“A trade founded in iniquity”

slave trade.jpgAt Balkinization, Scott Horton discusses how “Two Hundred Years Ago Today, the Global Campaign for Human Rights Achieved Its First Victory:”


“As soon as ever I had arrived thus far in my investigation of the slave trade, I confess to you sir, so enormous, so dreadful, so irremediable did its wickedness appear that my own mind was completely made up for the abolition. A trade founded in iniquity, and carried on as this was, must be abolished, let the policy be what it might, – let the consequences be what they would, I from this time determined that I would never rest till I had effected its abolition.”

– William Wilberforce, speech before the House of Commons, May 12, 1789, Hansard vol. 28, col. 68

Today the cause of universal human rights celebrates an important anniversary. On this day two hundred years ago, the Parliament at Westminster voted an act for the abolition of the slave trade. A few decades later, Parliament also voted the manumission of slaves throughout the British Empire. By that time, in the 1830’s, the trafficking in slaves was viewed as a jus cogens crime by legal scholars around the world and the global movement to abolish slavery altogether was well launched.

Scott says much and says it well. Go read his post for the history, the nature of the arguments put forth, their relationships to today, and the biographic information about Wilberforce.

I’m left then, with few things to add, and so I’ll say them briefly.

Advances in human freedom are cause for celebration.

There were strong economic arguments for the institution of slavery, but sometimes you have to do the right thing, even if it costs.

Painting from American University Slave Trade case studies

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