Antislavery, Humanity, and the Notion of Rights: Social Developments in Response to The Atlantic Slave Trade.

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Antislavery, Humanity,

and the Notion of Rights:

Social Developments in Response to

The Atlantic Slave Trade.

Leuvis Manuel Olivero

Prof. Dario Euraque

Human Rights in Latin América

May 5, 2005

Racial differences made it easier to justify and rationalize Negro slavery, to exact the mechanical obedience of a plough-ox or a cart-horse, to demand that resignation and that complete moral and intellectual subjection which alone make slave labor possible.

      Arguably one of the darkest moments in human history, the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade has left a mark on our society that is clearly visible more than 300 years after its introduction. Though slavery, as a systematic economic system that used human labor as its crux, was in place centuries before Columbus made his journey to the Americas, along with the laws that helped govern the system, it was the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, which began in the early 16th century that clearly left a lasting legacy in all facets of contemporary life. The remnants of this period in time are unfortunately still visible today as human slavery hasn’t “ended,” it has just become cleverly hidden behind the façade of economic development, and it is no longer based on purported racial inequalities, as anyone who is physically capable can be placed into modern “slavery.” The extent to which slavery has affected modern society goes far beyond a historical understanding that solely places it in one period of time, in one particular place, or even one particular context, rather the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade shows itself in the political, social, cultural, and ideological societal developments of the last 300 years.

   Central to understanding the slave trade is understanding the movement to abolish it, and the developments towards this movement, though varied in its roots and reasons, are necessary in understanding slavery’s historical impact. Prominent historian Adrian Hastings claims that “the movement to end the slave trade began in Europe, not in Africa, but…Africans and African Americans played important roles in that movement.” This statement by Hastings leads us to the central purpose of this essay, which is to find the extent to which the readings on the subject of the salve trade support his claim. In order to clearly answer the question we must look at his claim as two separate statements. First, the essay will try to establish that the texts, to a very limited extent, support the fact that the movement to end the slave trade began in Europe. Once this has been done we’ll move to seeing the limited extent to which the texts support the latter part of his claim, which is the importance of the roles Africans and African Americans played in this movement. The secondary purpose of this essay is to explore the extent to which the slave experience in the Americas contributed to another ‘phase’ in the historical development of “humanity” and “rights” in this part of the world.

    Though there were many players in the movement to end the slave trade and many places where the fight took place, it is difficult to say that it was in Europe where the movement definitively began. Though historians debate whether the movement to abolish the slave trade was purely economical or moral, we will see that it was a combination of both, but it was changing sentiments, both in the European mother countries and the subsidiary colonial properties, that lead to the movement to abolish the slave trade.

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    In his essay, “Spain in the Antilles and the Antilles in Spain,” Christopher Schmidt Nowara references the 1944 work of Eric Williams in establishing the validity of the argument that it was Britain’s need for the development of a new economical system, to replace the fledgling slave system, that lead to the abolitionist movement. In his essay Williams breaks from the traditional portrayal of the abolitionists as ‘Saints’ concerned with humanitarian work in order to argue that it was, “a desire for free trade and more productive forms of labor within the emerging capitalist world system moved Britain to ...

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