The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Slavery can mean one or more related conditions which involve control of a person against his or her will, enforced by violence or other clear forms of coercion. Slavery almost always occurs for the purpose of securing the labour of the person or people concerned. A specific form, chattel slavery, means the legal ownership of a person or people and this is now illegal in all countries. People may be referred to as "slaves" simply because of the conditions in which they are held, rather than their legal status.

In the strictest sense of the word, slaves are people who have no rights. Therefore serfdom does not usually mean slavery because serfs almost always have some rights and military conscription would be slavery in some militaries and not others. Similarly, in the broader sense of the word, slavery has sometimes been regarded as an expectation associated with other relationships, such as marriage and/or other family relations, mandatory military service, or debt relationships (for more details on the latter form, see debt slavery). Nietzsche took this even further in his essay Master and Slave morality, where he talked about a sort of psychological slavery .

People subject to the above conditions may also have some rights and they are all covered by a more generic term: unfree labour, which includes all forms of slavery and similar labour systems. Unfree labour is now the preferred term of many scholars, because of the wide variety of meanings, usages and ambiguities which may be attached to words like "slavery". Similarly, in United States constitutional and legal usage, the term involuntary servitude means a condition of laboring for another without one's willful consent, but not necessarily experiencing the complete lack of freedom found in chattel slavery.

The 1926 Slavery Convention described slavery as "...the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised..." Therefore a slave is someone who cannot leave an owner, master, overseer, controller, or employer without explicit permission, and who will be returned if they stray or escape. They may be legally owned or controlled to the same extent informally. Control may be accomplished through official and/or tacit arrangements with local police and other authorities — by masters who have some influence with the authorities, because of their status as landowners and/or wealthy persons.

Slavery is in all countries considered to be a criminal activity, outlawed by UN conventions. However some states such as Myanmar and Sudan do facilitate the institution of slavery, according to anti-slavery groups such as Free the Slaves. In these cases, unfree labourers are often told that they are working off a debt, but have no access to an accounting for that debt, and no right to take any higher-paying or less supervised employment. These people may be considered slaves if they are under the impression that challenging these conditions, or leaving in protest of them, would lead to serious bodily harm. Some labor conditions for imported "domestic" workers approach conditions of slavery in developed countries and for wealthy people in developing countries, by means of legal loopholes, such as Canada's “Live-in Caregiver Program. [1]. Numerous abuses are reported to the authorities which frequently turn a blind eye. In all countries, people in many occupations are contracted for a period of years, but they are usually paid on a regular basis, are rarely contracted until a debt is paid, and are rarely sold into that status by their parents or others.


Who becomes a slave?

Historically, slaves were often those of a different ethnicity, nationality, religion, or raceanimal rights and Great Ape personhood advocates would also include species — from those who enslaved them, but in general such slaveries were short. It has been relatively rare in history for an entire ethnic group to be held as slaves for more than a couple of generations. In most cases intermarriage, granting of liberty, and the right to buy one's own freedom have caused slave and slave-owning populations to merge all around the world.

Societies characterized by poverty, population pressures, and cultural and technological backwardness are frequently exporters of slaves to more developed nations. Today most slaves are rural people forced to move to cities, or purchased in rural areas and sold into slavery in cities. These moves take place due to loss of subsistence agriculture, thefts of land, and population increases.

Slavery is almost always a matter of economics - in effect, those with poor birthright or bad luck in any society have sometimes been forced to throw themselves on the mercy of those with better birthright and luck, or simply been forced to provide service to those who had power and were willing to use it to subordinate others.

History of slavery

Slavery in the Mediterranean world

Slavery in the ancient Mediterranean cultures was a mixture of debt-slavery, slavery as a punishment for crime, and the enslavement of prisoners of war.

Undoubtedly a majority of slaves were condemned to agricultural or industrial labour and lived hard lives. In some of the city-states of Greece and in the Roman Empire, slaves were a very large part of the economy, and the Roman Empire built a large part of its wealth on slaves acquired through conquest. In both Greek and Roman societies, slavery had the effect of providing the ownership class with the leisure to engage in intellectual and cultural pursuits that built a civilization which later became the foundations of today's western civilization.

Slaves could be freed by their masters and often rose to positions of power.

Slavery in the Bible

See Sabbatical year, Onesimus, Bible-based advocacy of slavery, in addition to the details of the Book of Exodus.

Old Testament

In Leviticus, the Old Testament draws a distinction between Hebrew debt slavery:

25:39 If your brother becomes impoverished with regard to you so that he sells himself to you, you must not subject him to slave service. 25:40 He must be with you as a hired worker, as a resident foreigner; he must serve with you until the year of jubilee, 25:41 but then he may go free, he and his children with him, and may return to his family and to the property of his ancestors. 25:42 Since they are my servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt, they must not be sold in a slave sale. 25:43 You must not rule over him harshly, but you must fear your God.

and "bondslaves", foreigners:

25:44 As for your male and female slaves who may belong to you, you may buy male and female slaves from the nations all around you. 25:45 Also you may buy slaves from the children of the foreigners who reside with you, and from their families that are with you, whom they have fathered in your land, they may become your property. 25:46 You may give them as inheritance to your children after you to possess as property. You may enslave them perpetually. However, as for your brothers the Israelites, no man may rule over his brother harshly.

