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Slavery was a legal economic system with involuntary servitude, such that the people held in bondage must work for their owner, and can be bought and sold (see slave trade).

Legally, the slave has limited rights. For example, it was a crime in the American South to kill or maim a slave, except in self-defense.

In the American South, slavery normally was a lifetime condition, and children born to slave mothers automatically became slaves of the owner.

In human history, slavery originated when people were captured in warfare. Secondarily, slavery resulted when some able-bodied people became so poor through debts that some wealthy people claimed them as property at least until they worked off their debts. The Year of Jubilee was instituted by God for His own nation in order to prevent slavery from becoming a means by which cleverly unscrupulous, or cleverly ignorant, people made a living, such as happened in the American South.

In America the vast majority of slaves were African blacks, and many of these had been bought from African tribal leaders; Indians starved themselves to death rather than live as slaves. From 1500 to 1820, hundreds of thousands of Europeans were captured in war by Muslims and made slaves.

Western Christendom abolished slavery during the 19th century. The last forms of legal slavery were outlawed in 1970 in the Arabian countries, but hidden slavery still exists today in remote parts of Africa such as the Sudan where Arabs own black slaves. In Mauritania, dark-skinned people own lighter-skinned slaves.<ref>African Slavery 1996</ref>

Slavery was found in the history of most civilizations. Slavery flourishes where there is a high demand for labor and not enough workers. When the workers are plentiful, slavery dies out because it is unprofitable. That is, it becomes cheaper to free a slave and hire low cost paid labor than to buy and maintain slaves. Typically, when it had almost died out, it was made illegal by the government, as in Brazil.

The most famous instance of slavery was in the American South until it was forcibly ended during the American Civil War (1861–65)–the only major war in world history fought over slavery.


The two main forms of slavery are house servants (in which slaves are luxury items owned by the rich), and field work, in which slaves are used as a cheap labor force. If free labor is cheaper than expensive slaves, slavery will disappear. If there is a shortage of laborers (and an abundance of work to do), slavery becomes economically possible. It is especially profitable in new lands with few people and rich soils or mines that require imported labor.

Slavery tended to die out in cities and flourished only in rural areas. In the cities rich families owned many slaves as a luxury good guaranteeing good servants. Otherwise, slaves in cities were more expensive to maintain than free labor, which could be hired and fired as needed. Slave labor was profitable for farms, mines, and construction jobs; it was not profitable for factories.


Ancient world

from 15th century BC Egyptian tomb.]] Most ancient civilizations, including Greece and Rome, practiced slavery on a large scale.

Slavery has its roots deep in humanity's pagan past, in humanity's fallen, self-centered nature. According to the Bible, God created humankind free, giving them the dignity of choice. Yet slavery is found earlier than the time of Abraham (about 2,000 B.C.) In the Garden of Eden, according to the Bible, God gave Adam the blessing of work even before the Fall. That work became harder after our first parents rebelled against their Creator.<ref>The Holy Bible, Genesis 3:17-19</ref> Heathen nations despised manual labor, and consigned it to slaves<ref>Lorella Rouster, The History of Slavery, ECM Publ, 2011, 1</ref>

All early civilizations were built on slave labor—Mesopotamia, Babylon, Eqypt, Greece, Rome, and the big civilizations of Central America.<ref>Rouster, p. 2</ref> Milton Meltzer's book, Slavery, A World History, is filled with pictures of ancient carvings, paintings and other artifacts clearly picturing slavery.<ref>Milton Meltzer, Slavery, a World History</ref> Historian Kenneth Scott LaTourette said, “Slavery was a characteristic feature of the social and economic organization of the ancient world.”<ref>LaTourette, A History of the Expansion of Christianity, Vol. I, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 1939, 1967, p. 26</ref>

