History of slavery

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: British History

The history of slavery covers many different forms of human exploitation across many cultures and throughout humaninstitution.

Gustave Boulanger's painting The Slave Market.
Gustave Boulanger's painting The Slave Market.

Europe and Mediterranean

The ancient Mediterranean civilizations

Slavery in the ancient cultures was known to occur in civilizations as old as Sumer, and found in every such civilization, including Ancient Egypt, the Akkadian Empire, Assyria, Greece, Rome, parts of the Roman Empire and the Islamic Caliphate. Such institutions were a mixture of debt-slavery, punishment for crime, the enslavement of prisoners of war, child abandonment, and the birth of slave children to slaves.

Slavery was an important element in the development of the ancient Greek City-states. Records of slavery in Ancient Greece go as far back as Mycenaean Greece. The treatment of Greek slaves could be said to be harsh, but not extremely brutal.

As Rome expanded outward, entire populations were enslaved, thus creating an ample supply. The people subjected to Roman Slavery came from all over Europe and the Mediterranean. Such oppression by an elite minority eventually led to slave revolts (see Roman Servile Wars); the Third Servile War led by Spartacus being the most famous and severe. Greeks, Africans, Germans, Thracians, Gauls (or Celts), Jews, Arabs, and many more were slaves used not only for labour, but also for amusement (e.g. gladiators). If a slave from Rome ran away, he was liable to be crucified. By the late Republican era, slavery had become a vital economic pillar in the wealth of Rome. Slavery was so common, the slaves in Rome far outnumbered Roman citizens.

The Vikings

In the Viking era starting c. 793, the Norse raiders often captured and enslaved their opponents. In the Nordic countries the slaves were called Thralls ( Old Norse: Þræll). The thralls were mostly from Western Europe, among them many Franks, Anglo-Saxons, and Celts. There is evidence of German and south European slaves as well. The Norse slavery came to an end with the breakthrough of christianity and national laws in the Scandinavian countries.

Tudor, Stuart and Hanoverian England

The trade in serfs in England was made illegal in 1102, and the last form of enforced servitude ( villeinage) had disappeared in Britain by the beginning of the seventeenth century. It resurfaced in that century as a form of punishment against Catholics (see Pre-industrial Europe, below). By the eighteenth century African slaves began to be brought into London and Edinburgh as personal servants. In a number of judicial decisions between slave merchants, it was tacitly accepted that slavery of Africans was legal.

In 1729 the then-Attorney General and Solicitor General of England signed the Yorke-Talbot slavery opinion expressing their view (and, by implication, that of the Government) that slavery of Africans was lawful in England. At this time slaves were openly bought and sold on markets at London and Liverpool.

However, in 1772 a runaway slave named James Somerset was recaptured, and various abolitionists brought legal proceedings demanding his release, forcing a legal decision for the first time under English law as to the legality of a slave's detention. One of Somerset's lawyers, Francis Hargrave, stated "In 1569, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, a lawsuit was brought against a man for beating another man he had bought as a slave overseas. The record states, 'That in the 11th [year] of Elizabeth [1569], one Cartwright brought a slave from Russia and would scourge him; for which he was questioned; and it was resolved, that England was too pure an air for a slave to breathe in.' " He argued that the court had ruled in Cartwright's case that English Common Law made no provision for slavery, and without a basis for its legality, slavery would otherwise be unlawful as false imprisonment and/or assault. In his judgment of 22 June 1772, Lord Chief Justice William Murray, Lord Mansfield, of the Court of King's Bench declared: "Whatever inconveniences, therefore, may follow from a decision, I cannot say this case is allowed or approved by the law of England; and therefore the black must be discharged." Several different reports of Mansfield's long deliberated, but ultimately very short, decision appeared, and most disagree as to what was actually said. The decision was only given orally, and so no formal written record of it was issued by the court. Abolitionists widely circulated the view that it was declared that the condition of slavery did not exist under English law, although Mansfield himself later said that all that he actually decided was that a slave could not be forcibly removed from England against his will.

Pre-industrial Europe

Item 20 of The Grand Remonstrance, a list of grievances against Charles I and presented to him in 1641, contains the following:

"20. And although all this was taken upon pretence of guarding the seas, yet a new unheard-of tax of ship-money was devised, and upon the same pretence, by both which there was charged upon the subject near £700,000 some years, and yet the merchants have been left so naked to the violence of the Turkish pirates, that many great ships of value and thousands of His Majesty's subjects have been taken by them, and do still remain in miserable slavery."

