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Africa, Empires and Slavery, 1801-60

Slave Trade in Decline | Egypt and Muhammad Ali, to 1840 | Algeria and Morocco Invaded by European Armies | Muslim Herdsmen and Empires | From Senegal to Angola | The Zulu Empire to 1828 | British, Boers and South Africa, to 1860 | Arabs, Blacks and Mixed Races on the East Coast

Slave trade in Decline

By the 1700s most slaves had been transported from Africa across the Atlantic on British-owned ships. In Britain, a moral crusade against the slave trade staged by abolitionists like William Wilberforce was aided by greater literacy and printing, and Britain's parliament passed a law in 1807 against international slave trading.

Denmark also made trading in slaves illegal, and in 1808 the United States joined in, forbidding its citizens to partake in the international slave trade. Sweden followed suit. The Dutch, whose sea captains had also engaged in transporting slaves from Africa, did the same. In 1815 at the Congress of Vienna, participating nations agreed that the slave trade should be abolished as soon as possible. That year the Portuguese outlawed slave trading north of the equator. Also in 1815 British warships began patrolling off the Atlantic coast of western Africa, performing what was seen as a moral duty, seizing ships suspected of engaging in the slave trade, no matter what flag the suspect ship was flying. In 1817 the French joined the moral crusade. In 1823, Portugal extended its prohibition on slave trading below the equator. The Dutch, whose sea captains had also engaged in transporting slaves, did not yet join in the prohibitions. The Dutch would make slavery illegal in 1848 and the law would be implemented in 1863.

Meanwhile, plantation owners in the Americas and Africa continued to see slavery as an economic necessity, but in some instances it was economics that was diminishing the slave trade. In the 1700s the sugar industry had been expanding, with slaves doing the hard work in sugar production, but by the early 1800s a greater production and an increased supply without an equal increase in consumption of sugar dropped its market price and took a lot of the profit out of sugar growing. Growers were reneging on their loans. Bankers in Britain lost interest in investing in the sugar industry and in the selling of slaves. Instead they were investing in manufacturing and in the trade of goods related to manufacturing. Investors, especially in the northern United States, were becoming more interested in modern manufacturing and related commerce than they were in agriculture. Slavery was not growing with manufacturing. Hiring workers was cheaper than buying and maintaining slaves. Hired workers did not run away and they did not resort to the kind of bloody revolts that had recently occurred in Haiti.


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