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in upholding the entire western economy, the slave trade was already heavily established within Africa itself. Even Though Britain and the Americans were the most prominent supporters of slavery, it was however the Portuguese who first took advantage of the African Slave Trade; by the end of the 15th century they had exported more than 10,000 slaves to sugar plantations. In 1562 Sir John Hawkins set sail for Africa; carrying valuables and riches that he hoped to trade for slaves. He is believed to be responsible for England’s involvement in the slave trade. Soon the entire British economy would revolve around the exploitation of slaves, making the abolition of slavery out of the question if they wanted to remain wealthy and prosperous. Nevertheless as the slave market continued to increase, people began to question the ethics of the trade itself. In 1689 John Locke, a well practiced British philosopher preached these memorable words “Slavery is so vile and miserable an estate of man, and so directly opposite to the generous temper and courage of our nation…” By examining this statement and matching it with the date, Historians are able to assume that over 200 years before slavery was officially abolished people were opposed to it. As long as slavery had existed their were always outspoken individuals who objected to the practice. As slavery continued to thrive, more and more individuals began to oppose the whole concept of trading in human life. The abolition resistance grew and many court cases regarding the law of ownership were held, this put the High Court into a tricky position. The Current Lord Chief Justice; Lord Mansfield did not want to be responsible for depriving England of more than £700,000 worth of slave property, yet he knew that slavery could not continue as to much abolition support had been uncovered. On June 22, 1772, Mansfield announced to the high court “The power claimed [of a master over a slave] never was in use here nor acknowledged by the law…I cannot say this case is allowed or approved by the law of England, and therefore the blacks must be discharged” He made it clear that the British law did not accept slavery in the creed; therefore without mention slavery was deemed unlawful and banned. We can gather from this fragment of the speech that slavery has been so accepted into everyday life that no
one had questioned the ethics and legality surrounding it; everyone just assumed that a practice that benefitted society so greatly would never be against the law. After that historical decision was set in stone, all British slaves were considered free men and citizens of England, although society would continue to remain segregated. In America, however slavery would continue to thrive for some time. By the middle 1700’s America had refused to be ruled under the British Monarchy, during this time Britain introduced heavy taxation laws, when America refused to pay a strong conflict erupted between the two powerful countries and the Revolutionary broke out, it lasted from 1775-1781. Both nations developed strong armies; in America black slaves were not forced to join and fight, but many volunteered as they believed their participation would lead to their freedom. This was a false belief, as slavery in America would continue to exist for approximately another 80 years. After the Revolutionary War, Great Britain retreated and America was granted freedom from monarch rule, following the Declaration of Independence. The declaration states “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it” Even after this famous preamble was established, America continued to break this declaration by upholding their slave industry. The exact document that won America their independence would be persistently disregarded in relation to slavery, the memorable words would somehow overlook the inhumane practices that helped uphold America’s economy. Soon after independence the Northern States bean to industrialize and no longer relied on slavery for their prosperity, this sparked many northerners to view slavery as morally wrong, however within the South slavery was still the backbone for the economy and this meant the southerners were not about to give it up. This ethical disagreement between the North and South would become the foundations that would eventually lead to the American Civil War; a bloody battle that
held great losses for both sides. During this period the spread of the abolition movement grew, and certain individuals dedicated their time and life to fight for a cause that they strongly believed in; that slavery should cease to exist. These ‘abolitionists’ were not only African American; many powerful whites began voicing their opinions regarding human property. In 1852 Harriet Beecher Stow finished writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin; a fictional novel that exposed the horrid reality of slavery. For many it was the first time that they had been so vividly immersed in the horrific practice of slavery and eventually the beginning of abolition was on the tip of every Northerners tongue. Within the first year that it was published Stow sold 300,000 in the United States alone. It was the second most popular book that century, just following the Bible. Stow heavily expressed her opinion within the characterisation of her novel. Depicting the racial backlash that accompanied slavery, she wrote from both sides; accurately portraying the slaves and their masters. She also brought up the idea that although the North was opposed to slavery they still did not consider a black man as a free or equal man. "I've always had a prejudice against negroes. And it's a fact, I never could bear to have that child touch me; but, I didn't think she knew it." Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Pg 246. Miss
Ophelia expressing her views about the child Topsy to St. Clare. Like many northerners of this period, she did not support the institution of slavery, but was just as or more prejudice than southern slave owners.
