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Napoleon and Slavery

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  • Napoleon and Slavery

    Revolutionary France was split between abolitionists and pro slavery factions. However the growing success of a slave revolution on Saint-Domingue and the threat that this would spread violence throughout French possessions in the West Indies forced the National Assembly to come down on the side of abolition and in 1794 slavery was abolished in all French colonies. However large numbers of West Indians of African descent continued to work on the plantations in conditions not too far removed from slave times.
    In May 1802 Napoleon reintroduced slavery and slave trafficking and the latter continued until 1817 when Louis XVIII abolished it However the institution of slavery continued until 1845. The reintroduction of slavery saw various risings against it which were savagely suppressed.

    A bit of Napoleonic history that seems to slip under the radar.
    Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
    Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

  • #2
    Not to anyone familiar with the period. What is overlooked, however, is that the British did not abolish slavery in the West Indies until The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833. The British then changed to a system of apprenticeship to their former owners in exchange for provisions. This system was subsequently abolished in 1838.

    It should also be noted that Toussaint l'Ouveture employed a similar system to slavery under his 'benign' rule, so the situation of the former slaves didn't really improve. Different name, same result.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Massena View Post
      Not to anyone familiar with the period. What is overlooked, however, is that the British did not abolish slavery in the West Indies until The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833. The British then changed to a system of apprenticeship to their former owners in exchange for provisions. This system was subsequently abolished in 1838.

      It should also be noted that Toussaint l'Ouveture employed a similar system to slavery under his 'benign' rule, so the situation of the former slaves didn't really improve. Different name, same result.
      But in neither case did they re introduce slavery that had been abolished
      Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
      Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

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      • #4
        Originally posted by MarkV View Post

        But in neither case did they re introduce slavery that had been abolished
        With Toussaint, it was merely slavery by another name. And Haiti is still a mess.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Massena View Post

          With Toussaint, it was merely slavery by another name. And Haiti is still a mess.
          Yes lots of places have disguised slavery and I have posted in other threads on this subject but despite your blind adoration of Napoleon you have to admit that nobody else formally reinstated the slave trade after it had been abolished.
          Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
          Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

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          • #6
            Originally posted by MarkV View Post

            Yes lots of places have disguised slavery and I have posted in other threads on this subject but despite your blind adoration of Napoleon you have to admit that nobody else formally reinstated the slave trade after it had been abolished.
            Please don't use the term 'blind adoration' regarding any historical subject towards me. It is very inaccurate and usually you post excellent material. But the false accusation here is just rubbish.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by MarkV View Post

              But in neither case did they re introduce slavery that had been abolished
              Except for Sainte Domingue – since the slaves had liberated themselves – the abolition was a dead letter when promulgated. The revolutionary government had zero ability to enforce it on Guedaloupe and Martinique. The local powers-that-be in these slave societies didn't just ignore Paris, but actively initiated negotiations with the British about jumping ship to the British crown – in return for the British confirming slavery on their islands.

              What's clear is that Napoleon was a pragmatist, and certainly not a principles abolitionist. The abolition of slavery was rescinded on Guedaloupe and Martinique because it had never been implemented in the first place, and as the only cost-effective way of making sure of not losing them to Britain.

              One can rightly question the judgement-call, the timing in particular of that move (another example of Fouché's chestnut of "worse than a crime, a mistake"). The optics of the situation where exceptionally bad on Sainte Domingue. For all proclamations by the commander of the French military expedition to try to subdue the island, and Napoloen, that slavery would not be re-introduced, the Sainte Domingians wasn't going to put much store by that.

              The problem really is that the world wasn't safe for the abolition of slavery yet. The British had no problem screwing the principle of it all if if it might discomfit France.

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              • #8
                It is funny how Statues of Napoleon are not being removed along with anything associated with slavery in the U.S. their is a marble relief of the megalomaniac in the house chambers.

                If the stars and bars are offensive surely a person who so brutally reinstated slavery is doubly offensive.
                We hunt the hunters

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                • #9
                  Don't know much about Napoleon, now do you?

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by MarkV View Post
                    In May 1802 Napoleon reintroduced slavery and slave trafficking and the latter continued until 1817 when Louis XVIII abolished it However the institution of slavery continued until 1845. The reintroduction of slavery saw various risings against it which were savagely suppressed.

                    A bit of Napoleonic history that seems to slip under the radar.
                    It hasn't slipped under the radar. I don't see Napoleon as a 21st century person, but a person of his time...worldwide there were only a few who dared to criticize slavery in the early 19th century.

                    At the height of the slave trade in the mid 1750's, between 75000 and 90000 Black slaves were transported annually to the colonies. Half of these by British ships, a quarter by French schips and the remainder by Portugueze, Dutch and Danish ships. It was a lucrative trade which few questioned...why demand from 18th century Napoleon to think differently?

                    It's like demanding a random 13th century peasant from Tosside to believe the earth is round or demand George Washington to give women the right to vote...

                    Death is nothing, but to live defeated and inglorious is to die daily.- Napoleon

                    It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.- Herman Melville

                    Aut viam inveniam aut faciam

                    BORG

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