- Uprising aboard© UNESCO
The first fighters for the abolition of slavery were the captives and slaves themselves, who adopted various methods of resistance throughout their enslavement, from their capture in Africa to their sale and exploitation on plantations in the Americas and the Caribbean. Rebellion and suicide were often used as main forms of resistance.
The American colonies were frequently disrupted by slave revolts, or the threat of revolt. The administrators of the British and French colonies in the 1730’s observed that a “wind of freedom” was blowing in the Caribbean, thereby indicating the existence of a veritable resistance to slavery. This was to materialize some 50 years later with the slave rebellion in Santo-Domingo.
As early as the late seventeenth century, individuals, as well as the various abolitionist societies that had been established, began condemning slavery and the slave trade. This impetus essentially originated from the English-speaking countries. Up until the end of the nineteenth century British, French and North American abolitionists devised a set of moral, religious and occasionally economic arguments as a means of combating the slave trade and slavery (PDF).
An irreversible process The destruction of the slavery system began in the French colony of Santo Domingo towards the end of the eighteenth century. This long-running process (PDF) lasted until 1886 in Cuba and 1888 in Brazil. The slave rebellion on Santo Domingo in August 1791 profoundly weakened the Caribbean colonial system, sparking a general insurrection that lead to the abolition of slavery and the independence of the island. It marked the beginning of a triple process of destruction of the slavery system, the slave trade and colonialism.
Two outstanding decrees for abolition were produced during the nineteenth century: the Abolition Bill passed by the British Parliament in August 1833 and the French decree signed by the Provisional Government in April 1848. In the United States, the Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, extended the abolition of slavery to the whole Union in the wake of the Civil War in 1865. The abolition of slavery – which at the time concerned approximately 4 million people – became the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.