The Transatlantic Slave Trade – 16-19th Century

The seal of the Society for the Abolition of Slavery in England shows an African on bended knee proffering his manacles, above the impassioned plea: ‘Am I not a man and a brother?’ It is the cri de coeur of moral repugnance: nothing so belittles Europe and the Americas as their willing involvement, for economic gain, in the enslavement of millions of Africans over three centuries, and in the continuing exploitation of their descendants.

The Portuguese and Spanish may have started the transatlantic slave traffic, but as soon as they could find the ships and a market, everyone else joined in. Slavery was not new. It is as old as mankind, and was prevalent in African tribal cultures of the 17th century. The novelty consisted in Europeans reviving that as a justification, centuries after abandoning it as morally worthless. They all had colonies to develop. Slavery was expedient, and created a triangular trade between Europe, Brazil and the Caribbean islands, and – in the hands of the French and British especially – the United States. Soon hundreds of specially built slavers, called ‘blackbirders’, were crating Africans in worse conditions than sardines direct to market in America.

More than 11 million human beings were wrenched from family and culture, and worked to death. Their inhuman treatment further brutalized their abusers, infecting American culture itself. Conscience died. Everyone (of every nationality) condoning slavery had to persuade themselves that Africans were savages beyond understanding ‘civilized’ processes: it became a subconscious credo that survived the US Civil War and legal emancipation (as late as 1888 in Brazil). Ever since, the institutionalized belief in racial superiority or inferiority has remained a powerful driving force in international relations, and a fundamental ingredient current in both military and economic wars. Even in its mildest social forms, it’s a sickening legacy of a sickening trade.

When was The Transatlantic Slave Trade: 16th to 19th century

Where was The Transatlantic Slave Trade: Principally between West Africa and the Americas – North and South, the isthmus, and the islands. The triangular trade involved all the maritime European countries, when it ended, only the profits went back to Europe.

What was The Transatlantic Slave Trade death toll: Incalculable in terms of human dignity or death. Eleven million dead to begin with, plus their children and children’s children. Tens of millions more since emancipation, still living on the beggared underside of technologically advanced societies. The argument exists that slavery is part of the human condition, not a disaster; but the disaster of slavery is twofold. It is to be found in every slave taken or born whose humanity was denied them, and in every single person who has condoned slavery or its consequences, and thereby committed moral suicide.

That’s a lot of disaster.

You should know: It is a constant source of wonder how ‘perfectly respectable’ people reconciled themselves to slavery. The Bishop of Exeter was paid £12,700 compensation for his 665 slaves after Britain’s Abolition of Slavery Act in 1833. Was he spluttering with pious indignation, do you think?

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