Stow expressed the reality that although the abolition movement was well under way, this did not mean American was on the path to divine equality between the races; from busses to schools, society would continue to be heavily segregated for some time. Another important figure in the abolition movement was John Brown, who on October 16 1859 led thirteen armed blacks to the south to forcibly stop slavery; this resulted in the killing of five pro slavers and ultimately to his execution. He declared to the court on the day of his trial “Now if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice... I say, let it be done.” Brown was so heavily a supporter of the Abolition of Slavery, but has grown so inpatient with the current methods that he was willing to radicalise the movement and take action into his own hands by approaching the matter with violence.
Some abolitionists believed Brown had no respect for the work they were doing in order to gain progress for the movement; they stated that he undid all the good work they had achieved over the time and only added to the cause of the Civil War. Others argued that Brown had effectively raised awareness with radical strategies that ultimately cost him his life; they gained respect for him when he publicly announced that he was willing to die for his cause. It is said that Brown had never been skilled at many things, however in 1839 in response to the murder of abolitionist Elijah P. Lovejoy. Brown vowed “Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery!” This statement was gallantly kept and in the end Brown took it down with him to the grave. Since his first glimmer of anti-slavery opinion as shown in the above quote, Brown had fought to end slavery within the Southern states. In the end his impatient antics would cost him life but it would be something he was willing to die for. Soon many slaves and former slaves joined the anti-slavery bandwagon themselves; speaking out against the controversial industry that they were part of. They lashed out against their masters and slandered the law and constitution that was so evidently contradictory to reality. On of the best regarded of black abolitionists was Frederick Douglass, an escapee from slavery who built a career based on travelling around the world and spreading awareness, regarding the abolitionist movement that was just beginning to boil. He preached to his fellow African Americans that they must not rely on the whites to abolish slavery, and instead take matters into their own hands and lead the movement itself. Stating“This is our own battle; no one else can fight for us” Of course naturally, Douglass welcomed the support of white abolitionists but continued to rouse the black community into joining the movement themselves. He continued educating the masses with his brilliant speeches and first hand experiences. Douglass was encouraged to give public speeches by William Lloyd Garrison, the sole man responsible for the independent anti-slavery newspaper; The Liberator. Garrison began this newspaper in 1831 when in the first issue he stated“I am in earnest – I will not equivocate – I will not excuse – I will not retreat a single inch – AND I WILL BE HEARD”
In these words Garrison can be assumed to be a strong and determined man, set on achieving every goal he made. His words that graced the pages of the Liberator were the foundations on which many abolitionists based their arguments. Others even took his lead and began openly writing about their opposition towards slavery, individuals even went as far as to create other various newsletters that publicly voiced local attitudes, but none was as successful and praised as the Liberator. Garrison was so passionate in fact that he remained the chief writer for the Liberator for over 30 years, dedicating his pen and his hand to expressing personal thoughts and opinions during the time of abolition. In his newspaper, Garrison included political cartoons and illustrations that attacked the barbarities of American slavery. In one particular source an artist has depicted the auction of slaves, showing a man holding a black baby by one arm for all the bidders to view, a sign in the background states “Great bargains, sale of Negroes, horses, cattle and other property” With the placement of this sign we are able to draw conclusions that African American slaves were not considered human beings, but in fact thought of as property and often compared to livestock and other animals. A small amount of hard-hitting text is shown at the bottom of the poster“…Violently separated – probably never to meet again” This poster along with others was aiming to shock and persuade the general public to open their eyes and realise the barbarity that they had grown so accustomed to. These drawings often worked, rendering the viewer suddenly in disbelief at their own society’s customs. There were others that held high positions in society who had also banned together t abolish slavery years before the actual abolition. William Wilberforce, a Minister of Parliament who later became headed the parliamentary campaign against the practice of slavery. Wilberforce was persuaded to become this leading individual by certain influential persons, who encouraged Wilberforce to join them in fighting for abolition. Wilberforce was known for his moving parliamentary speeches, it was said that he could sway the audience by doing little more than opening his mouth. It was not apparent that Wilberforce was a genius in public speaking but when he began, the masses would enthusiastically listen. An avid viewer once commented on Wilberforce“I saw what seemed a shrimp mount upon the table but as I listened, he grew and grew until the shrimp became a whale”
