Slavery is involuntary servitude, enforced by violence or other, clear forms of coercion. It is sometimes regarded as an expectation associated with other relationships, such as marriage and/or other family relations, military service, or debt relationships. (For more details of the latter form, see debt slavery.)

Unfree labour is a broader, more generic term which includes all forms of slavery and similar labour systems.

The article on abolitionism deals in detail with the 19th century advocacy to abolish formal slavery, first in Britain and the British Empire and later the United States.


The 1926 Slavery Convention describes slavery as "...the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised..."

The modern conception of slavery is simply that of an individual whose movements (and usually most of their activities) are under the total control of another. A slave is someone who cannot leave an owner, master, overseer, controller, or employer without explicit permission, and who will be returned if they stray or escape. Typically this is today accomplished through tacit arrangements with local police and other authorities — by masters who have some influence with the authorities, often because of their status as landowners and/or wealthy persons.

Slavery is in all countries considered to be a criminal activity, outlawed by UN conventions. However some states such as Myanmar and Sudan do facilitate the institution of slavery, according to anti-slavery groups such as Free the Slaves.

In chattel slavery, the most common conception of slavery, one person is treated as the property of another person, providing slave labour from birth to death. This is not the most common relation in modern slavery. Capture of modern slaves is normally accomplished by deception or fraud - usually of the young, who are taken from family by slavers who offer them money and some promise or story that this represents advances on wages in some respectable job, or, simply kidnap the children. The slaves are usually not worked to death, but at some point usually escape or are released, often because they are of no further use. For instance, in Thailand, slave prostitutes are thrown onto the street as soon as they test positive for HIV - usually about three years after they are bought at the age of 13 or 14. Thus modern slaves are often called disposable people (see also economics of slavery section below).

It is quite common for a slave to be told that they are working off a debt, but to have no access to an accounting for that debt, and no right to take any lower-paying or less supervised employment. These people may be considered slaves if they are under the impression that challenging these conditions, or leaving in protest of them, would lead to serious bodily harm. This is a difficult legal line; almost all soldiers and many professional sports players are contracted for a period of years, but they are not contracted until a debt is paid, and are most definitely not "sold" into that status by parents or others.

Who becomes a slave

Historically, slaves were often those of a different ethnicity, nationality, religion, or race (Animal rights and Great Ape personhood advocates would also include species) from those who enslaved them, but in general such slaveries were short. It has been relatively rare in history for an entire ethnic group to be held as slaves for more than a couple of generations. In most cases intermarriage, granting of liberty, right to buy one's own freedom, have caused slave and slave-owning populations to merge all around the world.

Societies characterized by poverty, population pressures, and cultural and technological backwardness are frequently exporters of slaves to more developed nations. Today most slaves are rural people forced to move to cities, or purchased in rural areas and sold into slavery in cities. These moves take place due to loss of subsistence agriculture, thefts of land, and population increases.

Slavery is almost always a matter of economics - in effect, those with poor birthright or bad luck in any society have sometimes been forced to throw themselves on the mercy of those with better birthright and luck, or simply been forced to provide service to those who had power and were willing to use it to subordinate others.

Historical examples include the Slavs and various African societies, such as the Ibo of Nigeria (see below for details). These were sometimes what we would today consider prisoners of war.

Individuals could also find themselves condemned to slavery as a result of being convicted of crimes or in fulfillment of religious requirements.

Origin of the term

For centuries, the Slavic people of Eastern Europe were the primary source of slaves for Europe and the Near East. Because of this, the word for slave in numerous European languages is derived from the word for Slavs—the English word being a clear example.

The Byzantine Greek word ‘sklabos’ means "Slav". In the Middle Ages, because Slavic people were the source of slaves, the term "slave" was derived from "Slav", and this new term began being used in western Europe.

History of slavery

Slavery in the Mediterranean world

Slavery in the ancient Mediterranean cultures was a mixture of debt-slavery, slavery as a punishment for crime, and the enslavement of prisoners of war.

Undoubtedly a majority of slaves were condemned to agricultural or industrial labour and lived hard lives. In some of the city-states of Greece and in the Roman Empire, slaves were a very large part of the economy, and the Roman Empire built a large part of its wealth on slaves acquired through conquest.

Slaves could be freed by their masters and often rose to positions of power.

Slavery in the Bible

See Sabbatical year, Onesimus in addition to the details of the Book of Exodus.

Old Testament

In Leviticus, the Old Testament draws a distinction between Hebrew debt slavery:

25:39 If your brother becomes impoverished with regard to you so that he sells himself to you, you must not subject him to slave service. 25:40 He must be with you as a hired worker, as a resident foreigner; he must serve with you until the year of jubilee, 25:41 but then he may go free, he and his children with him, and may return to his family and to the property of his ancestors. 25:42 Since they are my servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt, they must not be sold in a slave sale. 25:43 You must not rule over him harshly, but you must fear your God.

and "bondslaves", foreigners:

25:44 As for your male and female slaves who may belong to you, you may buy male and female slaves from the nations all around you. 25:45 Also you may buy slaves from the children of the foreigners who reside with you, and from their families that are with you, whom they have fathered in your land, they may become your property. 25:46 You may give them as inheritance to your children after you to possess as property. You may enslave them perpetually. However, as for your brothers the Israelites, no man may rule over his brother harshly.

