Week 10 – 3/20 British and American Antislavery


17 thoughts on “Week 10 – 3/20 British and American Antislavery

  1. cal72013 March 19, 2013 at 1:26 pm Reply

    Before reading this week’s reading, I thought abolitionists saw that slavery was wrong and wanted to end it for moral reasons. Davis proves that, in both British and American abolition, this was not the case. In England, leaders believed that free labor would create larger markets for their goods because if more people were getting paid then more people would buy things. Even though abolishing slavery was actually “comparable to committing suicide for a major part of Britain’s economy,” (241) the fact that British leaders believed free labor would be better for their economy means that slaves were probably emancipated purely for economic reasons. Davis is less cynical about America’s abolitionists, but does state that “even the most altruistic Christian would be self-interested enough to hope to end up in heaven,” (254). So abolitionists were not trying to emancipate slaves just out of the kindness of their hearts, but also so they personally could go to heaven. Davis even interprets the words of Wendell Phillips, a white abolitionist, as saying “white Americans were fortunate that hundreds of thousands of Africans were brought as slaves to North America since they then provided reformers with a glorious cause for overcoming materialism and redeeming their own white souls,” (254).

    • taymn March 20, 2013 at 1:16 am Reply

      I thought that this was an interesting way of thinking about the Christian abolitionists because Davis also says that “…similar statements could be made concerning any struggle against an evil…like the bondage of the ancient Hebrews in Egypt…” (Davis 254). It sort of makes all Christians selfish because other people’s suffering gives them purpose.

    • Christine Shaw March 20, 2013 at 1:37 am Reply

      I also thought that the discussion of morality and religion as they relate to the abolitionist movement was interesting. While some abolitionists might use the moral codes promoted by religions as antislavery arguments, Davis mentions that many abolitionists withdrew from Christian churches because of their conservatism (264).

    • Gahbrielle Armrdi March 20, 2013 at 11:08 am Reply

      I feel that religion and moral ideas were used to promote anti-slavery movements in other countries in order to mask Britain’s economic benefit from abolishing slavery.

    • Daniel March 20, 2013 at 12:52 pm Reply

      I think it’s also important to interpret Davis as a historian, rather than a philosopher or ethicist, and keep in mind that when he makes any claims related to those fields (philosophy ethics or religion), he moves beyond his field of expertise. Nevertheless, I did not get the sense that he ruled out abolition as a moral victory, but at most qualifies it with his theory of free-labor ideology.

  2. Daniel March 19, 2013 at 9:47 pm Reply

    In this week’s reading, Davis presented a critical analysis of possible moral and economic motives for ending the slave trade. In terms of economics, the facts as presented by Davis seem indisputable – Great Britain suffered heavy economic losses as a result of ending the slave trade. On this, historian David Eltis writes, “there was a profound incompatibility between economic self-interest and antislavery policy”. However, in terms of the moral motivation behind the massive manumission, Davis brings up a few interesting counterpoints, such as early arguments that accused the abolitionists “of diverting Britons’ attention from the much closer ravages of industrialism”, referring to the grueling factory work many of poor had to endure at the time. He also provides an interesting theory linking free-labor ideology to slavery’s abolition. His theory helps explain the widespread support for British abolition while preserving its status as a moral victory.

    • Eric March 20, 2013 at 12:47 am Reply

      I’m sure people weren’t very trusting of the British at the time. Some believed that the entire anti-slavery movement was a ploy to destroy the economies of countries dependent on slave labor, so that cheap labor in British India could be employed to the benefit if the United Kingdom.

  3. taymn March 19, 2013 at 10:31 pm Reply

    I think that the main question from the reading regarding British abolitionism was whether Britain abolitionists were working to end slavery because it was beneficial economically or because it was the “right” thing to do. American abolitionism, on the other hand, seems to be slightly more fueled by moral decisions simply because of all of the Christian justifications. Slavery had become a “sin” (Davis 252) and Christians seek to rid themselves of sins. The problem in America was whether society was ready to include blacks in everyday life if slavery were to end. Apparently society did not think they were ready because organizations like The American Colonization Society supported relocating blacks to their own colony. Their efforts exposed “…both intended and unintended racism…” and showed how “…such racism supported the entire slave regime” (258). Basically, racism had, by that time, become such a main part of society that it was being used and supported by people who called themselves abolitionists, working to end inhumane acts against blacks. That was how I understood that part of the reading and it was disappointing to me.