Slavery in Rome and Greece

Some philosophers of antiquity vindicated slavery as a natural and necessary institution; Aristotle declared all barbarians to be slaves by birth, fit for nothing but obedience. According to the Roman law, "slaves had no head in the State, no name, no title, no register; they had no rights of matrimony, and no protection against adultery; they could be bought and sold, or given away, as personal property; they might be tortured for evidence, or even put to death, at the discretion of their master. Cato the Elder expelled his old and sick slaves out of house and home. Hadrian, one of the most humane of the Roman Emperors, wilfully destroyed the eye of one of his slaves with a stylus. Roman ladies punished their maids with sharp iron instruments for the most trifling offences. A proverb prevailed in the Roman empire: "As many slaves, so many enemies." Hence the constant danger of servile insurrections, which more than once brought the republic to the brink of ruin, and seemed to justify the severest measures in self-defence.

Greek and Roman urban slaves, as opposed to agricultural slaves, seem to have had some chance at manumission. In Rome, slaves were organised as a social class, and some authors found in their condition the earliest concept of proletariat, given that the only property they were allowed to own was the gift of reproduction. Slaves lived then within this class with very little hope of a better life, and they were owned and exchanged, just like goods, by free men. They had a price as "human instruments"; their life had not, and their patron could freely even kill them. There was however a sort of class of freedmen and freedwomen, called liberti, in Roman society at all periods. Their symbol was the Phrygian cap. These people were not numerous, but Rome needed to demonstrate at times the great frank spirit of this "civitas", so the freed slaves were made famous, as hopeful examples. Freed people suffered some minor legal disabilities that show in fact how otherwise open the society was to them—they could not hold certain high offices and they could not marry into the senatorial classes. They might grow rich and influential, but were still looked down on by free-born Romans as vulgar nouveaux riches, like Trimalchio. Their children had no prohibitions.

Much of the wealth of Athenian Democracy came from its silver mines, which were worked by douloi labor under extremely poor conditions, leading to their revolt in 413 BC.

Most of the gladiators were slaves. One of them, Spartacus, formed an army of slaves that battled the Roman armies in the Servile War for several years.

The Latin poet Horace, son of a freedman, served as a military officer in the army of Marcus Junius Brutus and seemed headed for a political career before the defeat of Brutus by Octavian and Mark Antony. Though Horace may have been an exceptional case, freedmen were an important part of Roman administrative functions. Freedmen of the Imperial families often were the main functionaries in the Imperial administration.

Several Classical comedies such as those of Plautus feature enterprising home slaves, who must use their wits to profit from their masters or to provide them their requests.

The influence of Stoic philosophy in Roman society gradually improved the conditions of slaves. The Stoics taught that all men were manifestations of the same universal spirit, and thus by nature equal. At the same time, however, Stoicism held that external circumstances (such as being enslaved) did not truly impede a person from practicing the Stoic ideal of inner self-mastery: one of the more important Roman stoics, Epictetus, spent his youth as a slave. As a result, Stoics spoke against the ill-treatment of slaves far more harshly than they did against the institution itself. Claudius ruled that if a master abandoned an old or sick slave, the slave became free. Under Nero, slaves were given the right to complain against their masters in court. Under Antoninus Pius, a slave could claim his freedom if treated cruelly, and a master who killed his slave without just cause could be tried for homicide. At the same time, it became more difficult for a person to fall into slavery under Roman law. By the time of Diocletian, free men could not sell their children or even themselves into slavery and creditors could not claim insolvent debtors as slaves.

While the beginnings of Christianity did not call for outright rebellion against slavery, many Christian leaders (such as Gregory of Nyssa and John Chrysostom) often called for good treatment for slaves and condemned slavery. In fact Pope Clement I (term c. 92 - 99), Pope Pius I (term c. 158 - 167) and Pope Callixtus I (term c. 217 - 222) are considered to have been former slaves. [2]

Slavery in medieval Europe

Slaves were traded openly, mainly in Prague. They were sold by Christians, transported by Jews and then bought in the Middle East.

Slave catching and slave trade was one of the main occupations of the Vikings. Swedish Vikings, the Varangians or Rus, established strongholds and founded the first Russian state, Kievan Rus' during their trade and Slave catching operations. The Persian traveller Ibn Rustah recounts how they terrorized the Slavs and treated them like cattle. This trade was part of making the ethnic label Slav the name for "slave".