Slavery in Rome and Greece

Some philosophers of antiquity vindicated slavery as a natural and necessary institution; Aristotle declared all barbarians to be slaves by birth, fit for nothing but obedience. According to the Roman law, "slaves had no head in the State, no name, no title, no register; they had no rights of matrimony, and no protection against adultery; they could be bought and sold, or given away, as personal property; they might be tortured for evidence, or even put to death, at the discretion of their master. Cato the Elder expelled his old and sick slaves out of house and home. Hadrian, one of the most humane of the emperors, wilfully destroyed the eye of one of his slaves with a stylus. Roman ladies punished their maids with sharp iron instruments for the most trifling offences. A proverb prevailed in the Roman empire: "As many slaves, so many enemies." Hence the constant danger of servile insurrections, which more than once brought the republic to the brink of ruin, and seemed to justify the severest measures in self-defence.

Greek and Roman urban slaves, as opposed to agricultural slaves, seem to have had some chance at manumission. In Rome, slaves were organised as a social class, and some authors found in their condition the earliest concept of proletariat, given that the only property they were allowed to own was the gift of reproduction. Slaves lived then within this class with very little hope of a better life, and they were owned and exchanged, just like goods, by free men. They had a price as "human instruments"; their life had not, and their patron could freely even kill them. There was however a sort of class of freedmen and freedwomen, called liberati, in Roman society at all periods. Their symbol was the Phrygian cap. These people were not numerous, but Rome needed to demonstrate at times the great frank spirit of this "civitas", so the freed slaves were made famous, as hopeful examples. Freed people suffered some minor legal disabilities that show in fact how otherwise open the society was to them—they could not hold certain high offices and they could not marry into the senatorial classes. Their children, however, had no prohibitions.

Much of the wealth of Athenian Democracy came from its silver mines, which were worked by douloi labor under extremely poor conditions, leading to their revolt in 413 B.C.

Most of the gladiators were slaves. One of them, Spartacus, formed an army of slaves that battled the Roman armies in the Servile War for several years.

The Latin poet Horace, son of a freedman, served as a military officer in the army of Brutus and seemed headed for a political career before the defeat of Brutus by Octavian and Antony. Though Horace may have been an exceptional case, freedmen were an important part of Roman administrative functions. Freedmen of the Imperial families often were the main functionaries in the Imperial administration.

Several Classical comedies feature enterprising home slaves, who must use their wits to profit from their masters or to provide them their requests.

The influence of Stoic philosophy in Roman society gradually improved the conditions of slaves. The Stoics taught that all men were manifestations of the same universal spirit, and thus by nature equal. At the same time, however, Stoicism held that external circumstances (such as being enslaved) did not truly impede a person from practicing the Stoic ideal of inner self-mastery: one of the more important Roman stoics, Epictetus, spent his youth as a slave. As a result, Stoics spoke against the ill-treatment of slaves far more harshly than they did against the institution itself. Claudius ruled that if master abandoned an old or sick slave, the slave became free. Under Nero, slaves were given the right to complain against their masters in court. Under Antoninus Pius, a slave could claim his freedom if treated cruelly, and a master who killed his slave without just cause could be tried for homicide. At the same time, it became more difficult for a person to fall into slavery under Roman law. By the time of Diocletian, free men could not sell their children, or even themselves into slavery, and creditors could not claim insolvent debtors as slaves.

The beginnings of Christianity did not seriously change slavery. Though the Christian leaders often called for good treatment for slaves and condemned the enslavement of Christians, the institution itself was not questioned. The shift from chattel slavery to serfdom in medieval Europe is otherwise an economic rather than a moral issue.

The major slaves routes to the Carribean originated from the free slave regime, the majority of the slaves hailed from the British and French traders. The central trading location was in Liverpool, and more than 50,000 the slaves were brought in to the Carribean yearly. Barbados was one of the first sights that they carried slaves. After that Jamaica began to see a large flow of slaves as well. Eventually Portuguese and the British mastered the slavery business. The work on the sugar plantations was so difficult that most slaves died quickly from the hard work. The French ships were the first to stop in Martinique, and this is how they basically came to importing slaves from Africa. Now this transporting was not without problems and hazards. The African slaves that were brought into the Carribean did not live a life of luxury in their hometown. Slavery was always a part of the West African culture, however the work was not nearly as harh as the sugar plantations. The need for African slaves was not settled cheaply, the dealers of this profession charged high prices for their goods. The competition was fierce and price doubled and the male slave was in great demand. The Middle Passage was instrumental in navigating slavery into the Carribeans. Most of the routes taken originated from the Ascensions Islands and veered north to the West Indies. Because of the transportation method and other factors, many slaves died during this time. Many diseases were present. Smallpox, dysenteray increase the death rate during this voyage. Carribean slaves or African slaves different in the sense, some originated from Africa and were transported to the Carribeans, or others were born into the life of slavery. What would be a fair and accurate description is that the life of slave no matter where they originated from, was demanding, harsh and deadly.

