Today in history

On August 28, 1833, the British Parliament passed the Abolition of Slavery Act.  This law was a follow up to an earlier law passed in 1807 which abolished the slave trade.  This law, which took nearly twenty years of work by abolitionists, made it illegal for British subjects to buy or sell slaves.  This site gives a good overview of the beginnings of the abolition movement in Britain.

British captains were fined £100 for each slave found on board.  As you can imagine, this did not necessarily stop the slave trade, it just meant that the slave traders had to find other ways to buy and sell slaves.  And if a trading ship were about to be caught with slaves on board, they frequently just threw the slaves overboard, rather than risk the fine.

The passage of the abolition act in 1833 meant freedom for any slave within the British Empire, with “reasonable compensation” to their former owners.  What your compensation was depended on how many slaves you owned.  For example, the Bishop of Exeter had 665 slaves, and was given £12,700 in exchange for their freedom.  In practice, this meant that in the British colonies, any slave over the age of 6 went from being a slave to being an “apprenticed laborer”.  Slaves living in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland were free.  The apprenticeship would expire in 1840.  The law goes on to include a restriction on the number of hours the laborers could work.  A full text of the law can be found here.


15 comments on “Today in history

  1. Dylan Kolb says:

    I believe that these measures to prevent the slave trade were noble yet this only meant that more and more slaves would have to be transported secretly and most likely in even worse conditions. However it was a first step in a struglle that would last until the Civil War.

  2. Matt Masakayan says:

    Slavery may be one the world’s most ignored political issues. Although it has been legally destroyed in the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” and the “UN Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery” in the 1900s, the act of forced labor continues to oppress millions. It seems that slavery operates below politics, for the act continues to be overlooked by the government. Situations in some countries make slavery appear almost legal at times. Third-world countries in Asia such as the Phillipines often disguise slavery by promising simple life necessities as compensation for household chores and work in the fields. Many foreigners seeking to escape their life of poverty are taken to the U.S. for job opportunities, but then are forced into prostitution or to work under harsh conditions for several years to repay the favor. In fact, America slavery is occasionally overlooked through foreigners who immigrate here accompanied by their slaves to start new lives. Slavery was born off poor economies and the idea of seeking better lives, and therefore will continue until poverty diminishes.

  3. Stephanie Hendricks says:

    The long shadow of freedom. The Revolutionary War granted freedom to the United States; it also started an awareness that led to a movement for freeing African slaves. While freedom for the colonies came within years, the struggle for the same freedom would elude slaves for many years beyond. In fact, I would argue that this struggle continues even to this day. I applaud Thomas Clarkson for his efforts to open the eyes of his fellow English men that the enslavement of a human is morally wrong. His lectures over 200 years ago still ring true today. As I traveled this summer I saw first-hand in Philadelphia and Trenton the enslavement of African Americans not to a plantation owner but to poverty. It’s time to finish what Clarkson started and stamp out slavery once and for all. While justice is blind, freedom is color blind.

  4. Eric Hoang says:

    I feel that this act rather encouraged slave owners and made crime rates increase. This is like the Prohibition. The act was meant in good will but instead, people kept drinking and breaking even more laws. Also, it seems like slavery is still there just called “apprenticed laborer.”

  5. Milen Asmorom says:

    I believe acts like these always take time as any big movement would. Acts like these, also, seem to increase the wrong-doing or the breaking of this law. I don’t believe slavery is completely abolished though but it’s nice to see people trying to make an effort to make this world an equal place for everyone.

  6. Amy Jalloh says:

    I believe the reason why people decided to continue selling slaves is due to the fact that we have stubborn people among us that would rather get caught then stop. People thought is was okay because others had them which is wrong because they didn’t realize they were keeping humans hostage from freedom. After the act it unfortunately influenced them to continue to sneak and sell slaves, that seems selfish to me if you need someone to do their dirty work without pay. Also its somewhat degrading to treat people so poorly even if you are less fortunate . Slavery is a terrible thing and its one of the most overlooked topics.

  7. Kayla Graham says:

    I believe that many countries always try to “abolish” slavery in a sense that it is illegal in their territory, but they then take it back and make loop holes for ways to can continue to have your slaves. Whether it be changing the title to something more distinguished like ” apprenticed laborer” or just sumply adding a fee. Both are painless and apparently, worth the inhumane cruelty.

  8. Ben Cohen says:

    The nature of human beings is both good and evil. Allowing for only one to exist would offset a way of life. Enslavement of other people is a terribly evil thing. Fortunately for the world, good also exists. And from that came an abolishment of slavery and associated trading. Although this act of abolishment may not have truly succeeded, it helped introduce new ways to view slavery, and helped put a stop to it in various countries around the world

  9. Ben Cohen says:

    The nature of human beings is both good and evil. Allowing for only one to exist would offset a way of life. Enslavement of other people is a terribly evil thing. Fortunately for the world, good also exists. And from that came an abolishment of slavery and associated trading. Although this act of abolishment may not have truly succeeded, it helped introduce new ways to view slavery, and helped put a stop to it in various countries around the world.

  10. Will Bachmann says:

    This act may have finished off slavery but you have to think about what position this put the former slaves in. This leaves them on the streets with no money, most likely no education, and certainly no respect from others. Plus Britain isn’t exactly the land of opportunities. Back then, and maybe still today, you were born into a social class and you stayed in that class until you died. I’m curious as to what the commonwealth of Britain was like for the next 20 years.

  11. Clark Billups says:

    I understand the point of having slaves but why couldn’t they just hire people. They were going to get fined for having them anyway.

  12. Taylor Slugg says:

    The British Parliament freed their slaves in 1833, I found it interesting that we didn’t free the U.S. slaves until 1865, about thirty years after England did. After all, didn’t the British bring the idea of slavery to the colonies? I suppose the Civil War halted America’s own Abolition Act due to the fact that America was divided between the issue of slavery itself. Either way, comparing America’s own freedom of slaves to Britain’s Abolition Act of 1833, they have striking differences. For example, owners of slaves in the U.S. were merely required to free their slaves while in Britain, the captains were fined for every slave on board. Although slavery was abolished in 1865, racism and segregation continued into the 50s and 60s in America, but did Britain’s freed slaves share similar experiences?

  13. Bradley Otto says:

    It makes plenty of sense that the slave traders would find new ways of trading slaves, rather than pay the fine. It could almost be compared to the ‘Underground Railroad’ in the American slave movement- but instead of the slaves running away for to avoid being caught by their owners, the slave owners are trading in ways to avoid being caught by the government. This appears to be one of the sparks that began the movement to free slaves in the British kingdom, and America as well.

  14. Alexander McGill says:

    I recall from a trip to England visiting William Wilberforce’s house, who was one of the largest advocators for the freedom of slaves in Britain, that it took a strenuous amount of work to pass the legislature before (the one mentioned from 1807) and after some research that he died only 4 days after the passing of the Abolition of Slavery Act. Although the slaves may not have had the best life after the passing of the act, you have to remember how difficult it is to pass both of the acts without an entire war devoted to the abolition of slavery comparable to the United States’ own Civil War.

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