In the 17th century, slavery was used as punishment by conquering English Parliament armies against native Catholics in Ireland. Between the years 1659 and 1663, during the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland by the New Model Army, under the command of Oliver Cromwell, thousands of Irish Catholics were forced into servitude! Cromwell had a deep dislike of the Catholic religion, and many Irish Catholics who had participated in Confederate Ireland had all their land confiscated and were transported to the British West Indies as indentured servants.

The Church was later implicated in slavery. Slaves owned by the Anglican Church's Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts on its sugar plantations in the West Indies had the word "society" branded on their chests with red-hot irons.

When slaves were emancipated by Act of the British Parliament in 1834 the British Government paid compensation to slave owners. In one case the Bishop of Exeter and three business colleagues got compensation for the 665 slaves they had to set free.

Recently ( 2006), Southwark Bishop Thomas Butler, at the Anglican Church's General Synod stated "The profits from the slave trade were part of the bedrock of our country's industrial development".

In that time second serfdom took place in Eastern Europe during this period (particularly in Austria, Hungary, Prussia, Russia and Poland). Only in 1768 was a law passed in Poland that discontinued the nobility's control of the right to life or death of serfs. Serfdom remained the practice on the most part of territory of Russia until February 19, 1861. Some of the Roma people were enslaved over five centuries in Romania until abolition in 1864.

Slavery in the French Republic was abolished on February 4, 1794.

Modern Europe

Between 1933 and 1945, the Nazi regime created many Arbeitslager ( labour camps) in Germany and Eastern Europe. Prisoners in Nazi labour camps were worked to death on short rations and in bad conditions, or killed if they became unable to work. Millions died as a direct result of forced labour under the Nazis.

Between 1930 and 1960, the Soviet regime created many Lageria ( labour camps) in Siberia. Prisoners in Soviet labor camps were worked to death on extreme production quotas, brutality, hunger and harsh elements. Fatality rate was as high as 80% during the first months in many camps. Millions died as a direct result of forced labour under the Soviets.

Slavery in Arabia, the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East

The Arab world has traded in slaves like many other cultures of the region. It was one of the oldest slave trades, predating the European transatlantic slave trade by hundreds of years. The Arab or Middle Eastern slave trade is thought to have originated with trans-Saharan slavery. The Moors, starting in the 8th century, raided coastal areas of the Mediterranean and Northern European (including British and even as far north as Scandinavian) coastal areas and would carry away sometimes whole villages to the Moorish slave markets on the Barbary Coast. Nautical traders from the United States became targets, and frequent victims, of the Barbary pirates, as soon as that nation began trading with Europe and refused to pay the required tribute to the North African states. The slave trade from East Africa to Arabia was dominated by Arab and African traders in the coastal cities of Zanzibar, Dar Es Salaam and Mombasa.

Male slaves were employed as servants, soldiers, or laborers by their owners, while female slaves, mostly from Africa, were long traded to Middle Eastern countries and kingdoms by Arab, Indian, or Oriental traders, some as female servants, others as sexual slaves. Arab, Indian, and Oriental traders were involved in the capture and transport of slaves northward across the Sahara desert and the Indian Ocean region into Arabia and the Middle East, Persia, and the Indian subcontinent. As many African slaves may have crossed the Sahara Desert, the Red Sea, and the Indian Ocean as crossed the Atlantic, perhaps more. Some sources estimate that between 11 and 17 million slaves crossed the Red Sea, Indian Ocean, and Sahara Desert from 650 to 1900, compared to 11.6 million across the Atlantic from 1500 to the late 1860s. The Arab or Middle Eastern slave trade continued into the early 1900s.

Many Slavic males from the Balkans, and Turkic and Circassian males from the Caucasus Mountains and the eastern Black Sea regions were taken away from their homes and families and enlisted into special soldier classes of the army of the Ottoman Empire. These soldier classes were named Janissaries in the Balkans and Asia Minor, and Mamluks in Egypt. The Janissaries eventually became a decisive factor in the intrigues of the Istanbul court of the Ottoman sultans, while the Mamluks were mainly responsible for the expulsion of the Crusaders from Palestine and preventing the Mongols from entering Egypt.