Slavery in medieval Europe

Slaves were traded openly, mainly in Prague. Sold by Christians, transported by Jews and then bought in the Middle East.

The institution of serfdom in medieval Europe was weaker than chattel slavery; serfs were obligated to serve or work the land for their master, but were not chattel property. Serfdom was reintroduced in Eastern Europe in 16th and 17th century and persisted until the mid-19th century. It was abolished by the Kingdom of Prussia in 1811/1823, Austria in 1848 and in Russia in 1861/1864. See also feudalism and guild.

Slavery in Africa

Main article: African slave trade, Atlantic slave trade

Slavery was common and widespread throughout Africa into the 19th century. The Dutch imported slaves from Asia into their colony in South Africa. Britain, which held vast colonial territories on the continent (including South Africa), made the practice of slavery illegal in these regions. Ironically, the end of the slave trade and the decline of slavery was imposed upon Africa by its European conquerors. This action is what today may be called an instance of cultural imperialism, albeit being one of the less mal-intentioned manifestations of the phenomenon.

The nature of the slave societies differed greatly across the continent. There were large plantations worked by slaves in Egypt, the Sudan, and Zanzibar, but this was not a typical use of slaves in Africa as a whole. In some slave societies, slaves were protected and almost incorporated into the slave-owning family. In others, slaves were brutally abused, and even used for human sacrifices. Despite the vast numbers of slaves exported from Africa, it is thought that the majority of African slaves remained in Africa, continuing as slaves in the regions where they were first captured.

Prior to the 16th century, the bulk of slaves exported from Africa were shipped from East Africa to the Arabian peninsula. Zanzibar became a leading port based on this trade. Arab slave traders differed from European traders in that they would often capture slaves themselves, sometimes penetrating deep into the continent. They also differed in that their market greatly preferred the purchase of female slaves over male slaves. This reflected their desire for household and sexual slaves rather than slaves to work on plantations.

The transatlantic slave trade peaked in the late 18th century, when the largest number of slaves were captured in West Africa and shipped to the colonies of the New World (triangular trade). As a result of the Spanish War of Succession, Britain obtained the monopoly (asiento de negros) of transporting African Negroes to Spanish America.

It is estimated that over the centuries, twelve to thirteen million people were shipped as slaves from Africa by European traders, of whom some 15 percent died during the terrible voyage many during the arduous journey through the Middle Passage. The great majority were shipped to the Americas, but some also went to Europe and the south of Africa. While much of the slave trade in Africa was related to external protagonists, an internal slave trade unrelated to non-Africans did exist.

The demographic impact of the slave trade on Africa is an important question, regarding which consensus remains elusive. Some historians conclude that the total loss—persons removed, those who died on the arduous march to coastal slave marts and those killed in slave raids—far exceeded the 65-75 million inhabitants remaining in Sub-Saharan Africa at the trade's end. Others believe that slavers had a vested interest in capturing rather than killing, and in keeping their captives alive; and that this coupled with the disproportionate removal of males and the introduction of new crops from the Americas (cassava, maize) would have limited general population decline to particular regions at particular times—western Africa around 1760-1810 and Mozambique and neighbouring areas half a century later. There has also been speculation that within Africa female captives were taken in preference, for domestic and dynastic reasons, with many male captives being a "bycatch" who would have been killed if there had not been an export market for them. So the balance and timing of the two demographic sorts of market could make a difference.

Slavery persists in Africa above all other continents. Mauritania abolished slavery only in 1981, but several human rights organizations are reporting that the practice continues there. The trading of children has been reported in modern Nigeria and Benin. In parts of Ghana, a family may be punished for an offense by having to turn over a virgin female to serve as a sex slave within the offended family. In the Sudan slavery continues as part of an ongoing civil war.

African Slaves vs. Caribbean Slaves

African slavery was similar to Caribbean slavery in the sense both had little respect from their master who looked at them as objects to work and trade. Both types of slaves suffered greatly over the centuries as sugarcane plantations as well as other products that needed to be produced required the work of slaves. There was a widespread of slavery and slave trading in both the Caribbean islands and in Africa. Many of the slaves were unable to reproduce because of the stress of the work often causing still births in women and making the men sterile. Caribbean slavery was different in that it gave the masters complete freedom over the control of his slave. Caribbean slaves often worked on cane estates suffering hardship in harsh conditions and supervised under demanding masters. The sugar industry caused the need for complete control the master needed over the slaves in order to meet demands and control the harvest. Caribbean sugar plantations resembled factories in a modern capitalist society. The Caribbean islands used a factory like system to mass produce sugar production. In contrast, African slavery was less harsh than slavery on Caribbean sugar estates. African kinship groups sought to assimilate newly brought slaves into their circle. Many slave villages worked under their own management paying a tribute little money for their services. The family lifestyle of slavery in many parts of Africa had a closer bond usually smaller groups had face-to-face relationships. African warriors were equal or superior to Europeans, and their weapons were as effective until the end of the 19th century.

