The history of slave trade is dreaded in some quarters and immensely appreciated in other quarters. This stems from the fact that it was such as efficient machine of income generation that it would have been difficult to imagine its cessation. It is estimated that 3 million people of African origin were shipped across the Atlantic sea into Western colonies as slaves. It was a well coordinated trade that involved the people of Britain, North America as well as South America. During this time, these regions had developed immense knowledge in agriculture and therefore had huge tracts of land under plantations. However, they needed labor to work in these plantations as machinery was only poorly developed at the time. Slaves provided all this labor to these colonies even as they had to work under poor conditions. The financial benefits of their services was so huge that it was difficult to imagine that cessation of slave trade would be championed for by the same people. However, they did it on humanitarian basis believing that it was no longer morally right to exploit other humans. This paper investigates the factors that led to cessation of slave trade in North America, Britain as well as South America.
Ending British Slave Trade
The journey towards abolition of slave trade in Britain is said to have started around late 1700s. This was when a civil organization that was popularly known as Quaker Movement took a bold step in petitioning Parliament to facilitate abolition of trade. This was a big gamble at the time considering that most slave owners were actually parliamentarians or had their masters in Parliament to protect their interests. Indeed, they had immense wealth to fund political campaigns of their friendly candidates to ensure that at any given time they were sufficiently represented in the legislature. This made it clear that it was not going to be easy to reverse this law. And so, the movement decided to engage in an exercise they knew was in futility as no one would take them seriously. Nonetheless, they were going to achieve something in the popular opinion. They were passing a loud message that people no longer approved of the slave trade as it was inhuman. Around the same time, a similar petition was made in the town of Bridgewater, but again their opinion was ignored by the powers that be. At this point, it became clearer that something so drastic had to be done to make serious steps in the fight for abolition. However, there was no certainty as to what the miraculous step would be. It was no longer going to be about petitions alone as that had turned out to be futile. And so, people began seeking advice from legal minds on how they could approach the idea away from the streets.
These consultations came to an agreement that they had to form official lobby groups that would officially deal with various agencies of the government. It was better to form a group that come into a negotiating table with the government in a bid to find a solution to the problem at hand. And so, several societies were formed across London around 1780s. Although they had started quite well by securing an audience with the government, their relationship began to deteriorate when the government told them to their face that they were demanding too much. Later on, the government side became non-committal on these talks, sparkling outrage from the society groups. The hardest time came in 1787 when the government banned the ‘Society for the Abolition of Slave Trade” that had proven to be the strongest at the moment. The move was calculated to intimidate smaller society groups to stop their Antislavery activities if they wished to maintain relevance. It was clear that the government wanted them to drop some of their demands. The society group had been at the frontline educating people about cessation of slavery. They distributed prints as well as books that had abolitionist message as a way of getting the idea popular among the people. The government had sensed that they were beginning to succeed t some extent and that it was time to stop their activities. And so, one by one the society groups were abolished without any chance of being re-registered. Without formal structures, Thomas Clarkson decided to mobilize the public against slave trade. He used volunteers from the abolished societies to spread the word across towns and villages of Britain. Thomas was convinced that the fight against slavery was worth all he could sacrifice. He decided not to care about threats to his life and champion for a course he believed in. However, he knew that the results would not be so encouraging given changing people’s mindset was bound to take quite a long time.
His insistence seemed to have provided the momentum for people to continue working as unofficial groups. This saw the re-emergence of petitions to Parliament and other legislative bodies to change this issue. In 1788, the petitioners presented a scathing document to the House of Commons. In a span of three months, around 100 petitions had been presented to the House of Commons. This was the only channel after their society group was banned. The petitions continued streaming in due to the mobilization efforts of people like Clarkson. They were confident that no one would stand on their way towards a just society for all men and women. The petitioners were mostly members of the church who believed in morality and integrity of choice. They were convinced that slave trade was not the right way for Britain to create wealth. In fact, the country would rather have remained poor if slave trade was the only way to get to wealth. However, government officials would not have any of this argument given that they were direct beneficiaries of the trade. They had huge farms in which they used slaves to provide cheap labor. Later on, a few people in the legislature joined the bandwagon thereby boosting their operations. William Wilberforce was only a young legislator at the moment he led a campaign in the House of Commons to have slave trade abolished. These efforts almost succeeded in 1792 when the House agreed almost unanimously that it was time to stop the trade, although gradually. However, this later turned out to be a mere gimmick as nothing concrete came out of it.