In Egypt, the Hebrews were slaves for a time. “All the slaves were considered the property of the gods and the pharaoh.”<ref>Meltzer, p. 32</ref> Technically, slaves in Egypt were prisoners of war and foreigners. However, the peasant class which did all the manual labor were tied to the land belonging to pharaoh and had a standard of living difficult to distinguish from slavery.<ref>Meltzer, p. 30</ref>

The primary slave market in ancient Greece was on the island of Delos in the Aegean Sea. From there slaves were traded and used throughout the Greek city-states. In ancient Athens about 30% of the population consisted of slaves.<ref>Ancient Greece</ref> “Sumerian society knew two classes: free men and slaves.” Over time, slaves grew in number and provided cheap and abundant labor.<ref>Milton Meltzer, Slavery, a World History, p. 11-12</ref>

Greek civilization was utterly dependent on slave labor. Three-fourths of Athens were slaves. (Athens was the city the Apostle Paul described as “given to idolatry” in Acts 17:16.)

In Greek and Roman society, human beings were seen as having no intrinsic value. They had value only as citizens of the state, and only a minority of people qualified as such. Those who had no value included the infirm, the poor, the lower classes, prisoners of war, slaves, artisans and manual workers. Noncitizens were defined as having no purpose and hence unworthy to be helped when their lives were at risk. This meant they were not considered worthy to receive physical protection or even food.<ref>Alvin Schmidt, Under the Influence, How Christianity Transformed Civilization, p. 130</ref> The Greek philopher Aristotle wrote, “a slave is a living took, just as a tool is an inanimate slave.”<ref>Nichomadean Ethics 8:11, quoted in Schmidt, p. 274</ref>

In Roman society, “domestic slaves did every conceivable kind of work for their masters. Among them were eunuchs to attend to the women and cripples to “amuse” guests with their deformities. A rich man needed at least two slaves to carry him to the circus, but eight to ten usually went along for show. When a man walked at night, he had to have a train of slaves bearing torches to light and protect him on his way. Domestic slaves of the wealthy were many that they were organized like armies into specialized battalions. The more powerful Romans acquired staffs of better than a thousand slaves. One man, C. Caelius Isidorus, left 4,116 slaves when he died. The emperors, whose wealth outstripped all, boasted slave “families” of 20,000 or more<ref>Meltzer, p. 138</ref>

Under Roman law, slaves had no rights. They were considered property, not persons. They could not own or inherit property. They were not permitted to legally marry, so all their children were considered illegitimate.<ref>Meltzer, p. 144 & 176</ref>

Often prisoners of wars in ancient history were used as slaves, particularly during the Roman Empire. Historians debate how extensive slavery was in the Roman Empire—estimates go as high as 25% of the population.<ref>BBC - History - Resisting Slavery in Ancient Rome</ref> Christianity helped lessen the harshness by which Romans treated slaves. The Roman jurist Ulpian wrote, “As far as Roman law is concerned, slaves are regarded as nothing.”<ref>Meltzer, p. 178</ref>

Other means by which ancient peoples went into slavery were inability to pay debts, being sold by their parents for the same reason, being born to slave parents, and being kidnapped by slave raiders or pirates.

The name “slav” which forms a part of the name of many European people groups is derived from the word “slave.” According to the Domesday Book census in 1086 AD, 10% of England's population was enslaved.<ref>Domesday Book Slave</ref>

Slavery in the Bible. Slavery in atheistic societies

See also: Slavery in the Bible and Atheism and slavery

Atheist apologists often bring up the subject of slavery in the Bible in terms of the Israelites and some early Christians owning slaves. However, they rarely if ever, bring up the subject of slavery and forced labor in atheistic societies (see: Atheism and slavery).

