Abolition of Slavery — Economic/Political Aspects

By Dr Kwame Nantambu
Published: August 06, 2019

Dr. Kwame NantambuThis article was written before August 01, 2019

As Emancipation Day approaches, it is indeed apropos to delineate the economic and political aspects of the abolition of slavery, albeit the European enslavement of African people or MAAFA— the “great disaster.”

Economic Aspects

On the economic side, since the economics of the exercise/slavery business was becoming too expensive and unprofitable, the Euro- British slave-owners being capitalists, decided to shut it down for two basic reasons: (i) entrenched West Indian sugar monopoly was being vigorously challenged by large sugar producing countries in the East Indies (competition) and (ii) a new group of powerful industrialists (products of the Industrial Revolution 1750-1850) emerged in the nineteenth century. Ipso facto, the slavery business gradually shifted from a labor-intensive to a capital-intensive mode of production. Ergo, slaves became redundant/expendable/obsolete; machines automatically replaced them on the plantations. As a result, te slaves (workers) had to be sent home as in fired/laid off. Their jobs were abolished.

In 1832, the afore-mentioned new industrialists came to dominate the British Parliament.

These parliamentarians then embraced/accepted the economic rationale/argument put forward by Adam Smith in his magnum opus titled Wealth of Nations ( 1776) to abolish the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade. Adam Smith argued as follows : ” The work of freemen comes cheaper in the end than that performed by slaves. Forced labor was done less well than paid work. Slavery is expensive when one adds up the costs of buying and keeping slaves and paying toward the forces needed to prevent revolts.”

Political Aspects

In 1787, the Quakers (human rights organization similar to today’s Amnesty International) formed “The Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade.” Its main leaders werew James Ramsay, Thomas Clarkson, Granville Sharp and William Wilberforce.

The first person to begin public agitation against the slave trade was Granville Sharp.

On 25 March 1807, the “Abolition of the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade Act” was introduced in the British Parliament.

In 1832, Henry Whitley, a Quaker, published a pamphlet detailing his seven-month observation about the treatment of slaves in Jamaica.

In April 1833, the British Parliament sent its own delegation to Jamaica in order to investigate/verify Whitley’s findings.

Only when Whitley’s findings were independently verified that on 29 August 1833, the “Abolition of Slavery Act” received the royal assent of King William 1V with effect from Friday, 1st August 1834.

It must be pointed out for the historical record that Quaker William Wilberforce was the parliamentarian who introduced the “Abolition of Slavery Act.”

It must be pointed out also for the historical record that the Euro-British Abolition Bill provided a “free gift”, not a pay-back loan, of 20 million pounds or US$91.2 million “to compensate the slave-owners for the loss of their slaves”— reparations.

At the time of putative emancipation, circa 800,000 enslaved Africans were set free in the Caribbean.

Summary of abolition of slavery by Europeans:

Britain 1834
Denmark 1846
Sweden 1847
France 1848
Dutch 1850
United States 1865
Portugal 1869
Spain 1880

In the final analysis, it is extremely important to reflect upon the poignant but historic conclusion/finding of Dr. Eric Williams in his magnum opus and titled Capitalism Slavery (1944) to the extent that : “Slavery was an economic institution of the first importance…. Slavery was not born of racism rather racism was the consequence of slavery. Unfree labor in the New World was brown, white, black and yellow; Catholic, Protestant and pagan.”

And this historic finding is further corroborated by Gibbon Wakefield as follows: the reasons for the European enslavement of African people albeit the European Slave Trade “are not moral, but economical circumstances; they relate not to vice and virtue, but to production”, namely, economics.

THE AUTHOR is Professor Emeritus, Kent State University, USA.

1 Responses to “Abolition of Slavery — Economic/Political Aspects”


  • Error: “In 1787, the Quakers (human rights organization similar to today’s Amnesty International) formed ‘The Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade.'”
    I am a Quaker, and the Quakers have never been similar to today’s Amnesty International. You are probably right, though, that the group we formed in 1787 (The Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade) was similar to Amnesty International. However, it would have been entirely Biblical in its outlook.
    Thank you, though, for elevating our anti-slavery record through your essay.

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