The Arab trade in slaves continued into the 20th century. Written travelogues and other historical works are replete with references to slaves owned by wealthy traders, nobility and heads of state in the Arabian Peninsula well into the 1920s. Slave owning and slave-like working conditions have been documented up to and including the present, in countries of the Middle East. Though the subject is considered taboo in the affected regions, a leading Saudi government cleric and author of the country's religious curriculum has called for the outright re-legalization of slavery .

Slavery in Africa

Two slightly differing Okpoho manillas as used to purchase slaves
Two slightly differing Okpoho manillas as used to purchase slaves

French historian Fernand Braudel noted that slavery was endemic in Africa and part of the structure of everyday life. "Slavery came in different disguises in different societies: there were court slaves, slaves incorporated into princely armies, domestic and household slaves, slaves working on the land, in industry, as couriers and intermediaries, even as traders" (Braudel 1984 p. 435). During the 16th century, Europe began to outpace the Arab world in the export traffic, with its slave traffic from Africa to the Americas. The Dutch imported slaves from Asia into their colony in South Africa. Later, the United Kingdom, which held vast colonial territories on the African continent (including South Africa), made the practice of slavery illegal in these regions. Ironically, the end of the slave trade and the decline of slavery was imposed upon Africa by its European conquerors. This action is what today may be called an instance of cultural imperialism.

The nature of the slave societies differed greatly across the continent. There were large plantations worked by slaves in Egypt, the Sudan and Zanzibar, but this was not a typical use of slaves in Africa as a whole. In some slave societies, slaves were protected and incorporated into the slave-owning family. In others, slaves were brutally abused, and even used for human sacrifices. Some of the slaves taken by the European slave trade were doubtless slave-owners themselves.

Slavery in North Africa

As practiced in ancient Egypt, slavery was not in accord with the modern view of the term. Persons became "slaves" in ancient Egypt by virtue of being captives (or prisoners) of war, committing criminal or other indecent acts, or indebtedness. In many instances, some peasants in ancient Egypt led better livelihoods as slaves than as free persons: some Egyptian peasants purposely sold themselves into slavery as a means of repaying their debts. Though slaves in ancient Egypt could be sold, inherited or offered as gifts, they were not prohibited from learning, achieving greater social rank, purchasing property or negotiating other contracts. One papyrus from the New Kingdom even records masters being testified against by slave witnesses. Slave children apparently enjoyed some authoritative protection, as a letter from the 18th dynasty records limits to their use for harsh labor, and Egyptian households further bore the responsibility of adequately raising children of slave parents. It's also worth mentioning that slaves were not as extensively used in ancient Egypt (Kemet) contrary to popular belief or the stories depicted in the Bible, one such measure is the recent archaeological discovery regarding the pyramids not being built by 'slaves'.

In the 15th and 16th centuries slaves were imported from Europe to North Africa. Slave-taking persisted into the 19th century when Barbary pirates would capture ships and enslave the crew. In all, about 1.5 million Europeans were transported to the Barbary Coast. It was a period when Europe was preoccupied by sectarian wars and European navies were depleted. The trade was run by expelled Moors and the slaving expeditions were often captained by Europeans with North African crews. In the early 19th century, European powers started to take action to free Christian slaves. The first major action was the bombardment of Algiers in 1816.

Slavery in Sub-Saharan Africa

See African slave trade

Slaves being transported in Africa, 19th century engraving.
Slaves being transported in Africa, 19th century engraving.

Prior to the 16th century, the bulk of slaves exported from Africa were shipped from East Africa to the Arabian peninsula. Zanzibar became a leading port on this trade. Arab slave traders differed from European traders in that they would often conduct raiding expeditions themselves, sometimes penetrating deep into the continent. They also differed in that their market greatly preferred the purchase of female slaves over male slaves.

The increased presence of European rivals along the East coast led Arab traders to concentrate on the overland slave caravan routes across the Sahara from the Sahel to North Africa. The German explorer Gustav Nachtigal reported seeing slave caravans departing from Kukawa in Bornu bound for Tripoli and Egypt in 1870. The slave trade represented the major source of revenue for the state of Bornu as late as 1898. Further south, the eastern regions of the Central African Republic have never recovered demographically from the impact of nineteenth-century raids from the Sudan and still have a population density of less than 1 person/km.