The Decline of Slavery under Christianity

Christianity was born into a world that was overwhelmed with slavery, with Rome, the dominant world power in the time of Jesus, utterly dependent on slave labor. The life and teachings of Jesus and His followers, described in the New Testament, while not forbidding slavery nor organizing any campaign against it, struck at the very roots of slavery, drying up its power much as herbicides work on killing stubborn weeds from the roots up.<ref>Rouster, History of Slavery, p.6.</ref>

Jesus dignified labor by working as a carpenter. He took the form of a servant. He washed the disciples' feet. He commanded us to love our neighbors and do good to our enemies. He had a habit of calling people back to the beginning of things, and in the beginning God created people free. Christianity promoted the equality of its members, accepting slave and slavemaster as equal brothers and sisters serving side by side in the church (Galatians 3:28). Christianity, like Judaism before it, taught that God gave humankind the dignity to choose for ourselves. That is possible only in liberty and not in slavery. These influences worked quietly at first, for Christians were not a world power or even a majority. Most had no political power, and they lived in a totalitarian system. Yet because of the Christian emphasis on love and mercy, slavery was soon rid of most of its extreme features of cruelty. In early Christian writings, there was an emphasis on being free in spirit to serve Christ even if one's station in life was as a slave. Ambrose wrote that the slave “might be superior in character to his master and might be more truly free” (LaTourette, p.&nbsp;622).

However, in the second and third centuries after Christ, as wealthy Romans began to be converted to Christiantiy, tens of thousands of slaves were freed by converts. Melania freed 8,000, Ovidus 5,000, Chromatius 1400, Hermes 1200.<ref>Shmidt, p. 274, from W.E. H. Lecky, History of European Morals, 1911</ref> Converted out of a decadent, totally self-absorbed society, many Christians sold their goods and lands and used the proceeds to help the poor, support hospitals, take in orphans, free prisoners, and free slaves. Liberation was frequent, especially on Easter and other special days of the church. Church law from the early centuries allowed for liberation (called manumission) of slaves during church services.<ref>CAnnon LIIIV, The African Code CAnons, aslo called the Canons of he Fathers Assembled at Carthage, 419 A.D.</ref><ref>The Canons of the Council in Tuillo (also called the Quinisext Council, 692 A.D..</ref> Freeing slaves took great conviction and courage, for the Roman emperors issued edicts unfavorable to the practice. Clement said in his Epistle to the Corinthians no 55, “Some Christians surrendered their own freedom to liberate others.”<ref>Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book III, Chapter IV</ref>

Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.) led many clergy under his authority in N Africa to free their slaves “as an act of piety”.<ref>Augustine, “Of the Work of Monks”, p. 25, Vol. 3, Nicene & Post-Nicene Fathers</ref> He boldly wrote a letter to the emperor urging a new law against slave traders, and showed great concern about the slave of children.<ref>The Saints, p. 72</ref> He saw slavery as a product of sin and as contrary to God's plan, writing that God “did not intend that this rational creature, who was made in His image, should have dominion man over man, but man over the beasts.<ref>Augustine, The City of God, chapter 15, p. 411, Vol. II, Nicene & Post-Nicene Fathers</ref>

Likewise Chrysostom, a fourth century church leader, wrote that Christ annulled slavery and admonished Christians to buy slaves, teach them a skill by which to make a living, and set them free. The act of Christians freeing slaves was so common in his day that he wrote that many outside the church complained that Christianity was subverting the system, causing masters to have their slaves taken from them.

Ambrose, a church leader about the same time, redeemed all the slaves he could.<ref>Ambrose, Duties of the Christian Clergy, p. 54</ref>

Medieval Europe

of a slave market in late medieval Eastern Europe.]]

Slavery in Poland was forbidden in the 15th century; in Lithuania, slavery was formally abolished in 1588; they were replaced by the second enserfment.

Slavery was a major institution in Russia, and families facing starvation often sold themselves into slavery. Russian agricultural slaves were formally converted into serfs earlier in 1679. In 1723, when the Peter the Great converted the remaining household slaves into house serfs.<ref>Welcome to Encyclopædia Britannica's Guide to Black History</ref> Serfdom was abolished in 1863 by Tsar Alexander II; however, most serfs had to pay the government for giving them land.