Slavery in colonial America

Main Article: Slavery in Colonial America

Slavery in the Americas during the 17th century was an institution that made little distinction as to the race of the enslaved or the free man. But by the 18th century, the overwhelming number of enslaved "black" persons was such that white and Native American slavery was less common. Slavery under European rule began with importation of white European slaves (or indentured servants), was followed by the enslavement of local aborigines in the Caribbean, and eventually was primarily replaced with Africans imported through a large slave trade as the native populations declined through disease. Most enslaved persons brought to the Americas ended up in the Caribbean or South America where tropical diseases took a large toll on their population and required large numbers of replacements. The African slaves had somewhat of a natural immunity to yellow fever and malaria but the fact that they were severely underfed, overworked, and poorly housed attributed to their perishing of disease. Another factor that took a toll on the population of black slaves is that their death rate was much higher than their birth rate prior to the 19th century. In British North America the slave population rapidly repopulated themselves where in the Caribbean they did not. The lack of proper nourishment, health, and desire are speculated to be the reason. Of the small population of babies that were born, only about 1/4 survived miserable conditions on a sugar plantation.

It was not only the big colonial powers in Europe such as France, England, Holland or Portugal that were involved in the transatlantic person trade. Small countries, such as Sweden or Denmark, tried to get into this lucrative business. For more information about this, see The Swedish slave trade.

Slavery among indigenous people of the Americas

In Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica the most common forms of slavery were those of prisoners-of-war and debtors. People unable to pay back a debt could be sentenced to work as a slave to the person owed until the debt was worked off. Slavery was not usually hereditary; children of slaves were born free.

In the Incan Empire, commoners were subject to a tax, the mita, that they paid working on public infrastructure.

Slavery in the Spanish New World colonies

Slavery in the Spanish colonies began with local Native Americans. Initially, the Spanish maintained the mita directing it to silver mining at [[Potos�]]. However, as these populations shrank due to imported European diseases, African slaves began to be used instead.

Slavery in the English and French Caribbean

The Lesser Antilles islands of Barbados, Antigua, Martinique and Guadeloupe were the first important slave societies of the Caribbean, switching to slavery by the end of the 1600s as their economies converted from tobacco to sugar production. By the middle of the 1700s, British Jamaica and French Saint-Domingue had become the largest and most brutal slave societies of the region, rivaling Brazil as a destination for enslaved Africans.

These islands' death rates for black slaves were a lot higher than birth rates. Three out of four slaves babies died before the age of five. The main reason why the birth rates were lower than the death rate was because many slaves were over worked. Slaves had to use axes to cut down trees and burn brush to clear land for sugar plantations. They also had to crush sugar canes and remove liquid from them. After that they had to boil and clarify the liquid until it crystallised into sugar. Slaves also had poor living conditions that produced a lot of diseases that killed a lot of slaves.

The low birth rates and high death rates cause the Caribbean island population to decrease a lot. Slaves were working from sun up until sun down. Slaves had very little medical care and were treated badly by their masters. Caribbean slavery were different in that it gave the masters complete freedom over the control of his slave. Caribbean slaves often worked on cane estates suffering hardship in harsh conditions and supervised under demanding masters. The sugar industry caused the need for complete control the master needed over the slaves in order to meet demands and control the harvest. Caribbean sugar plantations resembled factories in a modern capitalist society. The Caribbean islands used a factory like system to mass produce sugar production.

Its very obvious that all the factors mentioned above were perhaps the main cause of small birth rates among Caribbean slaves, as life was extremely hard on every aspect of their survival. But there is another possible reason for the low birth rate among slaves in the Caribbean. Could it be possible that females simply didn't want to bring new life into their existing world? Author Jan Rogozinski briefly mentions this in his book, "A Brief History of the Caribbean." He states that "Perhaps slave mothers simply did not see much point in raising children solely to provide labourers for their masters" (p. 142). So could this had been another form of slave rebellion against their masters? We know how they sung songs degrading their white masters, and in some cases they would simply play ignorant or stupid to avoid punishment and further work, but could this act of defiance be incorporated into low birth rates of Caribbean slaves? Of course it's not possible to fully grasp the decision of female slaves to not or to have children, but it is a topic that should be considered when dealing with the low birth rates of Caribbean slaves.