Ending North American Slave Trade
Slavery ended in North America in 1865 during the reign of Abraham Lincoln. Although the constitution gave him no powers to end slavery, he took the risk of giving an executive order to this effect. This is why his directive sparked outrage among states that were not fully integrated in the Union. They felt that they were already being shortchanged in the new union and that they were better off out of the union. It led to a war that took the political genious in President Abraham Lincoln to end and forge a new marriage of the states. This was called the Emancipation Proclamation that took place in 1863, just two years before slavery officially ended. It should be noted that in the North America, it took much longer to abolish slave trade as compared to Britain or even Canada. However, it was clear by the start of the 1800 century that it would soon come to an end. At the moment, slave trade did not have significant economic benefits as had been seen earlier. The rich merchants felt that machinery was more efficient than human labor and that they no longer needed to buy slaves. In addition, some regions had prohibited the trade in most parts of the northern territory. For example, the state of Delaware had declared the trade illegal and out tough punitive measures against people who would be found practicing it. According to literature, the north was more industrialized at the moment and did not need human labor. This was the reason the lawmakers had been quick to pass a resolution to abolish slave trade. It was no longer economically viable like it was in the South where agriculture remained dominant. This together with a greater sense of morality and humanity triggered an end to slave trade in the north. However, this did not come so drastically, but rather in steps. In fact, there was fear that people would think otherwise and go back to the trade. These thoughts were later laid to rest when a federal ban was instituted to present importation of new slaves into the country.
In addition, there was also concern about the rising number of black population in the north. After a census carried out in 1807, black population was found to stand at slightly over a million. This reality sent people re-thinking their decision to import more slaves. They had to stop the trade before slaves took charge of the north and turned Americans the new slaves. It was at this point society groups were formed to mobilize popular support against slavery and to help slaves to escape. For example, the Underground Railroad Network was particularly created to help slaves escape to safe havens. They did not just help them escape, but also set up new settlements in order to start a free life. Slaves who had been freed later organized themselves and helped other colleagues escape. Harriet Tubman was at the frontline in these efforts as she had suffered so much as a slave. Although their efforts did not immediately bear fruits, they started a journey that marked the end of slavery in North America.
By the end of 1804, all the states north of Ohio River had succeeded in passing laws that abolished slave trade. This was mainly due to the activities of the civil society that kept pressurizing the government and the legislature to pass these laws. Having borrowed leaf from other part of the world where slave trade had been prevalent, they adopted the strategy of William Wilberforce. This basically involved lobbying members of the legislature so that when petitions come to the floor of the house they would marshal some significant support. This was done concurrently with public education to dissuade people from the immoral practice. Eventually, opposition to the trade became obvious from outside of the government as well as from inside. Many people in the government had also started feeling that Americans were showing moral corruption by sticking to the trade. According to them, this had to be changed in order to pursue the American Dream as one people. These ideals were also contained in the American constitution and greatly helped to sway public opinion. It was becoming clear to majority of the people that America could not reach greater heights of success if it did not live by its dream. And so, community mobilization groups used this idea to mobilize people against slave trade. As people bought the idea, they joined hands to put pressure on the government to act swiftly and declare the trade illegal. This is how most states eventually passed laws that effectively abolished slavery. However, the same laws limited the freedoms that former slaves could enjoy. This would later form another battle front that marked the emergence of stronger civil rights movements.
Ending South American Slave Trade
It goes without saying that slavery lasted for much longer in South America. This was because the economic benefits were more than those in the north. South America mostly practiced plantation farming of sugar and cotton. The region was not industrialized like North America. And so, farmers had only one source of labor, slavery. They did not have enough machines to do most of the job that slaves would have been done. In addition, they were yet to realize that machines were faster and more efficient that human labor. And so, they considered services of their slaves the only source of labor. They could not afford to allow their slaves to go as this would cause them their only source of livelihood. It is the reason why their leaders did not even think of ending slavery until the union of the south and the north was mooted. Indeed, there was no way they were going to abolish something that benefited the people. Although there were civil society groups complaining to the authorities, it was not as much as in North America. The few that participated only did it softly in order to make a point. However, they were quite certain it would not bear any results.
Indeed, this trade ended when slave trade could no longer survive as most players had withdrawn from it. For example, Britain had completely gotten rid of this trade at the time South America started moving towards that direction. The public was also getting more aware of the moral corruption that was implied in the trade. It was becoming clearer that the world needed a more just society to move on and that this could only be possible if slavery was abolished. It would not have made sense to steer the world to greater heights when other sections of the society were held in bondage. It was basically a voice of reason that triggered the cessation of slave trade in South America. However, the plantation farm owners were not amused with this move. They tried all they could to ensure that slave trade lasted a little longer. However, this was not possible at the moment as the world had moved. And so, they had no option but to obtain machinery from the North to help them in their farming. This effectively marked the end of slavery in the Atlantic regions.
In conclusion, the history of slave trade is dreaded in some quarters and immensely appreciated in other quarters. This stems from the fact that it was such as efficient machine of income generation that it would have been difficult to imagine its cessation. It is estimated that 3 million people of African origin were shipped across the Atlantic sea into Western colonies as slaves. The journey towards abolition of slave trade in Britain is said to have started around late 1700s. This was when a civil organization that was popularly known as Quaker Movement took a bold step in petitioning Parliament to facilitate abolition of trade. In America, slave trade and slavery were ended due to public pressure and the realization that population of slaves was tremendously on the rise.