African Slave Trade

African Practices of Slavery

Slavery was widespread within Africa itself, and the richest in Africa were not those owning the most land, but those who owned the most slaves. In the Sahara Desert, slaves were used in gold and salt mining. Slaves were usually prisoners of war from other areas of Africa, or debtors, or enemies or the king, but many women outside of those three categories were also enslaved in African societies.

The Islamic Trans-Sahara Slave Trade

Slavery was rapidly declining in Europe due to the influence of Christianity, and had all but disappeared from much of Europe when the advent of Islam brought a rebirth of the slave trade.<ref>L W Miller, Anti-Slavery Activism 101, ECM Publ, 2011</ref> Islam has always expanded primarily though making war (declaring jihad) on its neighbors and forcing people to convert, be executed, or live in slavery in a subservient status to Islam. The demand for slaves was largely created by wealthy Islamic rulers who required salve women for the large harems to which they were accustomed, as well as soldiers and servants. The trade began in 652 A.D. when Abdallah Ben Said, King of Islamized Egypt, waged jihad on the Sudan, conquered it and imposed on the Sudanic King Khalidurat the treaty called Bakht. The treaty required annual supply of hundreds of slaves to Said.<ref> University World News, Scholars Focus on Arab Trans-Saharan Slave Trade</ref>

Islam partnered with African kings who were already involved in enslaving captured populations. Long trains of slaves were sent across the Saharan Desert with slaves marching on foot. Islam dominated the African slave trade from the 7th to the 15th centuries, and continued on a smaller basis long after that. It has never stopped in some Muslim lands.

Islamic slavery had very high death rates. It is estimated that 80% died on the long, harsh march through the Sahara.

Castration was a very dominant feature of the Islamic slave trade. Specific cities in the Sahara were given to this practice as the Islamic caravans passed through. Such “eunuchs” brought the highest prices, purchased by rich Arab kings and princes as security agents for large harems. It is estimated that 70 to 90% perished in the ordeal of castration.<ref> University World News, Scholars Focus on Arab Trans-Saharan Slave Trade</ref> Castration centers developed in the Mossi country; Damagaram in Niger; Borno in northeastern Nigeria; Kumasi in Ashantiland now Ghana; Kano, Nigeria (the largest—early British administrators wrote frequently about it); and Baguimi (also spelled Aaghirmi, in Chad Republic & along the Nigerian border—the best known). Some African kings were already practicing castration of their enemies, but the Islamic slave trade institutionalized it. This, along with the fact that any children born to slave women were usually killed at birth, is the reason there are few descendants of these slaves and little African diaspora in Arab Islamic lands.<ref></ref><ref></ref> Some early sources of direct evidence of the Islamic slave trade were al-Yakub, a 9th century Arab writer; Ibn Battuta, a 12th century eyewitness; Mansa Museh, 1324, and Leo Africanus, 1494-1554.

The Transatlantic Slave Trade


In 1455, a “papal bull” (formal letter by the pope) justified a right of Christian nations to enslave any non-Christian in the name of exploration. The Spanish had already been enslaving South American natives on a limited basis, but with the rise of sugar plantations the need for a larger slave force arose. 12 million of African slaves were brought by the Europeans to Mexico, Peru, the Caribbean and Brazil. The demand for sugar was exploding throughout the entire western world. Soon France, the Netherlands and Britain were also establishing profitable sugar plantations in the new world. The plantation system began in Brazil, where rich white plantation owners were the highest rung in the social hierarchy and black slaves were at the bottom. Obviously life on a sugar plantation was very hard work for a slave; most died in less than 10 years, and had to be replaced.

European traders encouraged Africans to trade slaves with them. The Trans-Atlantic slave trade became a booming business for Europeans and Africans alike, in which African rulers sold prisoners of war and even their people to Europeans for goods such as iron, alcohol, tobacco and most importantly, guns. Trans-Atlantic trade led to the degrading use of “chattel” slaves, whereby the slaves were treated purely as property of the owner, much as slaves had been considered in ancient Greece and Rome. The slaves served as sailors, skilled craftsmen or farmers. The journey across the Atlantic, known as the Middle Passage, led to the death of 10-20% of the African slaves. But an even higher percentage lost their lives in the journey from their homes in Africa to the African coast, where they were to board the slave ships.