"As for the Rus [Swedes], they live on an island … that takes three days to walk round and is covered with thick undergrowth and forests; … They harry the Slavs, using ships to reach them; they carry them off as slaves and … sell them. They have no fields but simply live on what they get from the Slav's lands … When a son is born, the father will go up to the newborn baby, sword in hand; throwing it down, he says, 'I shall not leave you with any property: You have only what you can provide with this weapon.'" (1)

In Scandinavia, a thrall was cheaper than cattle, a question of supply and demand. A child born by a thrall woman (a Thir) was a thrall by birth, whereas a child born by a free woman was a free person even if the father was a thrall. The most dishonourable way of becoming a thrall was by debt, and it was the first kind of thralldom to be forbidden. Thralldom was lastly abolished in 1350. However, then thralls were rare as most thralls had been given serf status.

The institution of serfdom in medieval Europe was weaker than chattel slavery; serfs were obligated to serve or work the land for their master, but were not chattel property. Serfdom was reintroduced in Eastern Europe in 16th and 17th century and persisted until the mid-19th century. It was abolished by the Kingdom of Prussia in 1811/1823, Austria in 1848 and in Russia in 1861/1864. See also feudalism and guild.

Slavery in medieval Arabia

The Muslim Arab World also traded in slavery, especially with the Byzantine Empire. These consisted of Turkic and Circassian males from northern Black Sea regions who were enlisted into the army. This soldier class was named Mamelukes and were mainly responsible for the expulsion of the Crusaders from Palestine. Officially Islam dislikes the idea of slavery and had set rules for dealing with slaves, such as mandated liberation on conversion to Islam, an insistence that slaves be clothed and fed in the same manner as is their master, and that they not be forced into marriage, among other prohibitons. Slavery was abolished in Saudi Arabia in 1962, making it one of the last countries to ban this practice.

Slavery to North Africa

Slaves were imported from Western Europe to North Africa in the 15th and 16th centuries. 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 north-western European navies were depleted. The trade was run by the Moors and the expeditions were often captained by Muslim Europeans with North African crews. They would raid coastal areas and carry away sometimes whole villages to the Moorish slave markets. It appears that women often fared better, as brides, than men. The true record of this history has not yet been fully researched. 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 Africa

Main article: African slave trade, Atlantic slave trade

Slavery was common and widespread throughout Africa into the 19th century. The Dutch imported slaves from Asia into their colony in South Africa. Britain, which held vast colonial territories on the 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, albeit being one of the less mal-intentioned manifestations of the phenomenon.

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 almost incorporated into the slave-owning family. In others, slaves were brutally abused, and even used for human sacrifices. Despite the vast numbers of slaves exported from Africa, it is thought that the majority of African slaves remained in Africa, continuing as slaves in the regions where they were first captured.

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 based on this trade. Arab slave traders differed from European traders in that they would often capture slaves themselves, sometimes penetrating deep into the continent. They also differed in that their market greatly preferred the purchase of female slaves over male slaves. This reflected their desire for household and sexual slaves rather than slaves to work on plantations.

The transatlantic slave trade peaked in the late 18th century, when the largest number of slaves were captured in West Africa and shipped to the colonies of the New World (triangular trade). As a result of the Spanish War of Succession, Britain 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 some also went to Europe and the south of Africa. While much of the slave trade in Africa was related to external protagonists, an internal slave trade unrelated to non-Africans did exist.

The demographic impact of the slave trade on Africa is an important question, regarding which consensus remains elusive. Some historians conclude that the total loss—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 at particular times—western Africa around 1760-1810 and Mozambique and neighbouring areas half a century later. There has also been speculation that within Africa female captives were taken in preference, for domestic and dynastic reasons, with many male captives being a "bycatch" who would have been killed if there had not been an export market for them. So the balance and timing of the two demographic sorts of market could make a difference.

Slavery persists in Africa above 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 the Sudan slavery continues as part of an ongoing civil war.

African slaves versus Caribbean slaves

African slaves and Caribbean slaves both received little respect from their masters, who looked at them as objects for work and trade. Both types of slaves suffered greatly over the centuries as sugarcane plantations and the production of other goods other required the work of slaves. Slavery and slave trading was widespread in both the Caribbean islands and in Africa. Many of the slaves were unable to reproduce because the stress of the work often caused still births in women and sterility in men.

Caribbean slavery granted the masters complete freedom over the control of their slaves. Caribbean slaves often worked on cane estates suffering hardship in harsh conditions and supervised under demanding masters. The sugar industry caused the need for complete control the master needed over the slaves in order to meet demands and control the harvest. Caribbean sugar plantations resembled factories in a modern capitalist society. The Caribbean islands used a factory like system to mass produce sugar production.