    • Gahbrielle Armrdi March 20, 2013 at 9:37 am Reply

      I used to have an idealized view of abolitionist. But after reading this chapter, I now realize that promoting and end to slavery does not equate to better treatment of freed slaves.

    • cal72013 March 20, 2013 at 11:43 am Reply

      I agree, I think it was interesting and disappointing that the only solution to racism that was brought up was deporting all the freed slaves to their own country. Many people wanted to free slaves, but it seems like they didn’t want or never though of a way to incorporate them in to American or British society.

  4. Christine Shaw March 19, 2013 at 11:03 pm Reply

    From reading the chapters on abolition in Britain and America, it is clear that many factors influenced and motivated each country’s respective antislavery movement. While Britain received many goods produced by slaves, they seemed to be less involved and further removed from the ties of slavery compared to America. Davis mentions that in America, in contrast to Britain, abolition was “inextricably tied” to the issue of racial equality (260). Much of Southern plantation society depended on, economically and socially, the idea that black slaves were racially inferior, and even in the North some white abolitionists exhibited racial prejudice. In Britain, economics comprised the main argument against the abolitionist movement. Britain’s political system also made it easier for them to enact extensive change, since they didn’t have to “override the constitutional boundaries of slave-holding states” like the United States did (262).

    • taymn March 20, 2013 at 1:08 am Reply

      In America, racial inferiority seemed to be more important after emancipation than in other areas. For example, in our readings about the Haitian Revolution, Davis says that in 1772 in Paris, full equal rights were granted to all blacks and then slaves were freed in 1774. Issues regarding race were considered before emancipation (Davis 164). This was obviously not the case in America.

    • Eric March 20, 2013 at 1:16 am Reply

      I think moral opposition to slavery played just as important a role in Anti-Slavery in Britain as the economics behind it did. While it was more the economics of free labor that convinced British officials the change was necessary, I’m sure the members of those 6 anti-slavery organizations in Britain at the time were opposed to it for mainly moral reasons.

  5. Eric March 19, 2013 at 11:58 pm Reply

    The most interesting economic arguments in this weeks reading were the conflicting ideas that slavery was detrimental to the efforts of the free market and a laissez fair economy, a concept popular in Britain, and the proposition that slavery in the United States South came about as a result of the free market. Adam Smith, a popular economist at the time, argued that free labor would result in more educated labor, because of the laborer’s motivation to be competitive. The argument the South presents, however, seems fairly misguided. A free market economy does depend on each member acting to his own best interests at heart, but when someone’s best interest is using slaves to turn a profit, we can almost never say that the slave is operating to his best interests. I think that, in many ways, economic theories of the time showed that slavery was not the practice to turn to, but those who supported it chose to twist the words they heard, in both Academia and Religion, to support their own ideals.

    • cal72013 March 20, 2013 at 11:47 am Reply

      It seems like the economy could be used in the same way religion was used, as a way to support it or a reason to end it. The economic argument could be twisted to support anyone’s opinion of slavery.

  6. Gahbrielle Armrdi March 20, 2013 at 12:02 am Reply

    This week’s reading fascinated me. I never considered Britain’s motive behind its strong abolition movement. I found it interesting that Drescher discovered that the “emancipated” slaves in 1834 under the apprenticeship system were without pay for the initial four years. It seemed that Britain pushed for the end of slavery without strong regard to their economy at the time. I also found it interesting that some people felt that the abolition movement of Britain ignored the greater issue at hand. Although the abolition movement strived to end slavery, those stuck in the harsh conditions of industrialism were ignored. In my opinion, using slavery did serve as a unifying mechanism for uniting Britain. In 1804 for example when France restored slavery, Britain’s anti-slavery movement increased unified hostility with France.

    • Christine Shaw March 20, 2013 at 1:22 am Reply

      As Davis mentioned, even though a large number of white and black abolitionists worked as equals, some white abolitionists continued to subordinate blacks. Given that they worked to free slaves, their behavior seems contradictory though it agrees with your point that racism had become ingrained in American society and lasted long after the emancipation of slavery.

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