Slavery in Brazil

During the colonial epoch, slavery was a mainstay of the Brazilian economy, especially in mining and sugar cane production. The Clapham Sect, a group of Victorian Evangelical politicians, campaigned during most of the 19th century for England to use its influence and power to stop the then already largely considered immoral traffic of slaves to Brazil. Besides that, because of the low cost of slave-produced Brazilian sugar, British colonies in the West Indies were unable to match the market prices of Brazilian sugar. After all, each Briton was using 16 pounds of sugar each year by the 1800s. This combination led to intensive pressure from the British government for Brazil to end this practice, which it did by steps over several decades. Slavery was legally ended May 13 by the [[Lei �urea]] ("Golden Law") of 1888.

Brazil obtained 37% of all African slaves traded, and more than 3 million slaves were sent to this one country. The Portuguese were the first to initiate the slave trade, and the last to end the slave trade. Starting around 1550, the Portuguese began to trade African slaves to work the sugar plantations once the native Tupi deteriorated due to their sensitivity to European diseases, and no longer served as sufficient laborers. The African slaves were useful for the sugar plantations in many ways. First, African slaves had built-in immunities to European diseases. The white workers were unable to fend off deadly diseases of the Caribbean such as yellow fever and malaria. Second, the benefits of the slaves far exceeded the costs. After 2-3 yrs, slaves worked off their worth, and plantation owners began to make profits from them. Plantation owners made lucrative profits even though there was approximately a 10% death rate per year, mainly due to harsh working conditions. For more information see Chasteen 2001. The very harsh manual labor of the sugar cane fields led the slaves to use hoes to dig large trenches to plant the sugar cane followed by using their bare hands to spread manure in the trenches to allow for the sugar cane to grow successfully. The average life span of a slave was eight years.

In the mid to late 1800s, many Amerindians were enslaved to work on rubber plantations. See [[I��]] for more information.

In the early 1990s evidence of illegal "forced labor and debt bondage" amounting to slavery was unearthed in the Amazon region. The Brazilian government has since taken measures against such activities, although concerns continue to be expressed that more stringent steps may be required. In 1995, President Fernando Henrique Cardoso announced a new series of measures to force compliance with the anti-slavery statutes.

In September of 2002, a report to the Minist�rio de Trabalho (Ministry of Labor), stated that between 1995 and 2001 approximately 3,500 slave labourers had been freed, and that it was estimated that 2,500 people remained in such conditions at that time (O Globo, 2002).

Slavery in North America

Main articles: Slavery in Canada, History of slavery in the United States, Atlantic slave trade

Mexico declared the abolition of slavery in 1814 during its War of Independence.

On May 29, 1733, the right of Canadians to keep Indians in slavery was upheld at Quebec City.

Example of slave treatment

The first imported slaves brought to the English colonies on the rest of continent were landed at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619. Slavery in the United States ended irregularly. In Rhode Island, indentured servitude was limited to 10 years May 18, 1652; however importation of slaves for trade was not forbidden in the state until June 13, 1774. Slavery was legal in most of the 13 colonies in the 18th century, and was ended in many Northeastern and Middle Atlantic "Free States" only after the turn of the 19th century. Through the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 (also known as the Freedom Ordinance) under the Continental Congress, slavery was prohibited in the Midwest, including the Free States of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin. In the East, though, slavery was not abolished until later - in New York state, not until 1827, and even then only absolutely abolished for those born before 1799. Those born between 1799 and the passage of the law were under conditional slavery.

In 1807 the United States passed legislation that banned the importation of slaves, but not the internal slave trade, and the involvement in the international slave trade or the outfitting of ships for that trade by U.S. citizens. Though there were certainly violations of this law, slavery in America became more or less self-sustaining. Several slave rebellions took place during the 1700s and 1800s including the Nat Turner rebellion in 1831. The importation of slaves into the United States was banned on January 1, 1808. However, the overland 'slave trade' from Tidewater Virginia and the Carolinas to Georgia, Alabama, and Texas continued for another half-century.

Because the Midwestern states were 'free states' by ordinance before even the Constitution had been ratified, and because Northeastern states became free states later through local abolition and emancipation, a Northern aggregation of free states solidified into one contiguous geographic area, and with the entry of additional free states in the Great Plains, a territory free of slavery was formed north of the Ohio River and the old Mason-Dixon line. This separation of a free North and an enslaved South launched a geographic, cultural and economic struggle over the next two generations which would culminate in the Civil War. The fiercest combatants were abolitionists and the slaves themselves against an array of planters in the South and pro-slavery shipping interests in the East, battling over control of the Federal Government, economic levers, cultural institutions, and the public opinion of freeholders and church congregants. Due to the three-fifths compromise, slaveholders exerted power through the Federal Government and the Federal Fugitive slave laws. Anti-slavery Democratic-Republicans, Whigs, and Free Soilers achieved nominal successes in advocating an end to slavery's expansion in the West, especially during and after the Mexican War. Refugees from slavery fled the South across the Ohio River to the North via the Underground Railroad, and their physical presence in Cincinnati, Oberlin, and other Northern towns agitated Northerners about the expansion of slavery, which had supposedly been settled and contained. The repeal of Western geographic limits to slavery's expansion led to democratic chaos in self-determination battles. Prominent Midwestern Governors, like Salmon P. Chase of Ohio, asserted States Rights arguments to refuse Federal jursidiction in their states over fugitives. Northerners fumed that the pro-slavery Democratic Party controlled two or three branches of the Federal government for most of the antebellum era. Finally, the Dred Scott decision which asserted that slavery's presence in the Midwest was nominally lawful (when owners crossed into free states) turned Northern public opinion against slavery. Border 'wars' in Bloody Kansas for which Congress had not legislated either 'freedom' or 'slavery' broke out, and propaganda 'wars' in Northern newspapers swept anti-slavery legislators into office, like Salmon P. Chase and Abraham Lincoln of Illinois, under the banner of the Republican Party. The anti-slavery political sentiment had finally found an outlet.

