When Was Slavery Abolished?
The first big step to rid the world of slavery was taken in 1811 when Britain abolished slave-trading. In 1833 an Act of Parliament was passed emancipating all slaves in the British colonies, thus setting an example which was followed by other European countries.
The Slavery Abolition Act 1833 (citation 3 & 4 Will. IV c. 73) was an 1833 Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom abolishing slavery throughout the British Empire (with the exceptions “of the Territories in the Possession of the East India Company”, Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, and Saint Helena; the exceptions were eliminated in 1843). The Act was repealed in 1998 as part of a wider rationalisation of English statute law, but later anti-slavery legislation remains in force.
The Act had its third reading in the House of Commons on 26 July 1833, three days before William Wilberforce died. It received the Royal Assent a month later, on 28 August, and came into force the following year, on 1 August 1834. In practical terms, only slaves below the age of six were freed in the colonies.
Former slaves over the age of six were redesignated as “apprentices”, and their servitude was abolished in two stages: the first set of apprenticeships came to an end on 1 August 1838, while the final apprenticeships were scheduled to cease on 1 August 1840. The Act specifically excluded “the Territories in the Possession of the East India Company, or to the Island of Ceylon, or to the Island of Saint Helena.” The exceptions were eliminated in 1843.
In the United States a number of conflicting interests led in 1861 to a civil war between the Northern states who wished to abolish slavery and the seceded Southern states who wanted to retain it on the plantations.
In 1863 President Lincoln issued his famous Emancipation Proclamation, and two years later the victory of the North led to a constitutional amendment which prohibited slavery in the United States for ever.
In South America, a kind of agricultural slavery of the Indians continued under the name of peonage, and laws prohibiting the system did not succeed immediately in stamping it out. Even today conditions of slavery, sometime disguised as forced labor in payment of debt, exist in some countries.
Until people’s consciences began to be stirred by the efforts of humanitarians like William Wilberforce (1759-1833), slavery had generally been regarded as an inevitable part of the natural order of things. From earliest times men had forced their captured enemies to work for them.
Slaves were a vital part of most ancient civilizations, providing food and services for their masters and the labor to build such man-made marvels as the pyramids. In Greece and Rome many slaves became skilled workers and held responsible positions. After the discovery of the New Worlds large fortunes were made by the transport of Negroes from Africa and their exploitation in the Americas.