Why was slavery abolished in 1833? The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 was the culmination of the dedicated effort of a great many people and marked the end of slave ownership in British colonies. In order to assess and understand the relative influences on the passing of this act we can break them down into three broad categories; social, economic and political. In 1833 Britain was a country that prided itself on its forward thinking and enlightened nature. With the onset of the industrial revolution, modernisation was at the forefront of peoples minds and had made slavery seem to many, a barbaric throwback to another age.
This is due in part to an influx of people moving into the cities which increased the amount of middle class non conformists such as the Quakers or Methodists. This is very important as the Great Reform Act of 1832 meant that most of the middle classes now had the right to vote. This added a great deal of political weight to the public voice which could obviously then be used to help get slavery abolished. Another social aspect that influenced whether the slave trade was abolished was the greatly increased numbers of slaves who were converted to Christianity, but also the amount of slaves who were born Christian.
Much of this was thanks to the Methodist missionaries of the time who travelled to British colonies to spread the word of God amoung the slaves. This posed an awkward moral question to the leaders of a devoutly Christian Britain, as they could not deny that it was against their own religion to enslave a fellow Christian, thus providing another reason for the immediate abolition of slavery. Social issues amongst the slaves themselves also provided fuel for the abolition arugment. There was growing unrest among the slave population, due to the incorrect assumption among many that the 1807 Slave Trade Act would mean that they would be freed.
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This unrest had maifested itself in three major rebellions between 1807 and 1833 in Barbados, Demerara and Jamaica. Each rebellion had its own parituclar impact. For example the rebellion in Barbados set a precedent among slaves that they could and would fight for their freedom, even in a very well established British colony. As well as this, the rebellion in Demerara and the subsequent abhorrent retaliation by the white slave owners outraged many British people, no doubt made them even more sympathetic to the slaves cause and provided evidence to propogate the immorality of slavery.
Finally, the largest rebellion of the three consisting of over 60,000 slaves actually led to a feeling amongst slave owners that they were ready to accept abolition due to the fear and risk now associated with maintaining their plantations. Even more directly than this, as a result of what happened in Jamaica,parliament actively began looking for ways to end slavery which Is obviously an extremely imporant aspect of why it was indeed abolished. Along with the social issues, and in some cases closely tied in to them are the economic explanations for the abolition of slavery.
Chief among these reasons was the dawning realisation that slave produced sugar was becoming less and less economically viable. This was shown by renowned economist Adam Smith who explained to the public that due to the adoption of free trade which took away the extortianate import duties on non slave produced sugar, slave produced sugar was no longer cheaper. This meant that the plantation owners and other pro-slavery lobbyists had lost their strongest argument.
Furthermore, while this was happening British industry was rapidly moving forward and the country was no longer dependant on the sugar trade. Due to this, many of the people who had financial ties with the slave trade had a way to re-invest their money, in many cases into the lucrative trade of housebuilding in the ever expanding cities. As such many people lost their main cause for supporting slavery, or at least were no longer forced to support it for fear of losing their income. Finally, we can look at the direct political influences on the abolition of slavery.
The anti-slavery lobby which had gained such support leading up to the aboltion of the slave trade in 1807 had initially scaled down much of their activity as it was believed that the slave trade would slowly die out without the supply of new slaves being transported from Africa. However once it became clear that many slave owners were simply taking steps to ensure they maintained the levels of slaves at their disposal, by means of better healthcare and living conditions or even encouraging their slaves to ro-create, they began to re-assemble and re-organzie themselves and set about gathering more evidence to put forward to parliament. This conviniently coincided with the changing political structure at the time which as I mentioned earlier had increased the number of non conformists with the right to vote dramatically. In turn the evidence gathered in the colonies reached the sympathetic ears of people like the Methodists and Quakers, who unlike in 1807 had the right to vote.
This combined with the fact that at the time that potential members of parliament were forced to declare their stand point on slavery meant that the will of the people now had an effective way to influence the politicians who could affect a change in the law. In conclusion, it's hard to say which one factor may have had the greatest impact on slavery eventually being abolished in 1833. Certainly, you could argue that the dwindling profit potential of slave produced sugar must have been a very important factor, but would that of been enough on it's own to prompt parliament to abolish slavery?
I would argue that a combination of the modern enlightened way of thinking amongst the British people coupled with their new found political freedom was absolutely vital to the cause. It provided the voice which could not be ignored by any man in power and coupled with the testament of Adam Smith provided a seemingly irrefutable argument to parliament which gave them no choice but to pass the Slavery Abolition Act. Abolition then, was the result of not a single argument, but the new world and social values with its vastly different Social, Economic and Political influences than in times past.
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