The Middle Passage, the crossing of the Atlantic to the Americas, endured by slaves laid out in rows in the holds of ships, was only one element of the well-known triangular trade engaged in by Portuguese, Dutch, French and British. Ships having landed slaves in Caribbean ports would take on sugar, indigo, raw cotton, and later coffee, and make for Liverpool, Nantes, Lisbon or Amsterdam. Ships leaving European ports for West Africa would carry printed cotton textiles, some originally from India, copper utensils and bangles, pewter plates and pots, iron bars more valued than gold, hats, trinkets, gunpowder and firearms and alcohol. Tropical shipworms were eliminated in the cold Atlantic waters, and at each unloading, a profit was made.

The Atlantic slave trade peaked in the late 18th century, when the largest number of slaves were captured on raiding expeditions into the interior of West Africa. These expeditions were typically carried out by coastal African kingdoms through more formal trade agreements with European traders or by slave raiding parties through more informal bounty agreements with European traders( To see Pedro Blanco). The people captured on these expeditions were shipped by European traders to the colonies of the New World. As a result of the War of Spanish Succession, the United Kingdom obtained the monopoly ( asiento de negros) of transporting captive Africans to Spanish America. It is estimated that over the centuries, twelve to twenty million people were shipped as slaves from Africa by European traders, of whom some 15 percent died during the terrible voyage, many during the arduous journey through the Middle Passage. The great majority were shipped to the Americas, but also went to Europe and the south of Africa.

Some historians conclude that the total loss in persons removed, those who died on the arduous march to coastal slave marts and those killed in slave raids, far exceeded the 65–75 million inhabitants remaining in Sub-Saharan Africa at the trade's end. Others believe that slavers had a vested interest in capturing rather than killing, and in keeping their captives alive; and that this coupled with the disproportionate removal of males and the introduction of new crops from the Americas ( cassava, maize) would have limited general population decline to particular regions of western Africa around 1760–1810, and in Mozambique and neighbouring areas half a century later. There has also been speculation that within Africa, females were most often captured as brides, with their male protectors being a "bycatch" who would have been killed if there had not been an export market for them.

Modern Africa

Slavery persists in Africa more than in all other continents. Slavery in Mauritania was legally abolished by laws passed in 1905, 1961, and 1981, but several human rights organizations are reporting that the practice continues there. The trading of children has been reported in modern Nigeria and Benin. In parts of Ghana, a family may be punished for an offense by having to turn over a virgin female to serve as a sex slave within the offended family. In this instance, the woman does not gain the title of "wife". In parts of Ghana, Togo, and Benin, shrine slavery persists, despite being illegal in Ghana since 1998. In this system of slavery, sometimes called trokosi (in Ghana) or voodoosi in Togo and Benin, or ritual servitude, young virgin girls are given as slaves in traditional shrines and are used sexually by the priests in addition to providing free labor for the shrine. In the Sudan, slavery continues as part of an ongoing civil war; see also the Slavery in Sudan article. Evidence emerged in the late 1990s of systematic slavery in cacao plantations in West Africa. See the chocolate and slavery article.

Slavery in the Americas

Slavery among indigenous people of America

In Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica the most common forms of slavery were those of prisoners-of-war and debtors. People unable to pay back a debt could be sentenced to work as a slave to the person owed until the debt was worked off. Slavery was not usually hereditary; children of slaves were born free. In Tahuantinsuyu (or Inca Empire), workers were subject to a mita in lieu of taxes which they paid by working for the government. Each ayllu, or extended family, would decide which family member to send to do the work.

Slavery in Brazil

Slavery in Brazil, Debret
Slavery in Brazil, Debret

During the colonial epoch, slavery was a mainstay of the Brazilian economy, especially in mining and sugar cane production.

Brazil obtained 37% of all African slaves traded, and more than 3 million slaves were sent to this one country. Starting around 1550, the Portuguese began to trade African slaves to work the sugar plantations once the native Tupi people deteriorated. Although Portuguese Prime Minister Marquês do Pombal abolished slavery in mainland Portugal on the February 12th, 1761, slavery continued in her overseas colonies. The African slaves were useful for the sugar plantations in many ways. First, African slaves were less vulnerable to tropical diseases and to tropical conditions. Second, the benefits of the slaves far exceeded the costs. After 2-3 years, slaves worked off their worth, and plantation owners began to make profits from them. Plantation owners made lucrative profits even though there was approximately a 10% death rate per year, mainly due to harsh working conditions.

