Bicentennial of the Abolition of the Slave Trade
On March 25, 1807, two hundred years ago today, Parliament passed An Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Here is the key language of the Act:
Be it therefore enacted by the King’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the Authority of the same, That from and after the First Day of May One thousand eight hundred and seven, the African Slave Trade, and all and all manner of dealing and trading in the Purchase, Sale, Barter, or Transfer of Slaves, or of Persons intended to be sold, transferred, used, or dealt with as Slaves, practiced or carried on, in, at, to or from any Part of the Coast or Countries of Africa, shall be, and the same is hereby utterly abolished, prohibited, and declared to be unlawful
William Wilberforce, of course, was the leading voice in the movement to abolish the slave trade. Here is an excerpt of his famous 1789 speech before Parliament on abolition:
Having now disposed of the first part of this subject, I must speak of the transit of the slaves in the West Indies. This I confess, in my own opinion, is the most wretched part of the whole subject. So much misery condensed in so little room, is more than the human imagination had ever before conceived. I will not accuse the Liverpool merchants: I will allow them, nay, I will believe them to be men of humanity; and I will therefore believe, if it were not for the enormous magnitude and extent of the evil which distracts their attention from individual cases, and makes them think generally, and therefore less feelingly on the subject, they would never have persisted in the trade. I verily believe therefore, if the wretchedness of any one of the many hundred Negroes stowed in each ship could be brought before their view, and remain within the sight of the African Merchant, that there is no one among them whose heart would bear it. Let any one imagine to himself 6 or 700 of these wretches chained two and two, surrounded with every object that is nauseous and disgusting, diseased, and struggling under every kind of wretchedness! How can we bear to think of such a scene as this?… As soon as ever I had arrived thus far in my investigation of the slave trade, I confess to you sir, so enormous so dreadful, so irremediable did its wickedness appear that my own mind was completely made up for the abolition. A trade founded in iniquity, and carried on as this was, must be abolished, let the policy be what it might,—let the consequences be what they would, I from this time determined that I would never rest till I had effected its abolition.
The BBC has a good interactive guide to the slave trade available here. It includes a history of abolition, an abolition timeline, the post-abolition world, and stories of the abolition campaign led by William Wilberforce.
In addition, if you are in London, the Victoria and Albert Museum is celebrating the bicentennial with an exhibit on Uncomfortable Truths. The exhibit identifies 2007 as a landmark year, not just in British history but in human history, signalling the end of 400 years of slavery. The exhibit will examine uncomfortable topics such as “why is slavery so often discussed as something disconnected from the present? Why is transatlantic slavery seen as a black issue rather than a human one, by blacks as well as whites? Why does it take arbitrary anniversaries to bring these issues to the fore? How do we understand the roles of the perpetrators and the victims from our standpoint in the present? What can we learn from the history of resistance to slavery? How has slavery contributed to the benefit – and detriment – of the world we live in now? And, how has this institution, like many others, profited from the wealth generated through slave trading?”