- Slave Trade Act 1807
The Slave Trade Act (citation "47 Geo III Sess. 1 c. 36") was an
Act of Parliamentof the Parliament of the United Kingdompassed on 25 March, 1807, with the long title "An Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade". The original act is in the Parliamentary Archives. The act abolished the slave tradein the British Empire, but not slaveryitself; that had to wait for the Slavery Abolition Act 1833. The British trade in slaves began in 1562, during the reign of Elizabeth I, when John Hawkinsled the first slaving expedition.
Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, which led the campaign that pushed the act through, was a group of Evangelical Protestants allied with Quakersand united in their opposition to slavery and the slave trade. The Quakers had long viewed slavery as immoral, a blight upon humanity. By 1807the abolitionistgroups had a very sizable faction of like-minded members in the United Kingdom Parliament. They controlled at their height 35-40 seats.
Known as the "saints", this alliance was led by
William Wilberforce, the most important of the anti-slavetrade campaigners. [ [http://www.brycchancarey.com/abolition/wilberforce.htm William Wilberforce (1759-1833)] ] These parliamentarians had access to the legal draughtsmanship of James Stephen, Wilberforce's brother-in-law, and were extremely dedicated. They often saw their personal battle against slavery as a divinely ordained crusade. In addition, many who were formerly neutral on the slavery question were swayed to the abolitionist side from security concerns after the successful slave revoltleading to the Haitian Revolutionin 1804.
Their numbers were magnified by the precarious position of the government under Lord Grenville (his short term as Prime Minister was known as
Ministry of All the Talents). Grenville himself led the fight to pass the Bill in the House of Lords, while in the Commons the Bill was led by the Foreign Secretary, Charles James Fox, who died before it was finally signed into law. Not long after the act was passed, Grenville's government lost power to the Duke of Portland. Despite this change, the later British governments continued to support the policy of ending the slave trade.
After the British ended their own slave trade, they pressed other nations to do the same. This reflected both a moral sense that the trade should be stopped everywhere and fear the British colonies would become uncompetitive. The British campaign against the slave trade by other nations was an unprecedented
foreign policyeffort. The United Statesabolished its African slave tradeat the same time, though it did not attempt to abolish slavery in America.
Both the British and American laws were enacted in March 1807, the British law coming into force on
May 1, 1807and the American on January 1, 1808. Small trading nations that did not have a great deal to give up, such as Sweden, quickly followed suit, as did the Dutch, also by then a minor player. The Royal Navydeclared that ships transporting slaves were the same as pirates, and so ships carrying slaves were subject to destruction and any men captured were potentially subject to execution. Enforcement of the US law was less effective, and the US government refused to comply with joint enforcement, partly because of concern over British press gangs.
Between 1808 and 1860, the
West Africa Squadronseized approximately 1,600 slave ships and freed 150,000 Africans who were aboard. [ [http://www.bbc.co.uk/devon/content/articles/2007/03/20/abolition_navy_feature.shtml Sailing against slavery. By Jo Loosemore] BBC] Action was also taken against African leaders who refused to agree to British treaties to outlaw the trade, for example against "the usurping King of Lagos", deposed in 1851. Anti-slavery treaties were signed with over 50 African rulers. [ [http://www.pdavis.nl/Background.htm#WAS The West African Squadron and slave trade] ]
In the 1860s,
David Livingstone's reports of atrocities within the Arab slave tradein Africa stirred up the interest of the British public, reviving the flagging abolitionist movement. The Royal Navy throughout the 1870s attempted to suppress "this abominable Eastern trade", at Zanzibarin particular. In 1890 Britain handed control of the strategically important island of Heligolandin the North Sea to Germany in return for control of Zanzibar to help enforce the ban on slave trading. [ [http://www.britannica.com/blackhistory/article-24160 Welcome to Encyclopædia Britannica's Guide to Black History] ] [ [http://www.pilotguides.com/destination_guide/africa/tanzania_and_zanzibar/slave_trade.php The Blood of a Nation of Slaves in Stone Town] ]
* [http://www.pdavis.nl/Legis_06.htm Text of Act]
* [http://www.parliament.uk/slavetrade Parliamentary Archives Image of the 1807 Act]
* [http://www.parliament.uk/archives The Parliamentary Archives Holds the Original of this Historic Record]
* [http://www.parliament.uk/slavetrade Anti-Slave Trade Petition of 1806 Supporting the Act of Abolition]
* [http://www.blackhistory4schools.com/slavetrade/ Teaching Resources about Slavery and Abolition]
* [http://www.hidden-histories.org.uk/projects/road-freedom-documentary Road to Freedom documentary - Eastside Community Heritage]
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