The very harsh manual labour of the sugar cane fields saw slaves use hoes to dig large trenches. The slaves planted sugar cane in the trenches and then used their bare hands to spread manure. The average life span of a slave was eight years. Escaped slaves formed Maroon communities which played an important role in the histories of Brazil and other countries such as Suriname, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Jamaica. In Brazil the Maroon villages were called palenques or quilombos. Maroons survived by growing vegetables and hunting. They also raided plantations. At these attacks, the maroons would burn crops, steal livestock and tools, kill slavemasters, and invite other slaves to join their communities.

In the mid to late 19th century, many Amerindians were enslaved to work on rubber plantations. See I?? for more information.

The Clapham Sect, a group of evangelical reformers, campaigned during much of the 19th century for the United Kingdom to use its influence and power to stop the traffic of slaves to Brazil. Besides moral qualms, the low cost of slave-produced Brazilian sugar meant that British colonies in the West Indies were unable to match the market prices of Brazilian sugar, and each Briton was consuming 16 pounds (7 kg) of sugar a year by the 19th century. This combination led to intensive pressure from the British government for Brazil to end this practice, which it did by steps over several decades.

First, foreign slave trade was banned in 1850. Then, in 1871, the sons of the slaves were freed. In 1885, the slaves aged over 60 years were freed. The Paraguayan War contributed to end slavery, since slaves enlisted in exchange for freedom.(In Colonial Brazil, slavery was more a social than a racial condition. In fact, some of the greatest figures of the time, like the writer Machado de Assis and the engineer André Rebouças had black ancestry).

Brazil's 1877-78 Grande Seca (Great Drought) in the cotton-growing northeast, led to major turmoil, starvation, poverty and internal migration. As wealthy plantation holders rushed to sell their slaves south, popular resistance and resentment grew, inspiring numerous emancipation societies. They succeeded in banning slavery altogether in the province of Ceara by 1884. (Mike Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts, 88-90) Slavery was legally ended nationwide on May 13 by the Lei Aurea ("Golden Law") of 1888. In fact, it was an institution in decadence at these times (Since the 1880's the country began to use European imigrant labor instead) . Brazil was the last nation in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery.

However, in 2004 the government acknowledged to the United Nations that at least 25,000 Brazilians work under conditions "analogous to slavery." The top anti-slavery official in Brasilia, the capital, puts the number of modern slaves at 50,000.

Slavery in the British and French Caribbean

Slavery was commonly used in the parts of the Caribbean controlled by France and the British Empire. The Lesser Antilles islands of Barbados, St. Kitts, Antigua, Martinique and Guadeloupe, which were the first important slave societies of the Caribbean, began the widespread use of African slaves by the end of the 17th century, as their economies converted from tobacco to sugar production.

The slaves were treated terribly, often beaten and raped. They had such miserable lives that death was considered a welcome release.

By the middle of the 18th century, British Jamaica and French Saint-Domingue had become the largest slave societies of the region, rivaling Brazil as a destination for enslaved Africans. Due to overwork, the death rates for Caribbean slaves were greater than birth rates. The conditions led to increasing numbers of slave revolts, escaped slaves forming Maroon communities and fighting guerrilla wars against the plantation owners, campaigns against slavery in Europe, and the abolition of slavery in the European empires.

Slavery in North America

Main Articles: Slavery in Colonial America, Slavery in Canada, History of slavery in the United States, Atlantic slave trade

The first slaves used by Europeans in United States territory were among Lucas Vásquez de Ayllón's colonization attempt of North Carolina in 1526. The attempt was a failure, lasting only one year and the slaves revolted and fled into the wilderness to live among the Cofitachiqui people.

The first historically significant slave in what would become the United States was Estevanico, a Moroccan slave and member of the Narváez expedition in 1528 and acted as a guide on Fray Marcos de Niza's expedition to find the Seven Cities of Gold in 1539.