In contrast, African slavery was less harsh than slavery on Caribbean sugar estates. African kinship groups sought to assimilate new slaves into their circle. Many slave villages worked under their own management and paid tribute for their services. The family lifestyle of slavery in many parts of Africa had a closer bond as smaller groups usually have face-to-face relationships.

Slavery in colonial America

Main Article: Slavery in Colonial America

Slavery in the Americas during the 17th century was an institution that made little distinction as to the race of the enslaved or the free man. But by the 18th century, the overwhelming number of enslaved "black" persons was such that white and Native American slavery was less common. Slavery under European rule began with importation of white European slaves (or indentured servants), was followed by the enslavement of local aborigines in the Caribbean, and eventually was primarily replaced with Africans imported through a large slave trade as the native populations declined through disease. Most enslaved persons brought to the Americas ended up in the Caribbean or South America where tropical diseases took a large toll on their population and required large numbers of replacements. The African slaves had somewhat of a natural immunity to yellow fever and malaria but the fact that they were severely underfed, overworked, and poorly housed attributed to their perishing of disease. Another factor that took a toll on the population of black slaves is that their death rate was much higher than their birth rate prior to the 19th century. In British North America the slave population rapidly repopulated themselves where in the Caribbean they did not. The lack of proper nourishment, health, and desire are speculated to be the reason. Of the small population of babies that were born, only about 1/4 survived miserable conditions on a sugar plantation.

It was not only the big colonial powers in Europe such as France, England, Holland or Portugal that were involved in the transatlantic person trade. Small countries, such as Sweden or Denmark, tried to get into this lucrative business. For more information about this, see The Swedish slave trade.

Slavery among indigenous people of the Americas

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 workers outside the not-for-profit sector were subject to a mita in lieu of taxes, that 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 the Spanish New World colonies

Slavery in the Spanish colonies began with local Native Americans. Initially, the Spanish maintained the mita directing it to silver mining at Potosí. However, as these populations shrank due to imported European diseases, African slaves began to be used instead.

Most of the earliest black immigrants to the Americas were natives of Spain and Portugal, men such as Pedro Alonso Niño, a navigator who accompanied Columbus on his first voyage, and the black colonists who helped Nicolás de Ovando form the first Spanish settlement on Hispaniola in 1502. The name of Nuflo de Olano appears in the records as that of a black slave present when Vasco Núñez de Balboa sighted the Pacific Ocean in 1513. Other blacks served with Hernán Cortés when he conquered Mexico and with Francisco Pizarro when he marched into Peru.

Estebanico, one of the survivors of Pánfilo de Narváezs unfortunate expedition to Florida in 1527, was black. With three companions, he spent eight years traveling overland to Mexico City, learning several Native American languages in the process. Later, while exploring what is now New Mexico, he lost his life in a dispute with the Zuñi.

Juan Valiente, another black, led Spaniards in a series of battles against the Araucanian people of Chile between 1540 and 1546. Although Valiente was a slave, he was rewarded with an estate near Santiago and control of several Native American villages.

Between 1502 and 1518, Spain shipped out hundreds of Spanish-born Africans, called Ladinos, to work as laborers, especially in the mines. Opponents of their enslavement cited their weak Christian faith and their penchant for escaping to the mountains or joining the Native Americans in revolt. Proponents declared that the rapid diminution of the Native American population required a consistent supply of reliable work hands. Free Spaniards were reluctant to do manual labor or to remain settled (especially after the discovery of gold on the mainland), and only slave labor could assure the economic viability of the colonies.

Slavery in the English and French Caribbean

The Lesser Antilles islands of Barbados, Antigua, Martinique and Guadeloupe were the first important slave societies of the Caribbean, switching to slavery by the end of the 1600s as their economies converted from tobacco to sugar production. By the middle of the 1700s, British Jamaica and French Saint-Domingue had become the largest and most brutal slave societies of the region, rivaling Brazil as a destination for enslaved Africans.

These islands' death rates for black slaves were higher than birth rates. Three out of four slaves babies died before the age of five. The main reason why the birth rates were lower than the death rate was because many slaves were over worked. Slaves had to use axes to cut down trees and burn brush to clear land for sugar plantations. They also had to crush sugar canes and remove liquid from them. After that they had to boil and clarify the liquid until it crystallised into sugar. Slaves also had poor living conditions and consequent disease.

Caribbean slavery gave the masters complete freedom over the control of his slave. The low birth rates and high death rates caused the Caribbean island population to decrease. Slaves worked from sun up until sun down, with little medical care. Caribbean slaves often worked on cane estates suffering hardship in harsh conditions and supervised under demanding masters. The sugar industry caused the need for complete control the master needed over the slaves in order to meet demands and control the harvest. The Caribbean islands used a factory like system to mass produce sugar production.