It is clear by this comment that Wilberforce had great affect on his target audience; the general public who would easily support his argument. And this was certainly achieved. In his lifetime Wilberforce pressed for the ‘Slave Trade Act of 1807’ which abolished slavery within the British Empire, but not slavery itself, this was not banned until the ‘Slavery Abolition Act of 1833.’ Just three days after slavery itself was officially declared entirely illegal, Wilberforce died, a happy man at being able to witness the progress that he had come to found. Another individual who significantly altered the outcomes within the fight for abolition was Harriet Tubman a former slave who had escaped and founded the ‘Fugitives’ Aid Society’ – a rebel organisation which helped escaping slaves find refuge and aid within various shelters and homes, she has been referred to as ‘Moses’ and had never lost a single passenger out of the 300 she escorted over the time of her involvement. This organisation was part of the ‘Underground Railway’; once again a secret organisation that consisted of a massive network of willing volunteers who offered a safe haven within their homes for slaves attempting to escape their masters. Over the years of her involvement with the abolition of slavery Tubman was introduced to both Frederick Douglass and John Brown, she helped assist both men in their own efforts to stamp out slavery. It is believed that Douglass and Tubman shared great respect for each other as they lead the ‘bull by the horns, the beastly bull that was slavery’. With the collective efforts of the Abolitionists, the movement was made possible and it is relevant to acknowledge the nameless faceless abolitionists that never made it into the history books but significantly contributed to making the actually history. The year of 1861 saw the eruption of the American Civil War, as both sides; the North and the South repetitively resorted to violent actions in order to force their separate regulations upon the other. During the presidential election of 1860 Abraham Lincoln won Presidency despite not receiving the majority of votes, he campaigned against the expansion of the ‘slave states’ (the states in which slavery was supported) but however did not immediately back-up the abolition movement, instead ordering it to be ‘contained’. The War soon broke out as the first of many attacks was initiated by the ‘Confederate Army’ (the Southern states). To discourage international forces from intervening Lincoln established the ‘Emancipation Proclamation’; an ordered document that demanded the immediate freedom of any slaves existing in the
outstanding Southern states that did not obey and return to union control before 1st January 1863. In the lead up to this deadline, in March 1862, a law was passed that prohibited military forces from returning fugitive slaves back to their owners, this guaranteed slave escapees safety once their had broken free of their captivity. By the deadline of 1863 most territories had succumbed to this order apart from the ‘Union Slave States’; Maryland, Delaware and Missouri. Many abolitionists were sceptical regarding the Emancipation Proclamation as they believed it was only introduced in order to maintain peace during the Civil War, they predicted that once the war had ceased slavery would once again thrive in the southern states. And this was somewhat true as a handful of states continued to practice slavery, however on December 6th 1865 the ‘Thirteenth Amendment’ was officially put into the American Constitution, eradicating slavery from the remaining slave states and guaranteeing the permanent abolition of slavery. This particular amendment still governs the United States of America today. As a result of the continuous effort exercised during the fight for abolition slavery is now illegal all over the world, deemed ‘unconstitutional’ and inhumane. It goes to show that although the initial struggle may seem useless, below; the movement is just beginning to take flight. As historians, we gain a sense of what progress society can make when people voice their opinions, and by studying the long and gruelling Abolition of the Slave Trade it is made clear that individuals who ban together and share a common interest can achieve significant measures in order to maintain a fair and balanced society. To accentuate this statement I make reference ‘Bullet and a Target’; this particular song was recorded in the dire regions of South Africa with the ‘Connection Zulu Choir’ in order to spread awareness of extreme poorness. 100% of the profits were donated to help aid poverty stricken communities in South Africa. “I believe that together we can really make a different One man cannot make a difference, but if we can partner If we can have a collective will, and a willingness to make a difference in our nation We can really do make a different” Zulu Elder, recorded in ‘Bullet and a Target’ by Bliss N Eso 2,855 words By Asha Forsyth 2009