In 1619 twenty Africans were brought by a Dutch soldier and sold to the English colony of Jamestown, Virginia as indentured servants. The transformation from indentured servitude to racial slavery happened gradually. It wasn't until 1661 that a reference to slavery entered into Virginia law, directed at Caucasian servants who ran away with a black servant. It wouldn't be until the Slave Codes of 1705 that the status of African Americans as slaves would be sealed. This status would last for another 160 years, until after the end of the American Civil War with the ratification of the 13th Amendment in December 1865.

Return of slavery to British law

  • 1642: Massachusetts becomes the first colony to legalize slavery.
  • 1650: Connecticut legalizes slavery.
  • 1661: Virginia officially recognizes slavery by statute.
  • 1662: A Virginia statute declares that children born would have the same status as their mother.
  • 1663: Maryland legalizes slavery.
  • 1664: Slavery is legalized in New York and New Jersey.

Development of slavery

The first imported Africans were brought as indentured servants, not slaves. They were required, as white indentured servants were, to serve seven years. Many were brought to the British North American colonies, specifically Jamestown, Virginia in 1620. However, the slave trade did not immediately expand in North America. Mexico and Canada had completely abolished slavery by 1810.

Slavery under European rule began with importation of European indentured labourers, was followed by the enslavement of indigenous peoples in the Caribbean, and eventually was primarily replaced with Africans imported through a large slave trade, the cost being around 105 American dollars.

The shift from indentured servants to African slaves was prompted by a dwindling class of former servants who had worked through the terms of their indentures and thus became competitors to their former masters. These newly freed servants were rarely able to support themselves comfortably, and the tobacco industry was increasingly dominated by large planters. This caused domestic unrest culminating in Bacon's Rebellion. Eventually, chattel slavery became the norm in regions dominated by plantations.

Many slaves were owned by plantation owners who lived in Britain. The British courts had made a series of contradictory rulings on the legality of slavery which encouraged several thousand slaves to flee the newly-independent United States as refugees along with the retreating British in 1783. The British courts having ruled in 1772 that such slaves could not be forcibly returned to North America (see James Somersett and Somersett's Case for a review of the Somerset Decision), the British Government resettled them as free men in Sierra Leone.

Example of abusive slave treatment: Back deeply scarred from whipping
Example of abusive slave treatment: Back deeply scarred from whipping

Several slave rebellions took place during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Through the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 (also known as the Freedom Ordinance) under the Continental Congress, slavery was prohibited in the territories north of the Ohio River. In the East, though, slavery was not abolished until later. The importation of slaves into the United States was banned on January 1, 1808; but not the internal slave trade, or involvement in the international slave trade externally.

Aggregation of northern free states gave rise to one contiguous geographic area, north of the Ohio River and the old Mason-Dixon line. This separation of a free North and an enslaved South launched a massive political, cultural and economic struggle.

Refugees from slavery fled the South across the Ohio River to the North via the Underground Railroad, and their presence agitated Northerners. Midwestern state governments asserted States Rights arguments to refuse Federal jurisdiction over fugitives. Some juries exercised their right of jury nullification and refused to convict those indicted under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.

The Dred Scott decision of 1857 asserted that one could take one's property anywhere (Even if one's property was chattel and one crossed into a free territory). It also asserted that African Americans could not be citizens, as many Northern states granted blacks citizenship, who (in some states) could even vote. This was an example of Slave Power, the plantation aristocracy's attempt to control the North. This turned Northern public opinion even further against slavery. After the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, armed conflict broke out in Kansas Territory, where the question of whether it would be admitted to the Union as a slave state or a free state had been left to the inhabitants. The radical abolitionist John Brown was active in the mayhem and killing in " Bleeding Kansas." Anti-slavery legislators took office under the banner of the Republican Party.

In the election of 1860, the Republicans swept Abraham Lincoln into the Presidency (with only 39.8% of the popular vote) and legislators into Congress. Lincoln however, did not appear on the ballots in most southern states and his election split the nation along sectional lines. After decades of controlling the Federal Government, the Southern states seceded from the U.S. (the Union) to form the Confederate States of America.

Northern leaders like Lincoln viewed the prospect of a new Southern nation, with control over the Mississippi River and the West, as unacceptable. This led to the outbreak of the Civil War.