The factors mentioned above were perhaps the main cause of small birth rates among Caribbean slaves, as life was extremely hard on every aspect of their survival. But there is another possible reason for the low birth rate among slaves in the Caribbean. Could it be possible that females simply didn't want to bring new life into their existing world? Author Jan Rogozinski briefly mentions this in his book, "A Brief History of the Caribbean." He states that "Perhaps slave mothers simply did not see much point in raising children solely to provide labourers for their masters" (p. 142). So could this had been another form of slave rebellion against their masters? We know how they sung songs degrading their white masters, and in some cases they would simply play ignorant or stupid to avoid punishment and further work, but could this act of defiance be incorporated into low birth rates of Caribbean slaves ?

Producers, Reproducers, and Rebels: Grenadian Slave Women 1783-1833

Slavery in Brazil

During the colonial epoch, slavery was a mainstay of the Brazilian economy, especially in mining and sugar cane production. The Clapham Sect, a group of Victorian Evangelical politicians, campaigned during most of the 19th century for England to use its influence and power to stop the then already largely considered immoral traffic of slaves to Brazil. Besides that, because of the low cost of slave-produced Brazilian sugar, British colonies in the West Indies were unable to match the market prices of Brazilian sugar. After all, each Briton was using 16 pounds of sugar each year by the 1800s. This combination led to intensive pressure from the British government for Brazil to end this practice, which it did by steps over several decades. Slavery was legally ended May 13 by the Lei Áurea ("Golden Law") of 1888.

Brazil obtained 37% of all African slaves traded, and more than 3 million slaves were sent to this one country. The Portuguese were the first to initiate the slave trade, and the last to end the slave trade. Starting around 1550, the Portuguese began to trade African slaves to work the sugar plantations once the native Tupi deteriorated due to their sensitivity to European diseases, and no longer served as sufficient laborers. The African slaves were useful for the sugar plantations in many ways. First, African slaves had built-in immunities to European diseases. The white workers were unable to fend off deadly diseases of the Caribbean such as yellow fever and malaria. Second, the benefits of the slaves far exceeded the costs. After 2-3 yrs, 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. For more information see Chasteen 2001. The very harsh manual labor of the sugar cane fields led the slaves to use hoes to dig large trenches to plant the sugar cane followed by using their bare hands to spread manure in the trenches to allow for the sugar cane to grow successfully. The average life span of a slave was eight years.

In the mid to late 1800s, many Amerindians were enslaved to work on rubber plantations. See Içá for more information.

In the early 1990s evidence of illegal "forced labor and debt bondage" amounting to slavery was unearthed in the Amazon region. The Brazilian government has since taken measures against such activities, although concerns continue to be expressed that more stringent steps may be required. In 1995, President Fernando Henrique Cardoso announced a new series of measures to force compliance with the anti-slavery statutes.

In September of 2002, a report to the Ministério de Trabalho (Ministry of Labor), stated that between 1995 and 2001 approximately 3,500 slave labourers had been freed, and that it was estimated that 2,500 people remained in such conditions at that time (O Globo, 2002).

Slavery in North America

Main articles: Slavery in Canada, History of slavery in the United States, Atlantic slave trade

Mexico declared the abolition of slavery in 1814 during its War of Independence.

On May 29, 1733, the right of Canadians to keep Indians in slavery was upheld at Quebec City.

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

The first imported slaves brought to the English colonies on the rest of continent were landed at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619. Slavery in the United States ended irregularly. In Rhode Island, indentured servitude was limited to 10 years May 18, 1652; however importation of slaves for trade was not forbidden in the state until June 13, 1774. Slavery was legal in most of the 13 colonies in the 18th century, and was ended in many Northeastern and Middle Atlantic "Free States" only after the turn of the 19th century. Through the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 (also known as the Freedom Ordinance) under the Continental Congress, slavery was prohibited in the Midwest, including the Free States of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin. In the East, though, slavery was not abolished until later - in New York state, not finally until 1827, having previously been abolished for those born after 1799.

In 1807 the United States passed legislation that banned the importation of slaves, but not the internal slave trade, and the involvement in the international slave trade or the outfitting of ships for that trade by U.S. citizens. Though there were certainly violations of this law, slavery in America became more or less self-sustaining. Several slave rebellions took place during the 1700s and 1800s including the Nat Turner rebellion in 1831. The importation of slaves into the United States was banned on January 1, 1808. However, the overland 'slave trade' from Tidewater Virginia and the Carolinas to Georgia, Alabama, and Texas continued for another half-century.