  • After kidnapping potential slaves, merchants forced them to walk in slave caravans to the European coastal forts, sometimes as far as 1,000 miles. Shackled and underfed, only half the people survived these death marches. ://

The Trans-Atlantic slave trade was one component in a system of routes known as the “Triangular Trade” between South America, New England, and the West Coast of Africa. The three main items that were exchanged were sugar, rum and slaves. European goods, mainly guns, were used to buy slaves from Africa. The slaves were then shipped to the Americas. Then, from America, sugar, rum and tobacco were brought back to Europe, completing the “triangle” of trade. Slavery is one of the less noble aspects of American history.

Although slavery had existed in all cultures from the dawn of human history, the trans-Atlantic trade was the first time the trade was based primarily on one race enslaving another. This dehumanizing of black Africans had a devastating and demoralizing effect on the whole group. Many began to believe there was something inherently bad about their blackness and something intrinsically inferior about African Americans, including themselves. Unlike the eunuchs and ghilmans who were castrated by caravans of Islamic slave traders, black slaves in America reproduced and passed on the feelings of inferiority and sometimes bitterness and deep anger.<ref>Lorella Rouster, Anti-Slavery Activism 101, Every Child Ministries, Edition 2, 2011, p. 27-28</ref>

White slaves

Between 1530 and 1780, Europeans including Britons and even some Americans were frequently taken captive and enslaved by privateers from the Barbary States. Estimates of so-called “white slavery” vary from as little as 50,000 to in the millions.<ref></ref> Generally Europeans enslaved by the corsairs were usually poorer sea merchants and city dwellers whose families were unable to pay the ransom necessary to free them. Often the Pasha would purchase the female captives into his harem. Many were forced to “go turk” or convert to “mohammadism” in order to stay with their children who were raised as Muslims. Occasionally slaves would convert in order to escape harsher labors such as tending the oars in the corsairs.<ref></ref>

For a long time, until the early 18th century, the Crimean Khanate maintained a massive slave trade with the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East. Kefe was one of the best known and significant trading ports and slave markets. In a process called “harvesting of the steppe” Crimean Tatars enslaved many Slavic peasants.

, The Slave Market.]]


In Senegambia, between 1300 and 1900, close to one-third of the population was enslaved. In early Islamic states of the western Sudan, including Ghana (750-1076), Mali (1235–1645), Segou (1712–1861), and Songhai (1275-1591), about a third of the population were slaves. In Sierra Leone in the 19th century about half of the population consisted of slaves. In the 19th century at least half the population was enslaved among the Duala of the Cameroon, the Igbo and other peoples of the lower Niger, the Kongo, and the Kasanje kingdom and Choke of Angola. Among the Ashanti and Yoruba a third of the population consisted of slaves. The population of the Kanem was about a third-slave. It was perhaps 40% in Bornu (1396–1893). Between 1750 and 1900 from one- to two-thirds of the entire population of the Fulani jihad states consisted of slaves. The population of the Sokoto caliphate formed by Hausas in the northern Nigeria and Cameroon was half-slave in the 19th century. It is estimated that up to 90% of the population of Arab-Swahili Zanzibar was enslaved. Roughly half the population of Madagascar was enslaved.<ref>Welcome to Encyclopædia Britannica's Guide to Black History</ref>

The Anti-Slavery Society estimated that there were 2 million slaves in Ethiopia in the early 1930s, out of an estimated population of between 8 and 16 million.<ref>Twentieth Century Solutions of the Abolition of Slavery</ref> Ethiopia officially abolished slavery and serfdom after regaining its independence in 1942. On August 26, 1942 Haile Selassie issued a proclamation outlawing slavery.<ref>Ethiopia; Chronology of slavery</ref>