Influential leaders of the abolition movement (1810-60) included:

In the election of 1860, the anti-slavery Republican party had swept the North, and Abraham Lincoln into the Presidency, with a plurality of popular votes and a majority of electoral votes. After decades of controlling the Federal Government, the newly disenfranchised Southern states rebelled and demanded to secede from the Union, launching the Civil War. Ironically, Southern leaders clawed back the idea of 'states rights' from Midwestern and Northeastern leaders, and each Southern state would assert their individual sovereign status and right to 'self determination'. Northern leaders like Lincoln and Chase had viewed the slavery interests as a threat politically, and with secession, they viewed the prospect of a new slave nation, with control over the Mississippi River and the West, as a militarily unacceptable impossibility.

The 1860s saw the end of slavery in America. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 was a symbolic gesture that ended slavery nowhere, but only proclaimed freedom for slaves within the Confederacy. However, the proclamation made the abolition of slavery an official war goal and it was implemented as the Union retook territory from the Confederacy. Legally, slaves within the United States remained enslaved until the final ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution in December of 1865, 8 months after the cessation of hostilities in the Civil War. However, practically, the slaves in many parts of the south were freed by Union armies or by the chaos of the time, when they simply left their former owners. Many joined the Union Army as supporting workers or combatant troops, and many more fled to Northern cities or stayed close to Union troops. When General Sherman led his famous march through the South to Atlanta and Savannah, hundreds of thousands of new 'freedmen' followed him in his wake, effectively rendering Sherman's army an army of liberation, in some part mitigating the devastation inflicted by it upon the regions of the South through which it passed.

During the period between the surrender of the last Confederate troops on May 26, 1865 and the final ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment on December 6, 1865 (with final recognition of the amendment on December 18), officially ending slavery in the United States, slaveholding persisted in the slave states that had not seceded (Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri) and also in the territories located south of 36° 30' North latitude as per the Missouri Compromise (most of the present-day states of Arizona, New Mexico, and Oklahoma, although very few slaves could actually be found in these territories), but history remains unclear on the precise date upon which the last chattel slave was freed in the United States. Juneteenth (June 19, 1865) is celebrated in Texas and some other areas, and commemorates the date when news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached the last slaves at Galveston, TX, but slavery most likely persisted, officially or unofficially, in at least some of the aforementioned regions during the months leading up to December 1865.

The Civil War remains the most devastating event in American history, when hundreds of thousands of American lives were lost. And yet the war effectively decided the question of slavery for the country, and for that reason, remains a noble cause in history for the descendants of Northerners and slaves alike, though questions of states rights and limited Federal government have been widely emphasized in Southern historiography in the intervening period.

In the slave-holding colonies of British North America slavery was first abolished in Upper Canada (now the southern part of Ontario); slavery was officially abolished there in 1810, although slavery had probably disappeared before then (see John Graves Simcoe). Slavery had not been an important part of the Upper Canadian economy; most slaves were servants. In the decades before the American Civil War and especially after the enactment of the Fugitive Slave Law, Canada became the destination of choice of runaway slaves to escape to freedom.

Slavery in Japan

Slavery in Japan was, for the most of its history, limited within Japan. The sea prevented exports and imports of slaves and by 16th century, slavery was abolished. An export of slave is recorded in 3rd-century Chinese history record yet the system of slavery is unclear. These slaves were called Seikou (生口) (lit. living mouth). This export was stopped, in part as these slaves would be overpriced against cheaper slaves transported across lands into China. In the 8th century, a slave was called Nuhi (奴婢) and series of laws on slavery was issued. These slaves tended farms of their owners and worked around houses. Informations of slave population are sketchy. In an area of present day Ibaraki prefecture, out of population of 190,000, around 2,000 were slaves but this is believed to be the lowest end. In Western regions of Japan, numbers were believed to be siginifiantly higher.