Because the Midwestern states were 'free states' by ordinance before even the Constitution had been ratified, and because Northeastern states became free states later through local abolition and emancipation, a Northern aggregation of free states solidified into one contiguous geographic area, and with the entry of additional free states in the Great Plains, a territory free of slavery was formed north of the Ohio River and the old Mason-Dixon line. This separation of a free North and an enslaved South launched a geographic, cultural and economic struggle over the next two generations which would culminate in the American Civil War. The fiercest combatants were abolitionists and the slaves themselves against an array of planters in the South and pro-slavery shipping interests in the East, battling over control of the Federal Government, economic levers, cultural institutions, and the public opinion of freeholders and church congregants. Due to the three-fifths compromise, slaveholders exerted power through the Federal Government and the Federal Fugitive slave laws. Anti-slavery Democratic-Republicans, Whigs, and Free Soilers achieved nominal successes in advocating an end to slavery's expansion in the West, especially during and after the Mexican War. Refugees from slavery fled the South across the Ohio River to the North via the Underground Railroad, and their physical presence in Cincinnati, Oberlin, and other Northern towns agitated Northerners about the expansion of slavery, which had supposedly been settled and contained. The repeal of Western geographic limits to slavery's expansion led to democratic chaos in self-determination battles. Prominent Midwestern Governors, like Salmon P. Chase of Ohio, asserted States Rights arguments to refuse Federal jursidiction in their states over fugitives. Northerners fumed that the pro-slavery Democratic Party controlled two or three branches of the Federal government for most of the antebellum era. Finally, the Dred Scott decision which asserted that slavery's presence in the Midwest was nominally lawful (when owners crossed into free states) turned Northern public opinion against slavery. Border 'wars' in Bloody Kansas for which Congress had not legislated either 'freedom' or 'slavery' broke out, and propaganda 'wars' in Northern newspapers swept anti-slavery legislators into office, like Salmon P. Chase and Abraham Lincoln of Illinois, under the banner of the Republican Party. The anti-slavery political sentiment had finally found an outlet.

Influential leaders of the abolition movement (1810-60) included:

In the election of 1860, the anti-slavery Republican party had swept the North, and Abraham Lincoln into the Presidency, with a plurality of popular votes and a majority of electoral votes. Lincoln however, did not appear on the ballots of ten southern states: thus his election necessarily split the nation along sectional lines. After decades of controlling the Federal Government, the newly disenfranchised Southern states rebelled and demanded to secede from the Union, launching the Civil War. Ironically, Southern leaders clawed back the idea of 'states rights' from Midwestern and Northeastern leaders, and each Southern state would assert their individual sovereign status and right to 'self determination'. Northern leaders like Lincoln and Chase had viewed the slavery interests as a threat politically, and with secession, they viewed the prospect of a new slave nation, with control over the Mississippi River and the West, as a militarily unacceptable impossibility.

The 1860s saw the end of slavery in America. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 was a symbolic gesture that proclaimed freedom for slaves within the Confederacy but not those in the strategically important border states of Tennessee, Maryland or Deleware. However, the proclamation made the abolition of slavery an official war goal and it was implemented as the Union retook territory from the Confederacy. Legally, slaves within the United States remained enslaved until the final ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution in December of 1865, 8 months after the cessation of hostilities in the Civil War. However, practically, the slaves in many parts of the south were freed by Union armies or by the chaos of the time, when they simply left their former owners. Many joined the Union Army as supporting workers or combatant troops, and many more fled to Northern cities or stayed close to Union troops. When General Sherman led his famous march through the South to Atlanta and Savannah, hundreds of thousands of new 'freedmen' followed him in his wake, effectively rendering Sherman's army an army of liberation, in some part mitigating the devastation inflicted by it upon the regions of the South through which it passed.

During the period between the surrender of the last Confederate troops on May 26, 1865 and the final ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment on December 6, 1865 (with final recognition of the amendment on December 18), officially ending slavery in the United States, slaveholding persisted in the slave states that had not seceded (Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri) and also in the territories located south of 36° 30' North latitude as per the Missouri Compromise (most of the present-day states of Arizona, New Mexico, and Oklahoma, although very few slaves could actually be found in these territories), but history remains unclear on the precise date upon which the last chattel slave was freed in the United States. Juneteenth (June 19, 1865) is celebrated in Texas and some other areas, and commemorates the date when news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached the last slaves at Galveston, TX, but slavery most likely persisted, officially or unofficially, in at least some of the aforementioned regions during the months leading up to December 1865.

In the slave-holding colonies of British North America slavery was first abolished in Upper Canada (now the southern part of Ontario) in 1810, although slavery had probably disappeared before then (see John Graves Simcoe). Slavery had never been an important part of the Upper Canadian economy: most slaves were servants. In the decades before the American Civil War and especially after the enactment of the Fugitive Slave Law, Canada became the destination of choice of runaway slaves from the United States.

Slavery in Japan

Slavery in Japan was, for the most of its history, endogenous. The sea prevented exports and imports of slaves and by 16th century, slavery was abolished. An export of a slave is recorded in 3rd-century Chinese history record yet the system of slavery is unclear. These slaves were called Seikō (生口) (lit. living mouth). This exportation ceased, in part because slaves from Japan were more expensive than those transported overland into China.