India in 1841 had an estimated 8,000,000 or 9,000,000 slaves in India.<ref>According to Sir Henry Bartle Frere (who sat on the Viceroy's Council).</ref> In Malabar, about 15% of the population were slaves. Slavery was abolished in both Hindu and Muslim India by the Indian Slavery Act V. of 1843. Provisions of the Indian Penal Code of 1861 effectively abolished slavery in India by making the enslavement of human beings a criminal offense.<ref>Islamic Law and the Colonial Encounter in British India</ref>


Indigenous slaves existed in Korea. During the Joseon Dynasty (1392–1910) about 30% to 40% of the Korean population consisted of slaves. Slavery was hereditary, as well as a form of legal punishment. There was a slave class with both government and privately owned slaves, and the government occasionally gave slaves to citizens of higher rank. Privately owned slaves could be inherited as personal property. During poor harvests and famine, many peasants would voluntarily become slaves in order to survive. In the case of private slaves they could buy their freedom.<ref>Korea, history pre-1945:slavery -- Encyclopaedia Britannica</ref><ref>The Choson Era: Late Traditional Korea</ref><ref>Korean Nobi</ref> Slavery was officially abolished with the Gabo Reform of 1894.

Present Day

Slavery was also known among Arabs into the 20th century. As recently as the 1950s, Saudi Arabia had an estimated 450,000 slaves, 20% of the population.<ref>Slavery in Islam</ref><ref>£400 for a Slave</ref> It is estimated that as many as 200,000 people had been taken into slavery in Sudan during the Second Sudanese Civil War.<ref>War and Genocide in Sudan</ref><ref>The Lost Children of Sudan</ref> In Mauritania it is estimated that up to 600,000 men, women and children, or 20% of the population, are currently enslaved, many of them used as bonded labor.<ref>The Abolition season on BBC World Service</ref> Slavery in Mauritania was finally criminalized in 2007.<ref>Mauritanian MPs pass slavery law</ref> In Niger, slavery is also a current phenomenon; a Nigerien study has found that more than 800,000 people, or almost 8% of the population, are slaves.<ref>The Shackles of Slavery in Niger</ref><ref>Born to be a slave in Niger</ref> The Tuareg-rebels in Mali have a long tradition of practicing slavery.<ref></ref> Daesh, who follow the teaching of Mohammed, reestablished slavery; the women are sex slaves, while the men are used to work. Until 2015, they had captured and enslaved about 7,000 young women and children.<ref></ref>

Also, the term “slavery” is often used metaphorically for sex workers who are controlled by pimps.

Famous Slaves

Abolition of Slavery


France had slavery in its Caribbean colonies and Condorcet (1743 - 1794), an influential philosophe, rejected slavery as antithetical to Enlightenment morality. He became a leader in the antislavery movement and in the 1780s attacked the institution of slavery on philosophical and moral grounds in his writings. After 1780, Condorcet took a leading, though secret, role in antislavery agitation by writing Reflections on Negro Slavery under the pseudonym Dr. Schwartz. In 1784, he was a founder and principal actor in La Société des Amis des Noirs, which sought to prepare for the eventual abolition of slavery. By 1794, Condorcet still supported colonization, but believed that a colonization based on liberal economics and civil equality could transform the world.

