as entrepreneurs had, i.e. to what extent their commitment to a free labor market37 and free foreign trade in the sense of strengthening Britain's financial power in the capitalist system influenced their engagement as abolitionists.38 In any case, they celebrated their first major success with the British ban on the transatlantic slave trade in 1807.39

Abolitionism in France

Although there were individual voices against slavery on the European continent, there was no such broadly organized association activity as in the Anglo-American region. Only in France, which had a checkered history of the abolition of slavery in its Caribbean colonies, was British influence felt and led to an abolitionist movement, albeit in a more modest format. 1788 was created by the journalist Jacques-Pierre Brissot de Warville (1754–1793) at the instigation of the English Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade initiated Société des Amis des Noirs.40 In this society, Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet (1743–1794), who in 1781 the Reflections on l'esclavage des nègres41had published, the later revolutionary Abbé Grégoire (1750-1831), Honoré-Gabriel Riqueti, Comte de Mirabeau (1749-1791) and Marie Joseph Motier, Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834), who had undertaken an emancipation project in South American Guyana.42 Initially, the association was severely restricted in its work due to the efforts of the monarchy to censor. The club newspaper Analysis of the Anglais paper was only allowed to appear on the condition that it printed translations of the activities of the British.43 In contrast to the English mother association, with which she kept close contact through Thomas Clarkson, the Société des Amis des Noirs continued in their demands, however, and demanded not only the abolition of the slave trade, but of slavery in general, in the context of a gradual abolition. She also campaigned for the rights of free blacks. However, it did not reach a mass base because its members came from the social elite. In addition, the influence of the English anti-slavery association contradicted the then prevailing Anglophobic attitudes. The association, especially Mirabeau, did not succeed in raising the issue of the slave trade in the National Assembly in 1789/1790.44 1793, at the time of the terreur, the club was then banned and Brissot and others were guillotined.

The abolition of slavery was therefore not the highest priority in the French Revolution, nor was it explicitly addressed in the Declaration of Human and Civil Rights. Nevertheless, the catchwords freedom, equality and brotherhood found their way into the international abolitionist movement and also had an impact in the colonies. In these slave riots were not yet successful. Only in Saint Domingue, later Haiti, was it possible in 1791 to force the French government to take action by means of a bloody revolt.45 This first reacted in 1792 by granting full civil rights to the free blacks of the colonies.The war with Great Britain exposed France to the risk of losing the colonies and therefore finally decreed the liberation of slaves in February 1794, but only implemented it in the Caribbean and not on its possessions in the Indian Ocean. In the Caribbean colonies, slavery was also replaced by a forced labor system in order to maintain the plantations.46 In Haiti, too, after independence in 1804, this form of work continued into the 1830s.

The surviving members of the Société des Amis des Noirs re-formed in 1796 under Grégoire as Société des Amis des Noirs et des Colonies and protested the forced labor. When Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) came to power in 1799, the club was finally suppressed. In 1802 Napoleon reintroduced slavery in the colonies, but ended the slave trade in 1815 after his return from Elba. The Bourbons left this regulation on British pressure, but hardly actively implemented it.

The abolition movements in Great Britain and North America from the Congress of Vienna to the American Civil War

After the slave trade was banned, the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade Active from 1807 until 1827 African institution was replaced, which tried to enforce the trade ban, also internationally.47 At the Congress of Vienna, the British government had at least obtained the consent of the participating powers for a declaration of intent to end the slave trade. In the following decades, under pressure from the abolitionist movement, it pursued an international campaign against the slave trade.48 To this end, Britain signed a number of bilateral agreements that allowed the British Navy to search shipments for control purposes. This control of transatlantic shipping, but also of the slave trade in the Mediterranean, resulted in high financial costs and human lives, for example in the context of an Anglo-Dutch expedition in 1816 that sought to free Christian slaves by bombarding the barbarian state of Algiers .