In the 8th century, a slave was called Nuhi (奴婢) and series of laws on slavery was issued. These slaves tended farms and worked around houses. Information on slave population is sketchy. In an area of present-day Ibaraki prefecture, out of a population of 190,000, around 2,000 were slaves, but this is believed to be a relatively low proportion; in Western regions of Japan, numbers were believed to be significantly higher.

In the Sengoku period (1467-1615), the system of slavery increasingly became a burden on warlords and it was associated with archaic rules by aristocrats. In one meeting with Catholic priests, Oda Nobunaga was presented with a black slave, the first recorded encounter between a Japanese and an African. He was freed by Nobunaga and made a samurai to serve by his side. Though he married, his ultimate fate is unknown.

In 1588, Toyotomi Hideyoshi ordered all slave trading to be abolished. This was followed by series of nationwide surveys that defined peasants who actually tended lands as their owners. These acts abolished the system of slavery in Japan. His successor Tokugawa Ieyasu also continued abolishment of slavery. In 1895, after Taiwan was taken over by Japan from China, slavery was abolished there. After the annexation of Korea in 1910, Japan abolished both slavery and caste system. The Japanese puppet-state Manchukuo outlawed slavery after its establishment in 1931.

International abolitionist movements

Slavery's origins are prehistoric. So, too, are movements to free large or distinct groups of them. Moses led Israelite slaves from ancient Egypt in the Biblical Book of Exodus - possibly the first detailed account of a movement to free slaves.

Aristotle produced arguments in defence of the institution of slavery, which implies that some in Athenian democracy thought that every man should be free (with the sense of freedom and liberty Athenians had) and none should be a doulos. The only other Greek source on slavery comes from Alcidamas: "God has set everyone free. No one is created doulos, by nature". Also a small fraction of a poem of Philemon demonstrated that he was also against douleia. It is also documented that 10,000-15,000 douloi of Athenian democracy who worked at the mines, revolted in 413 B.C. and this caused a great economical loss for the Athenians in the war they had that period against Sparta.

In the 5th century, Saint Patrick, a former slave now famous as a missionary in Ireland, wrote that slavery ought to be abolished.

In England in 1772 the case of a runaway slave named James Somerset, whom his owner was attempting to return to Jamaica, came before the Lord Chief Justice William Murray, Lord Mansfield. Basing his judgement on Magna Carta and habeas corpus he 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." It was thus declared that the condition of slavery could not be enforced under English law. However, this judgement did not abolish slavery in England, it simply made it illegal to remove a slave from England against his will, and slaves continued to be held for years to come.

A similar case of Joseph Knight took place in Scotland five years later which ruled slavery to be contrary to the law of Scotland.

In 1787 humanitarian campaigners in Britain founded the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade. The "slave trade" consisted, not of slavery in Britain, but rather of trafficking in slaves by British merchants operating in British colonies and other countries. Shares of stock in companies engaged in that trade was legally bought and sold in England. The anti-slave-trade movement in Britain had support from Quakers, Baptists, Methodists and others, and reached out for support from the new industrial workers. The primary leader of the fight against slavery in Britain was William Wilberforce.

France never authorized slavery on its mainland, but authorized it in some of its overseas possessions. On February 4, 1794, Abbé Grégoire and the Convention abolished slavery. Slaves in Haiti revolted when their masters didn't accept the new rules from the metropolis. It was re-established in 1802 by Napoleon, and in the end abolished in 1848 under the Second Republic.

The "Abolition of the Slave Trade Act" 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 entirely outlaw the slave trade within the British Empire, but the trade continued and captains in danger of being caught by the Royal Navy would often throw slaves into the sea to reduce the fine. In 1827 Britain declared that participation in the slave trade was piracy and punishable by death. On August 23rd, 1833, slavery was outlawed in the British colonies. On August 1st 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. After 1838, the 'British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society' worked to outlaw slavery overseas and to pressure the government to help enforce the suppression of the slave trade by declaring slave traders pirates and pursuing them. This organization continues today as Anti-Slavery International.

Sierra Leone was established as a country for former slaves of the British Empire back in Africa. Liberia served an analogous purpose for American slaves. The goal of the abolitionists was repatriation of the slaves to Africa. Trade unions as well didn't want the cheap labor of former slaves around. Nevertheless, most of them stayed in America.

Slaves in the United States who escaped ownership would often make their way north to Canada via the "Underground Railroad". The Underground Railroad was a grassroots organization, loosely and informally organized.

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, explicity 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.


In June 1997, Tony Hall, a Democratic representative for Dayton, Ohio proposed a national apology by the U.S. government for slavery. This was at a time when the Catholic Church in France apologised for its silence and begged "forgiveness for Catholic inaction as regime sent Jews to their deaths in '40s".

At the World Conference Against Racism, Durban, the US representatives walked out on September 3 2001 on the instructions of Colin Powell, concerning the conference's discussion of Israel, whose representatives also walked out. However the South African Government spokesperson claimed "the general perception among all delegates is that the US does not want to confront the real issues of slavery and all its manifestations."

