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Most religions generally considered that slaves be well treated and that, if possible, manumission into freedom was desirable. This did not mean, however, that the existence of the slave system was placed under attack. The first major attack on slavery as a system originated in England in the late eighteenth century, and this attack spread to other western European nations

Volume of transatlantic slave arrivals by region of arrival, 1519–1867

Region Numbers (in thousands) Percentage
British Mainland North America 361.1 3.8%
British Leewards 304.9 3.2%
British Windwards and Trinidad 362.0 3.8%
Jamaica 1077.1 11.2%
Barbados 494.2 5.1%
French Windwards 305.2 3.2%
St. Domingue 787.4 8.2%
Spanish American Mainland 430.3 4.5%
Spanish Caribbean 791.9 8.2%
Dutch Caribbean 129.7 1.4%
Brazil 3902.0 40.6%
Guianas 403.7 4.2%
Other Americas 118.7 1.2%
Africa 130.8 1.4%
All Regions 9599.0 100.0%
SOURCE: David Eltis, et al, eds. Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database

and to the United States in the nineteenth century. Although the attack was aimed at slavery on moral or economic grounds, most nations ended the foreign slave trade about a quarter-century before slaves were freed. Western European nations ended slavery in their American possessions at about the same time European nations ended serfdom, often with similar arguments about the nature and morality of coerced labor. In the cases of both slavery and serfdom, compensation was generally paid to slave owners and landowners in cash, bonds, or compelled labor time, with no compensation paid to the freed labor, reflecting the belief in the property rights of owners of labor, not the right of individuals to own themselves.

The antislavery argument stressed the immorality and the economic inefficiency of the slave system and argued that a devastating psychological impact resulted from the status of being a slave. Two arguments for this psychological effect dominated the slavery debates. To some, given the then-racial basis of slavery, it was due to the genetic basis of the African population. To most antislavery advocates, the destructive impact was due to the slave status and reflected environmental factors that would influence anyone, of any race, who had been enslaved. This distinction was not only important in the arguments about slavery but also was central to debates about whether emancipation should be immediate or gradual. Hence emancipation schemes that allowed for periods of apprenticeship were advocated not only because they helped masters obtain a financial return but also because such apprenticeship could serve to provide a necessary education to the freed people to deal with their freedom.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Semiotics to SmeltingSlavery - Abolition, Modern Slavery In The Americas, Bibliography