In the Sengoku period (1467-1615), the system of slavery increasingly became a burden on warlords and it was associated with archaic rules by aristocrats. In one meeting with Catholic priests, Oda Nobunaga was presented with a black slave, the first recorded encounter between a Japanese and an African. He was freed by Nobunaga and made a samurai to serve by his side. Though he married, his fate from this point is unknown. He is believed to have died from a disease. Even though this was an exception, the culture of slavery was dying in this period. In arguments to prohibiting Christian teaching, Buddhist monks argued that these priests would enslave the Japanese as they had done to the North Americans.

In 1588, Toyotomi Hideyoshi ordered all commerce of slavery to be abolished as well as those dating back to 1580. It was followed up by series of nationwide surveys that defined peasants who actually tended lands as their owners. These acts abolished the system of slavery in Japan. His succesor Tokugawa Ieyasu also continued abolishment of slavery. In 1895, after ceded from China, slavery in Taiwan was abolished. After annexation of Korea in 1910, Japan abolished both slavery and caste system in Korea. Manchukuo outlawed slavery as well after its establishment in 1931.

International abolitionist movements

Slavery's origins are simply too old to recount. So, too, are movements to free large or distinct groups of them. Moses led Israelite slaves from ancient Egypt in the Biblical Book of Exodus - possibly the first detailed account of a movement to free slaves, although clearly not accepted at face value as real history in all particulars.

It is mentioned by Aristotle (who was in favour of slavery) that some philosophers in Athenian Democracy were teaching that everybody should be a free person (with the sense of freedom and liberty Athenians had) and none should be a doulos. Unfortunately, due to the oligarchical or monarchic regimes that followed the democracy regime, neither their names, nor the writings of those philosophers are saved, for obvious reasons (for the same reasons the name of Aristotle and his writings are saved today). We only have this blur report by Aristotle and his arguments in favour of slavery, to remember what those philosophers were teaching five centuries before Jesus Christ. From other sources can be found just a quote from Alcidamas: "God has set everyone free. No one is created Doulos, by nature". Also a small fraction of a poem of Philemon demonstrated that he was also against douleia. It is also documented that 10.000-15.000 Douloi of Athenian Democracy who worked at the mines, revolted in 413 B.C. and this caused a great economical loss for the Athenians in the war they had that period against Sparta.

In England in 1772 the case of a runaway slave named James Somerset came before the Lord Chief Justice William Murray, Lord Mansfield. Basing his judgement on Magna Carta and habeas corpus he declared - "Whatever inconveniences, therefore, may follow from a decision, I cannot say this case is allowed or approved by the law of England; and therefore the black must be discharged." It was thus declared that the condition of slavery could not be enforced under English law. However, little effort was made towards enforcing the judgement, and slaves continued to be held in Britain for years to come.

In 1787 humanitarian campaigners in Britain founded the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade. The "slave trade" consisted, not of slavery in Britain, but rather of trafficking in slaves by British merchants operating in British colonies and other countries. Shares of stock in companies engaged in that trade was legally bought and sold in England. The anti-slave-trade movement in Britain had support from Quakers, Baptists, Methodists and others, and reached out for support from the new industrial workers. The primary leader of the fight against slavery in Britain was William Wilberforce.

France never authorized slavery on its mainland, but authorized it in some of its overseas possessions. On February 4, 1794, [[Abb� Gr�goire]] and the Convention abolished slavery. Slaves in Haiti revolted when their masters didn't accept the new rules from the metropolis. It was re-established in 1802 by Napoleon, and in the end abolished in 1848 under the Second Republic.

Monument celebrating the Emancipation of Slaves, 1834, erected in Victoria Tower Gardens, Millbank, Wesminster, London

The "Abolition of the Slave Trade Act" was passed by Parliament on March 25 1807. The act imposed a fine of £100 for every slave found aboard a British ship. The intention was to entirely outlaw the slave trade within the British Empire, but the trade continued and captains in danger of being caught by the Royal Navy would often throw slaves into the sea to reduce the fine. In 1827 Britain declared that particiption in the slave trade was piracy and punishable by death. On August 23rd, 1833, slavery was outlawed in the British colonies. On August 1st 1834 all slaves in the British Empire were emancipated, but still indentured to their former owners in an apprenticeship system which was finally abolished in 1838. After 1838, the 'British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society' worked to outlaw slavery overseas and to pressure the government to help enforce the suppression of the slave trade by declaring slave traders pirates and pursuing them. This organization continues today as Anti-Slavery International.

Sierra Leone was established as a country for former slaves of the British Empire back in Africa. Liberia served an analogous purpose for American slaves. The goal of the abolitionists was repatriation of the slaves to Africa. Trade unions as well didn't want the cheap labor of former slaves around. Nevertheless, most of them stayed in America.

Slaves in the United States who escaped ownership would often make their way north to Canada via the "Underground Railroad". The Underground Railroad was a grassroots organization, loosely and informally organized.

The 1926 Slavery Convention, an initiative of the League of Nations, was a turning point in banning global slavery.

Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 by the UN General Assembly, explicity banned slavery.

The United Nations 1956 Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery was convened to outlaw and ban slavery worldwide, including child slavery.