The Civil War spelled the end for chattel slavery in America. However, in August of 1962 Lincoln replied to editor Horace Greeley stating his objective was to save the Union and not to either save or destroy slavery. He went on to say that if he could save the Union without freeing a single slave, he would do it. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 was a reluctant gesture, that proclaimed freedom for slaves within the Confederacy, although not those in strategically important Border states or the rest of the Union. However, the proclamation made the abolition of slavery an official war goal and it was implemented as the Union captured territory from the Confederacy. Slaves in many parts of the south were freed by Union armies or when they simply left their former owners. Many joined the Union Army as workers or troops, and many more fled to Northern cities.

Legally, slaves within the United States remained enslaved until the final ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution on December 6, 1865 (with final recognition of the amendment on December 18), eight months after the cessation of hostilities. Only in the Border state of Kentucky did a significant slave population remain by that time.

After the failure of Reconstruction, freed slaves in the United States were treated as second class citizens. For decades after their emancipation, many former slaves living in the South sharecropped and had a low standard of living. In some states, it was only after the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s that blacks obtained legal protection from racial discrimination (see segregation).

Although slavery has been illegal in the United States for nearly a century and a half, the United States Department of Labor occasionally prosecutes cases against people for false imprisonment and involuntary servitude. These cases often involve illegal immigrants who are forced to work as slaves in factories to pay off a debt claimed by the people who transported them into the United States. Other cases have involved domestics.

Slavery in Asia

South Asia

The Greek historian Arrian writes in his book Indica:

"This also is remarkable in India, that all Indians are free, and no Indian at all is a slave. In this the Indians agree with the Lacedaemonians. Yet the Lacedaemonians have Helots for slaves, who perform the duties of slaves; but the Indians have no slaves at all, much less is any Indian a slave."

Though any formalised slave trade has not existed in South Asia, unfree labour has existed for centuries in the Medieval ages, in different forms. The most common forms have been kinds of bonded labour. During the epoch of the Mughals, debt bondage reached its peak, and it was common for money lenders to make slaves of peasants and others who failed to repay debts. Under these practices, more than one generation could be forced into unfree labour; for example, a son could be sold into bonded labour for life to pay off the debt, along with interest.

Arab slave traders also brought slaves as early as the first century AD from Africa. Most of the African slaves were brought however in the 17th century and were taken into Western India.

Much of the northern and central parts of the subcontinent was ruled by the so-called Slave Dynasty of Turkic origin from 1206-1290: Qutb-ud-din Aybak, a slave of Muhammad Ghori rose to power following his master's death. For almost a century, his descendants ruled presiding over the introduction of Tankas and building of Qutub Minar.


Slavery in China has repeatedly come in and out of favour. Due to the enormous population of the region throughout most of her history, China has relatively had an almost unlimited workforce of cheap labor. Thus, the economy would naturally rely on a system of serfdom, slavery, or a combination of both.


Slavery in Japan was, for most of its history, indigenous, since the export and import of slaves was restricted by Japan being a group of islands. The export of a slave from Japan is recorded in 3rd century Chinese history, although the system involved is unclear. These slaves were called seiko (生口 ?), lit. "living mouth".

In the 8th century, a slave was called nuhi (奴婢 ?) and series of laws on slavery was issued. In an area of present-day Ibaraki Prefecture, out of a population of 190,000, around 2,000 were slaves; the proportion is believed to have been even higher in western Japan.

By the time of the Sengoku period (1467-1615), the attitude that slavery was anachronistic had become widespread. In a meeting with Catholic priests, Oda Nobunaga was presented with a black slave, the first recorded encounter between a Japanese and an African. In 1588, Toyotomi Hideyoshi ordered all slave trading to be abolished. This was continued by his successors.

As the Empire of Japan annexed Asian countries, from the late 19th century onwards, archaic institutions including slavery were abolished in those countries. However, during the Pacific War of 1937- 45, the Japanese military used hundreds of thousands of civilians and prisoners of war as forced labour, on projects such as the Burma Railway. (For further details, see Japanese war crimes.)


Indigenous slaves existed in Korea. It is widely known that the last names "Bang", "Ji", and "Chuk" are recognizable as last names having once been given to slaves. Slavery was officially abolished with the Gabo Reform of 1894.