Napoleon (ruled 1799-1815) made a major adventure into the Caribbean—sending 30,000 troops in 1802 to retake Saint Domingue (Haiti) from ex-slaves under black leader Toussaint L'Ouverture who had revolted and killed off the whites and mulattoes. Napoleon wanted to preserve France's financial benefits from the colony's sugar and coffee crops; he then planned to establish a major base at New Orleans. He therefore reestablished slavery in Haiti and Guadeloupe, where it had been abolished after rebellions. Slaves and black freedmen fought the French for their freedom and independence. Revolutionary ideals played a central role in the fighting for it was the slaves and their comrades who were fighting for the revolutionary ideals of freedom and equality, while the French troops under General Charles Leclerc fought to restore the order of the ancien régime. The goal of reestablishing slavery - which explicitly contradicted the ideals of the French Revolution - demoralized the French troops. The demoralized French soldiers were unable to cope with the tropical diseases, and most died of yellow fever. Slavery was reimposed in Guadeloupe but not in Haiti, which became an independent black republic.<ref>Philippe R. Girard, “Liberte, Egalite, Esclavage: French Revolutionary Ideals and the Failure of the Leclerc Expedition to Saint-Domingue.” French Colonial History 2005 6: 55-77. in Project MUSE</ref> Napoleon's vast colonial dreams for Egypt, India, the Caribbean, Louisiana, and even Australia were all doomed for lack of a fleet capable of matching Britain's Royal Navy. Realizing the fiasco Napoleon liquidated the Haiti project, brought home the survivors and sold off Louisiana to the U.S.<ref>Steven Englund, Napoleon: A Political Life (2004). p 259. Slavery remained in Guadeloupe until 1848.</ref>

United States

The first black slaves were brought to Jamestown Colony early on. Originally, slavery was legal in every British American colony. However, after the American Revolution, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that, since the new state constitution read, “All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties”, it made slavery illegal. By 1804, slavery had been abolished in every northern state.<ref>However, in many states, current slaves remained in servitude for the rest of their lives.</ref>

The South after 1800 became more militant in defense of slavery. John C. Calhoun and other southerners (usually members of the Democratic Party) called it the South's “peculiar institution” and proclaimed it a good idea. Some proponents suggested it would also be a good idea for white workers who were living under worse conditions in Northern cities.<ref>Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Eugene D. Genovese, Slavery in White and Black: Class and Race in the Southern Slaveholders (2008)</ref> It flourished in the Southern states until Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, and his Union Army abolished it during the American Civil War. This was a case of racial slavery—the slaves were black, the owners were white.<ref>A few free blacks owned slaves–usually relatives they had purchased from whites. Indian tribes also had slaves, both Indian and black.</ref>

British Empire

Emancipation of slaves in the British Caribbean became a major cause by the 1800s, when abolitionists such as William Wilberforce and John Wesley began speaking out against the evils of the system.<ref>William Wilberforce (1759-1833)</ref> Wilberforce was supported in his efforts by John Newton, a slave trader who became a Christian and then opposed the slave trade. In 1807 the House of Commons passed the Slave Trade Abolition Bill by a 283-16 vote. It made the international slave trade a crime of piracy and sent the Royal Navy to enforce it.<ref>Sailing against slavery. By Jo Loosemore BBC</ref> In 1808 the U.S. also outlawed the international trade. However, some slave traders evaded the prohibition—many were caught and hung, with the freed captives sent to Sierra Leone. Slavery remained legal inside the British Empire (including Canada) until 1833 when the government bought all the slaves from the owners<ref>Mostof the owners lived in great mansions in London, and appreciated the money.</ref> and freed them.<ref>The ex-slaves went through an apprenticeship process before gaining freedom. Andrea Curry Timeline: The Abolition of the Slave Trade, British Heritage Magazine (May 2007)</ref><ref>History: Parliament Abolishes the Slave Trade Parliamentary House of Lords</ref>

United States

In the United States, the northern states abolished slavery by 1803—most of the slaves there were house servants. In The South, however, cotton made slavery very profitable and 11 states seceded in 1861 to protect their interest. Abraham Lincoln achieved the end of slavery in 1863-65, using the Army and the 13th Amendment. In Cuba and Brazil, slavery was unprofitable and finally collapsed in the 1880s as few people wanted to buy slaves.


Biblical Perspective

, The Finding of Moses, 1904.]] Slavery was an well-established institution throughout the Ancient Near East, and the Old Testament sanctions its form of regulated slavery, though that is seen as being counter cultural in its degree of amelioration, including as compared to that of ancient slave states as Greece and Rome, and the typical practice of slavery in American history.<ref>''Does God condone slavery in the Bible?''</ref><ref>''The issue of 'slavery' in the NT/Apostolic world''</ref> The New Testament does not condemn the institution itself, but makes requirements upon both masters and slaves in further improving treatment in the inherited economic institution.