In December 1966, the UN General Assembly adopted the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which was developed from the Universal Declaraction of Human Rights. Article 8 of this international treaty bans slavery. The treaty came into force in March 1976 after it had been ratified by 35 nations. As of November 2003, 104 nations had ratified the treaty.


In June 1997, Tony Hall, a Democratic representative for Dayton, Ohio proposed a national apology by the U.S. government for slavery. This was at a time when the Catholic Church in France apologised for its silence and begged "forgiveness for Catholic inaction as regime sent Jews to their deaths in '40s".

At the World Conference Against Racism, Durban, the US representatives walked out on September 3 2001 on the instructions of Colin Powell. His statement only concerns the conference discussion of Israel who also walked out. However the South African Government spokesperson said "The general perception among all delegates is that the US does not want to confront the real issues of slavery and all its manifestations."

At the same time the British, Spanish, Dutch and Portuguese delegations blocked an EU apology for slavery.

The issue of an apology is linked to reparations for slavery and is still being pursued across the world. E.g. The Jamaican Reparations Movement approved its declaration and action Plan.


As noted above, there have been movements to achieve reparations for those held in involuntary servitude, or sometimes their descendants. There is a growing modern movement to donate funds achieved in reparations efforts not to the descendants of those held as slaves in prior generations, but instead to donate them to those freed from slavery in this generation, in other countries and circumstances.

In general, reparation for being held in slavery is handled as a civil law matter in almost every country. This is often decried as a serious problem, since slaves are exactly those people who have no access to the legal process. Systems of fines and reparations paid from fines collected by authorities, rather than in civil courts, have been proposed to alleviate this in some nations.

In the United States, the reparations movement often cites the 40 acres and a mule decree. Recent effort have also targeted businesses that profited from the slave trade and issuing insurance on slaves.

Economics of slavery

According to the British Anti-Slavery Society, "Although there is no longer any state which recognizes any claim by a person to a right of property over another, there are an estimated 2.7 million people throughout the world, mainly children, in conditions of slavery." They further note that slavery, particularly child slavery, was on the rise in 2003. According to a broader definition used by Free the Slaves, another advocacy group, there are 27 million people in slavery today, spread all over the world. This is, also according to that group:

  • The largest number of people that has ever been in slavery at any point in world history
  • The smallest percentage of the total human population that has ever been enslaved at once
  • Reducing the price of slaves to as low as US$40 in Mali for young adult male labourers, to a high of US$1000 or so in Thailand for HIV-free young females suitable for use in brothels (where they invariably contract HIV). This represents the price paid to the person, or parents
  • This represents the lowest price that there has ever been for a slave in raw labour terms - while the price of a comparable male slave in 1850 America would have been about US$1000 in the currency of the time, that represents US$38,000 in today's dollars, thus slaves, at least of that category, now cost only one one-thousandth (0.1%) of their price 150 years ago.

As a result, the economics of slavery is stark: the yield of profit per year for those buying and controlling a slave is over 800% on average, as opposed to the 5% per year that would have been the expected payback for buying a slave in colonial times. This combines with the high potential to lose a slave (have them stolen, escape, or freed by unfriendly authorities) to yield what are called disposable people - those who can be exploited intensely for a short time and then discarded, such as the prostitutes thrown out on city streets to die once they contract HIV, or those forced to work in mines.

Potential for total abolition

Those 27 million people produce a gross economic product of US$1.4 billion. This is also a smaller percentage of the world economy than slavery has produced at any prior point in human history. That, plus the universal criminal status of slavery, the lack of moral arguments for it in modern discourse, and the many conventions and agreements to abolish it worldwide, make it likely that it can be eliminated in this generation, according to Free The Slaves. There are no nations whose economies would be substantially affected by the true abolition of slavery.

A first step towards this objective is the Cocoa Protocol, by which the entire cocoa industry worldwide has accepted full moral and legal responsibility for the entire comprehensive outcome of their production processes. Negotiations for this protocol were initiated for cotton, sugar and other commodity items in the 19th century - taking about 140 years to complete. Thus it seems that this is also a turning point in history, where all commodity markets can slowly lever licensing and other requirements to ensure that slavery is eliminated from production, one industry at a time, as a sectoral simultaneous policy that does not cause disadvantages for any one market player.

Generally, consumer moral purchasing efforts are ineffective against slavery since slave labor to get the charcoal to produce rolled steel in Brazil, or on coffee or sugar plantations, is so far down the production chain that the final producers of such products do not know about everything involved.

Famous People in Slavery

From the list of famous slaves:

See also

External links


Historic topics

Contemporary issues

Further reading

da:Slaveri de:Sklaverei es:Esclavitud eo:Sklaveco fr:Esclavage he:עבדות nl:Slavernij ja:奴隷 pl:Niewolnictwo pt:Escravatura simple:Slavery fi:Orjuus sv:Slaveri zh-cn:奴隶制