Aotearoa / New Zealand

In traditional Māori society, prisoners of war became slaves, (unless released, ransomed or tortured). With some exceptions, the child of a slave remained a slave. As far as it is possible to tell slavery seems to have increased in the early Nineteenth century, as a result of increased numbers of prisoners being taken by Māori military leaders such as Hongi Hika and Te Rauparaha in the Musket Wars, the need for labour to supply whalers and traders with food, flax and timber in return for western goods and missionary condemnation of cannibalism. Slavery was outlawed on English Annexation of New Zealand in 1840, immediately prior to the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, although it did not end completely until government was effectively extended over the whole of the country with the defeat of the King movement in the New Zealand Wars of the mid 1860s.

Child Slavery: Trafficked children as young as 2 years old are forced to work up to 18 hours a day as camel jockeys in the Middle East - Pic by Ansar Burney Trust
Child Slavery: Trafficked children as young as 2 years old are forced to work up to 18 hours a day as camel jockeys in the Middle East - Pic by Ansar Burney Trust

Middle East

Children as young as two years old are used for slavery as child camel jockeys across the Arab countries of the Middle East. Though strict laws have been introduced recently in Qatar and UAE - thanks to better awareness of the issue and lobbying by human rights organisations such as the Ansar Burney Trust - the use of children still continues in the far flung areas and during secret night time races.

Abolitionist movements

Slavery has existed, in one form or another, through the whole of human history. So, too, have movements to free large or distinct groups of slaves. Moses led Israelite slaves from ancient Egypt according to the Biblical Book of Exodus - possibly the first detailed account of a movement to free slaves. However, abolitionism should be distinguished from efforts to help a particular group of slaves, or to restrict one practice, such as the slave trade.

In 1772, a legal case concerning James Somersett made it illegal to remove a slave from England against his will. A similar case, that of Joseph Knight, took place in Scotland five years later and ruled slavery to be contrary to the law of Scotland.

Following the work of campaigners in the United Kingdom, the Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was passed by Parliament on March 25, 1807. The act imposed a fine of £100 for every slave found aboard a British ship. The intention was to outlaw entirely the slave trade within the whole British Empire.

The Slavery Abolition Act, passed on August 23, 1833, outlawed slavery itself in the British colonies. On August 1, 1834 all slaves in the British Empire were emancipated, but still indentured to their former owners in an apprenticeship system which was finally abolished in 1838.

Proclamation of the abolition of slavery by Victor Hughes in the Guadeloupe, the 1st November 1794
Proclamation of the abolition of slavery by Victor Hughes in the Guadeloupe, the 1st November 1794

There were slaves in mainland France, but the institution was never fully authorized there. However, slavery was vitally important in France's Caribbean possessions, especially Saint-Domingue. In 1793, unable to repress the massive slave revolt of August 1791 that had become the Haitian Revolution, the French Revolutionary commissioners Sonthonax and Polverel declared general emancipation. In Paris, on February 4, 1794, Abbé Grégoire and the Convention ratified this action by officially abolishing slavery in all French territories. Napoleon sent troops to the Caribbean in 1802 to try to re-establish slavery. They succeeded in Guadeloupe, but the ex-slaves of Saint-Domingue defeated the French army and declared independence. The colony became Haiti, the first black republic, on January 1, 1804.

Sierra Leone was established as a country for former slaves of the British Empire in Africa. Liberia served an analogous purpose for American slaves. The goal of the abolitionists was repatriation of the slaves to Africa. Also some trade unions did not want the cheap labour of former slaves around. Nevertheless, most former slaves stayed in America.

Slaves in the United States who escaped ownership would often make their way north to Canada via the " Underground Railroad". Famously active abolitionists of the U.S. include Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner, Frederick Douglass and John Brown. Slavery was abolished in the United States in 1865.

The 1926 Slavery Convention, an initiative of the League of Nations, was a turning point in banning global slavery. Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 by the UN General Assembly, explicitly banned slavery. The United Nations 1956 Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery was convened to outlaw and ban slavery worldwide, including child slavery. In December 1966, the UN General Assembly adopted the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which was developed from the Universal Declaraction of Human Rights. Article 8 of this international treaty bans slavery. The treaty came into force in March 1976 after it had been ratified by 35 nations. As of November 2003, 104 nations had ratified the treaty.

Slavery is defined as a crime against humanity by a French law of 2001.

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