Slave owners in the antebellum South cited both Old Testament and New Testament texts, such as Ephesians 6:5, “slaves, obey your masters”, in arguments for the Christian endorsement of slavery. Another Bible verse states that thieves should be sold into slavery.<ref>Exodus 22:3 “He should make a full restitution; and if he have nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.</ref> Under the Mosaic Law, Hebrew slaves could be kept for six years, and offered release in the seventh for nothing. They were to be treated as hired servants, and generous provisions given to them at termination, though they could choose to be lifetime servants. However, daughters who were sold to be betrothed to the owner or his son, were not set free in their seventh year but were to be allowed to be redeemed if that marriage had not taken place done. If marriage occurred, they were to be set free if the husband was negligent in his basic marital obligations.(Exodus 21:1-11; cf. Dt. 15:12-18)

The system of slavery commonly diminished a person to the point where they would be regarded as a thing or an object to be owned. The Christian abolitionists disagreed with this valuation, and saw the New Testament in particular, and its ethos of love for neighbor as oneself, as supporting the abolition of slavery, and advanced an interpretation of the Bible which presented human value in terms of God's parental love for all people as His children (see human rights).<ref>Bourne, George, 1780-1845, ''A Condensed Anti-Slavery Bible Argument; By a Citizen of Virginia''</ref><ref> George B. Cheever, ''God Against Slavery'' (1875)</ref>

While requiring Christian obedience <ref>Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible, Eph. 6:7; cf. Rm. 13:1</ref> of slaves toward their masters, the New Testament also requires masters to exercise their duties in the fear of God, and prohibits threatening, abuse or unequal pay for slaves. (Eph. 6:9; Col. 4:1) (1Cor. 7:21) It also commands slaves to obtain freedom if possible, and contains the record of the apostle Paul requiring that the escaped slave Onesimus be received back by his master Philemon, no longer “as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved”, even as Paul himself (Philemon 1:16,17)

Pat Robertson, while acknowledging the Old Testament's teachings on slavery, argues that “we have moved in our conception of the value of human beings over the years” until we have realized that slavery is “terribly wrong.”<ref>Pat Robertson on the Bible and slavery</ref>

Curse of Ham

Some Southern white theologians before the Civil War asserted that the slavery of blacks was the result the curse of Ham. However, there is no evidence that the curse had to do with skin color, and the descendants of Canaan most likely were not black, and it is generally concluded that they did not settle in Africa.<ref></ref><ref></ref><ref>Full Life Study Bible, Zondervan Publishing Company (September 1992)</ref><ref>A Condensed Anti-slavery Bible Argument By George Bourne</ref>

Further reading


  • Finkelman, Paul, and Joseph C. Miller, eds. Macmillan Encyclopedia of World Slavery (1999), very good reference
  • Morgan, Kenneth. Slavery and the British Empire: From Africa to America (2008) excerpt and text search
  • Parish, Peter J. Slavery: History and Historians (1989) online edition
  • Rodriguez, Junius P., ed. The Historical Encyclopedia of World Slavery (2 vol. 1997), very good reference


United States

  • Fogel, Robert. Without Consent or Contract: The Rise and Fall of American Slavery (1989) online edition
  • Genovese, Eugene. Roll Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made (1974), the most important book, written as Genovese was moving from Marxism to conservatism
  • Miller, Randall M., and John David Smith, eds. Dictionary of Afro-American Slavery (1988), excellent reference
  • Phillips, Ulrich B. American Negro Slavery: A Survey of the Supply, Employment and Control of Negro Labor as Determined by the Plantation Regime (1918), the best older history; leftists complain it does not share their biases. free edition online


slavery.txt · Last modified: 2020/03/12 18:38 (external edit)