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Slavery and coerced labor have been among the most ubiquitous of human institutions both in time - from ancient times to the present - and in place, having existed in virtually all geographic areas and societies. This volume covers the period from the independence of Haiti to modern perceptions of slavery by assembling twenty-eight original essays, each written by scholars acknowledged as leaders in their respective fields. Issues discussed include the sources of slaves, the slave trade, the social and economic functioning of slave societies, the responses of slaves to enslavement, efforts to abolish slavery continuing to the present day, the flow of contract labor and other forms of labor control in the aftermath of abolition, and the various forms of coerced labor that emerged in the twentieth century under totalitarian regimes and colonialism.
By the beginning of the second quarter of the nineteenth century, “free soil” no longer stopped at the Atlantic edge of Europe. The world's most powerful economic and naval power had launched a policy to interdict the Old World supply of slave labor. The great powers of Europe and their newly separated states had all assented, if often insincerely, to prohibiting slave trading from or to their shores. A partial network of treaties provided the basis for the seizure of slave ships and the disposition of the captives in various enclaves in Africa and the Americas.
Despite all this, antiabolitionist skeptics still appeared to have correctly assessed the limits of the project. The volume of the transatlantic slave trade between 1826 and 1850 diminished by only 5 percent. In the New World the institution appeared never to be more vibrant. By 1850, there were probably five and a half million slaves in the Americas, more than at any point in the history of the Americas. In the world of Afro-Asia, there were probably more than three times that number of slaves, not counting varieties of bound laborers in Eastern Europe and concubines, who were still more numerous in parts of the Eastern hemisphere.
In terms of tropical production, the combined impact of British abolitionism on the Atlantic slave trade, revolutionary emancipation in the French colonies, and legislated emancipation in the British colonies, altered the distribution of slave-produced cash crops in the West Indies.
In March 1844, an English traveler in Morocco presented himself to the governor of Magador. James Richardson announced that he was the agent of a “Society” for promoting “the Abolition of Slavery and the Slave Trade in Every Part of the World.” His mission was to petition the Emperor of Morocco to join all men in all parts of the world in abolishing a traffic “contrary to the rights of Men and the Laws of God.” The governor replied that Richardson's mission was “against our religion; I cannot entertain it, think of it or interfere with it in any way whatever.” The purchase and sale of slaves was authorized by the Prophet himself. If the governor were even to accept the petition, he told Richardson, the Sultan, he claimed, would order the governor's “toungue to be cut from my mouth.” Moreover, recorded the Englishman, were the Moroccan Emperor to agree with the Society and abolish the traffic in slavery throughout his dominions, all the people would rise in revolt against him and the Emperor would be the first to have his head cut off. The governor, he concluded, “politely declined to receive the petition.”
In March 1844, the governor of Magador was not alone in refusing to receive petitions requesting the abolition of the slave trade or slavery. In 1840, the U.S. House of Representatives, after years of vituperative debate, enacted a rule prohibiting that body “from receiving, much less considering, antislavery petitions.”
Exactly a century after the first great stirrings of abolition in Britain, slavery had been legally abolished by Brazil's “Golden Law.” In a broad swath of the Old World, however, stretching from the Atlantic coast of Africa through the eastern reaches of the Indian Ocean World, the institution of slavery remained both intact and robust. When the Americas were closed to enslaved Africans in the 1850s and 1860s, the institution was attaining its maximum extension within Africa. As noted in chapter 10, the World Antislavery Convention had been informed that there were 6 to 8 million slaves in India. Another contemporary writer placed the figure as high as 16 million or about one-tenth of the subcontinent's population. At that moment, India probably contained more people in servile status than any other political unit in the world.
Old World servitude was not only larger and more widespread than its New World counterpart, but more diverse as well. In India, there was a range of servile statuses, some hereditary, some temporary, that Westerners subsumed under the rubric of slavery. These bondsmen and women occupied a wide range of niches, from those analogous to New World occupations in agriculture, industry, and households to eunuchs, concubines, courtiers, and military officers, without parallels in the Americas. Slaves were still being recruited through interregional slaving and assuring the institution's survival. The employment of slave sailors probably increased during the second third of the nineteenth century.