When it became known that despite the abolition of the Anglo-American slave trade, the number of enslaved people had increased rather than decreased, a new abolitionist wave began in Britain in the 1820s. Her main concern was the prohibition of slavery in the British colonies. Inspired by the treatise Immediate, Not Gradual Abolition (1824) the Quaker Elizabeth Heyrick (1769–1831),49 individual associations advocate the complete abolition of slavery (immediacyists). Others, however, advocated gradual abolition, such as Thomas Fowell Buxton (1786-1845), who now took on the task of submitting Bills to Parliament from Wilberforce. Founded in 1823 Society for Mitigation and Gradual Abolition of British Colonial Slavery did not turn to the demand for the immediate abolition of slavery until the late 1820s. Organization and strategies were now characterized by a special system, for example in the formation of branch associations.50 Again, petitions reflected the clout of the movement. In 1833 the peak was reached with over 5,000 petitions and almost 1.5 million signatures.51 While the active members of the abolition associations were locally recruited to a very variable extent, mainly from the middle class, it was also possible to mobilize workers for petitions.

Above all, however, was the large number of women who were involved in both the British and American abolition movements.52 They participated in the anti-slavery petitions, even if their signature was not initially considered legitimate. In 1833, over 400,000 women are said to have signed petitions in Great Britain.53 They also held their own meetings and from 1825 in England - first in Birmingham - and from 1832 in the United States - first in Salem, Massachusetts - formed their own anti-slavery associations for women. They organized boycotts against products derived from slave plantations such as sugar,54 Rum and cotton (free produce movement). In the United States, they helped escaped slaves, particularly in escaping to slavery-free Canada. Abolitionists also maintained close transatlantic contacts. Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) visited on an advertising tour for her 1852 published, very successful abolitionist novel Uncle Tom's Cabin Great Britain.55

With their engagement women appeared in the political-public space, although the dominant gender discourse actually spoke out against it. This created essential impulses for the later women's movement. Slavery was converted to the gender ratio and an analogy was made between the situation of women in marriage and slavery, as was the case at the beginning of the 18th century by the Englishwoman Mary Astell (1666–1731).56 Many abolitionists such as the Quakers Anne Knight (1781–1862) and Lucretia Mott (1793–1880) also campaigned for women's rights from the middle of the 19th century.

Another outstanding social group in the anti-slavery movement were the freed slaves. African Americans were active against slavery in North America as early as the 1770s.57 Around 1772 they collected signatures in New England for their own petitions for the abolition of slavery in this region. In Great Britain, Ottobah Cugoano (approx. 1757 – approx. 1803) with his 1787 were published Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil of Slavery and Olaudah Equiano (approx. 1745–1797) with the 1789 published Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African written by himself famous. Equianao had ransomed and sought refuge in England from the danger of re-enslavement. He has made very successful lecture tours in Great Britain.

In contrast to England, the United States also dealt with the conditions of coexistence in a society that was characterized by segregation and discrimination.58 The transfer of the freed slaves back to Africa had long been considered as a solution. As early as 1787, such a settlement of American slaves in Sierra Leone was carried out with great difficulty on the initiative of the British abolitionist Granville Sharp.59 In 1816, in order to implement this idea in what would later become Liberia, the American Colonization Society founded.60 However, many African American abolitionists opposed the colonization plans.

At first they appeared subservient to the "white" abolitionist associations that did not want to accept blacks and still advocated gradual emancipation and emigration. This changed in the 1820s at the latest. The African American newspaper appeared in 1827–1829 Freedom's Journal and in 1829 published the African American David Walker (1785-1830) from MassachusettsWalker's appealwhich called for resistance against slavery and against discrimination against the African American population.61

A popular advertising medium of the abolitionists was the self-testimony of escaped slaves, which appeared from the 1830s (slave narratives). These texts were aimed at a "white" reading public who were to be won over to the cause of abolitionism. The impressive autobiography published in 1845 became famous Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, which Frederick Augustus Douglass (approx. 1817–1895) also presented on a successful lecture tour in Great Britain and later reissued in two heavily reworked versions.62 Only a small proportion of these self-testimonies were written by women. One of the most famous was The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian slave. Related by Herself