Essay/Term paper: The institution of slavery

Essay, term paper, research paper:  History

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The institution of Slavery The issue of slavery has

been touched upon often in the course of history. The

institution of slavery was addressed by French intellectuals

during the Enlightenment. Later, during the French

Revolution, the National Assembly issued the Declaration of

the Rights of Man, which declared the equality of all men.

Issues were raised concerning the application of this

statement to the French colonies in the West Indies, which

used slaves to work the land. As they had different interests

in mind, the philosophes, slave owners, and political leaders

took opposing views on the interpretation of universal

equality. Many of the philosophes, the leaders of the

Enlightenment, were against slavery. They held that all

people had a natural dignity that should be recognized.

Voltaire, an 18th century philosophe, pointed out that

hundreds of thousands of slaves were sacrificing their lives

just so the Europeans could quell their new taste for sugar,

tea and cocoa. A similar view was taken by Rousseau, who

stated that he could not bear to watch his fellow human

beings be changed to beasts for the service of others.

Religion entered into the equation when Diderot, author of

the Encyclopedia, brought up the fact that the Christian

religion was fundamentally opposed to Black slavery but

employed it anyway in order to work the plantations that

financed their countries. All in all, those influenced by the

ideals of the Enlightenment, equality, liberty, the right to

dignity, tended to oppose the idea of slavery. Differing from

the philosophes, the political leaders and property owners

tended to see slavery as an element that supported the

economy. These people believed that if slavery and the slave

trade were to be abolished, the French would lose their

colonies, commerce would collapse and as a result the

merchant marine, agriculture and the arts would decline.

Their worries were somewhat merited; by 1792 French

ships were delivering up to 38,000 slaves and this trade

brought in 200 million livres a year. These people had

economic incentives to support slavery, however others

were simply ignorant. One man, Raynal, said that white

people were incapable of working in the hot sun and blacks

were much better suited to toil and labor in the intense heat.

Having a similar view to Raynal, one property owner stated

that tearing the blacks from the only homes they knew was

actually humane. Though they had to work without pay, this

man said slave traders were doing the blacks a favor by

placing them in the French colonies where they could live

without fear for tomorrow. All of these people felt that the

Declaration of the Rights of Man did not pertain to black

people or their descendants. All people were not ignorant,

however. There was even a group of people who held

surprisingly modern views on slavery; views some people

haven't even accepted today. In his Reflections on Black

People, Olympe de Gouges wondered why blacks were

enslaved. He said that the color of people's skin suggests

only a slight difference. The beauty of nature lies in the fact

that all is varied. Another man, Jacques Necker, told people

that one day they would realize the error of their ways and

notice that all people have the same capacity to think and

suffer. The slavery issue was a topic of debate among the

people of France. The views of the people, based on

enlightenment, the welfare of the country or plain ignorance

were tossed around for several more years until the issue

was finally resolved. In the end the philosophes, with their

liberated ideas, won out and slavery was abolished.  

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