At the same time the British, Spanish, Dutch and Portuguese delegations blocked an EU apology for slavery.

The issue of an apology is linked to reparations for slavery and is still being pursued across the world. E.g. The Jamaican Reparations Movement approved its declaration and action Plan.


As noted above, there have been movements to achieve reparations for those held in involuntary servitude, or sometimes their descendants.There is a growing modern movement to donate funds achieved in reparations efforts not to the descendants of those held as slaves in prior generations, but instead to donate them to those freed from slavery in this generation, in other countries and circumstances.

In general, reparation for being held in slavery is handled as a civil law matter in almost every country. This is often decried as a serious problem, since slaves are exactly those people who have no access to the legal process. Systems of fines and reparations paid from fines collected by authorities, rather than in civil courts, have been proposed to alleviate this in some nations.

In the United States, the reparations movement often cites the 40 acres and a mule decree. Recent effort have also targeted businesses that profited from the slave trade and issuing insurance on slaves.

From the University of Virginia web site: Reparations.

Economics of slavery

According to the British Anti-Slavery Society, "Although there is no longer any state which recognizes any claim by a person to a right of property over another, there are an estimated 2.7 million people throughout the world, mainly children, in conditions of slavery." They further note that slavery, particularly child slavery, was on the rise in 2003. According to a broader definition used by Free the Slaves, another advocacy group, there are 27 million people in slavery today, spread all over the world. This is, also according to that group:

  • The largest number of people that has ever been in slavery at any point in world history.
  • The smallest percentage of the total human population that has ever been enslaved at once.
  • Reducing the price of slaves to as low as US$40 in Mali for young adult male labourers, to a high of US$1000 or so in Thailand for HIV-free young females suitable for use in brothels (where they invariably contract HIV). This represents the price paid to the person, or parents.
  • This represents the lowest price that there has ever been for a slave in raw labour terms - while the price of a comparable male slave in 1850 America would have been about US$1000 in the currency of the time, that represents US$38,000 in today's dollars, thus slaves, at least of that category, now cost only one one-thousandth (0.1%) of their price 150 years ago.

As a result, the economics of slavery is stark: the yield of profit per year for those buying and controlling a slave is over 800% on average, as opposed to the 5% per year that would have been the expected payback for buying a slave in colonial times. This combines with the high potential to lose a slave (have them stolen, escape, or freed by unfriendly authorities) to yield what are called disposable people - those who can be exploited intensely for a short time and then discarded, such as the prostitutes thrown out on city streets to die once they contract HIV, or those forced to work in mines.

Potential for total abolition

Those 27 million people produce a gross economic product of US$1.4 billion. This is also a smaller percentage of the world economy than slavery has produced at any prior point in human history. That, plus the universal criminal status of slavery, the lack of moral arguments for it in modern discourse, and the many conventions and agreements to abolish it worldwide, make it likely that it can be eliminated in this generation, according to Free The Slaves. There are no nations whose economies would be substantially affected by the true abolition of slavery.

A first step towards this objective is the Cocoa Protocol, by which the entire cocoa industry worldwide has accepted full moral and legal responsibility for the entire comprehensive outcome of their production processes. Negotiations for this protocol were initiated for cotton, sugar and other commodity items in the 19th century - taking about 140 years to complete. Thus it seems that this is also a turning point in history, where all commodity markets can slowly lever licensing and other requirements to ensure that slavery is eliminated from production, one industry at a time, as a sectoral simultaneous policy that does not cause disadvantages for any one market player.

Generally, consumer moral purchasing efforts are ineffective against slavery since slave labor to get the charcoal to produce rolled steel in Brazil, or on coffee or sugar plantations, is so far down the production chain that the final producers of such products do not know about everything involved.

Famous people in slavery

From the list of famous slaves:

See also

External links


  • (1) National Geographic, March 1985.
  • Ibn Rustah, Kitāb al-A'lāk an-Nafīsa, ed. M. J. De Goeje, Bibliotheca Geographorum Arabicorum [BGA], Leiden, E. J. Brill, 1892.
  • O Globo Online 2002 ("País tem 2,5 mil trabalhadores escravos" - "Country has 2.5 thousand slave workers")
  • Transatlantic Slave Trade

Historic topics

Contemporary issues

Further reading

  • Kevin Bales, Disposable People. New Slavery in the Global Economy, University of California Press 2004
  • Chasteen, John Charles (2001): W.W. Norton & Company.
  • The Slavery Reader, edited by Rigas Doganis, Gad Heuman, James Walvin, Routledge, 2003
  • Eugene D. Genovese , Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made, Vintage Books
  • Adam Hochschild, Bury the Chains. The British struggle to Abolish Slavery, Macmillan, London 2005

Last updated: 10-25-2005 06:55:05
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