Who Abolished Slavery?

2021-05-13 09:14:09
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In the writing entitled, Who Abolished Slavery? Slave Revolts and Abolitionism, Joao Pedro Marques refutes what he terms as a misinterpretation of slave abolition in two forms (Drescher & Emmer, 2010). The first is where revolts acted as a means of fighting slavery. Second, the decisions to abolish slavery systems in many Western countries occurred to a large extent because of the given revolts. Marques argument is against these predispositions because there is the lack of correlation between uprisings of slaves and emancipation acts in the West. Rather, he asserts that slaves revolted on issues of mistreatment in their places of work.

According to the analysis of Marques, slave rebellions involved over 300 slaves. A good example includes the maroon societies. With their large numbers, they concentrated on attaining freedom for themselves. That means, unlike anti-slavery movements that focused on abolishing slavery, slave revolts had nothing to do with the wider emancipation in the West. They did not express any disinterest in slavery system (David, 2001). Take the case where maroon societies enslaved other people. Also, they helped slave masters to capture fugitive slaves, coupled with aiding colonialists in fighting slave uprisings. Thus, from a generalized point of view, Marques implies that enslaved individuals expressed a dislike of their personal enslavement but not to the entire system of slavery. That makes slave revolts as events that had nothing to do with anti-slavery movements. It is because; they occurred at anytime and anywhere. It was just the dissatisfaction of slaves wherever they were. For instance, slave rebellions happened on transportation ships sometimes. They did not stop the continuation of the slave trade. Also, they did not exert any pressure to necessitate the abolition of the slavery system.

With all of the above, Marques refutes the historical suggestions of Richard Hart, Herbert Aptheker and CLR James (Drescher & Emmer, 2010). He states that such historians inculcated ideologies in the study of slave revolts. They manipulated historical facts as a way of justifying the essence of slave rebellions. That gave dignity to the enslaved individuals as opposed to examining the influences of slave rebellions in a careful manner. If they could have done so, Marques says that they could have noticed that slave uprisings did not contribute to emancipation movements.

However, Hilary Beckles and Robin Blackburn disagree with arguments of Marques (Drescher & Emmer, 2010). Beckles points out the consciousness regarding anti-slavery in the minds of enslaved individuals. Though it contributed to the resilience of slaves, it acted as a basis of encouraging rebellious characters (Halpern & Dal Lago, 2008). In such a scenario, revolts are likely to happen. That is agreeable with Blackburn, who notes historiographical amnesia as a key factor in the resistances launched by slaves. It acted as a motivation in revolts of African-born slaves in Western nations. By looking at the suggestions of Beckles and Blackburn, it is clear that they acknowledged the significance of revolts as a slavery-fighting mechanism that predisposed the need for emancipation (Rogowski, 2013).

Based on my standpoint, I am poised to agree with suggestions of Beckles and Blackburn. It is because; Marques arguments concerning the lack of connection between revolting slaves and abolitionists are problematic. Take the case where he limits his explanations of slave revolts to slave owners with more than 300 slaves. In reality, numerous major rebellions consisted of few enslaved individuals. They include uprisings that Marques mentions. For example, there is the St. Johns 1733 rebellion or the Nat Turner rebellions. Moreover, many arguments of Marques are nothing new to the historical events. They take a stance that many scholars tend to accept. Thus, Marques continues to maintain that revolts of enslaved people did not intend to counter slavery by citing an example that includes Jamaicas Tackys Revolt of 1760. However, it is recognizable that Tacky and other revolting Africans showed the willingness to enslave individuals who did not want to join their rebellion. Also, it is common knowledge that maroon societies enslaved other persons and consequently agreed with slave masters to release or return slaves. That is clear evidence that revolts focussed on freeing enslaved people from their masters in the West (David, 2001). If that is so, then slave rebellions played a significant role in the emancipation process. It is right to admit that slave revolts are the ones that abolished slavery in the West.

But, one is likely to question how slave rebellions abolished slavery when abolitionists are the people who pushed for the adoption and implementation of emancipation reforms. The answer is that without revolts, no abolition could take place. Rebellions acted as motivating factors that enabled abolitionists to realize that slavery abused human rights. Even after that realization, a high number of revolts added the need for colonialists to accept slave abolition reforms. In conclusion, even if Marques says that the interrelationship between the two stated entities leads to many questions with no answers, I think that slave rebellions are behind the need to abolish slavery. It is because, in times when rebellions did not exist, there was nothing like abolitionists.


David, P. G. (2001). The Impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World. Columbia, SC: Univ. of South Carolina Press.

Drescher, S., & Emmer, P. C. (2010). Who Abolished Slavery?: Slave Revolts and Abolitionism A Debate with Joao Pedro Marques (Vol. 8). New York, NY: Berghahn Books.

Halpern, R., & Dal Lago, E. (Eds.). (2008). Slavery and emancipation (Vol. 7). Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing.

Rogowski, R. (2013). Slavery: a dual-equilibrium model with some historical examples. Public Choice, 155(3-4), 189-209.

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