Slavery Abolition Act 1833 – Abolished Slavery Throughout the British Empire

Slavery Abolition Act 1833

In the year 1833, Slavery Abolition Act received Royal Assent and came into effect on 1st August 1834. Passed in the parliament of the United Kingdom, the act aimed to abolish slavery in various parts of the British Empire. The act not only expanded the jurisdiction of the Slave Trade Act,1807 but it also made the purchase or ownership of slaves illegal within the British Empire. However, this act did not hold true for the territories under the possession of the East India Company, Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka) and Saint Helena. Although, the act was cancelled in the year 1997 keeping in mind the bigger picture of rationalization of the English Statue Law, the main objective of the act is still uphold as the Anti-Slavery Legislation still remains in force.

Key highlights of the blog are:-

  • Background : How It All Started ?
  • Slavery Abolition Act 1833
  • The Aftermath Of The Slavery Abolition Act 1833
  • Repealing Of The Slavery Abolition Act 1833
  • Wrap Up

Background : How It All Started ?

There were a number of factors that led to the Slavery Abolition Act, in the year 1833.

1772 : Mansfield Case

  • Prior to the Slavery Abolition Act 1833, the abolition act began to gain momentum with Mansfield case in the year 1772.
  • This case was vital as it reached the verdict that slavery was unsupported in the English law and any slave who sets his/her foot in England or Scotland is legally free. As the news spread people began questioning that if everyone was free in England, then why the existence of bondage in colonies ?

1807 : Abolition Of Slave Trade

  • By 1787, the committee for abolishment of slave trade was being established, their number grew immensely and they managed to gain 40 seats in the parliament by allying themselves with key people such as William Wilberforce.
  • They proved to be successful as in the year 1807, the bill for abolition of Slave Trade was passed by the parliament. However, the bill helped in abolishing slave trade in general and not slavery in particular.

1823 : Formation Of Anti- Slavery Society

  • The Anti- Slavery Society was formed in the year 1823 and included eminent personalities such as William Wilberforce and Henry Brougham.
  • The society aimed at not only ending the continued suppression of the trade but also put an end to slavery.
  • In the parliament, William argued that the slaves should be freed immediately and they should be trained and educated about their freedom as well.

1831: The Baptists War

  • In the year 1831, there was a slave revolt in Jamaica which is popularly known as “The Baptists War.” Although the revolt was supposed to be peaceful, it turned violent as soon as the Baptists preachers received information that no freedom was granted to them by the British King. This sparked anger and the revolt soon turned violent.
  • The struggle started with the cops and the plantations were being burnt. However, the rebellion was soon turned down with force from the slave owing establishments which resulted in large scale deaths and executions later on.

Ineffectiveness Of Tri-Angular Trade

Amidst all this, the economy was not as much reliant on the tri-angular trade as much it was in the early 1700s. The ineffectiveness of the tri-angular trade was also played a crucial role in establishment of the Slavery Abolition Act.

Slavery Abolition Act 1833

On 26th of July 1833, three days prior to William Wilberforce’s death the act was read for the third time in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom. However, on 28th August the act received the royal assent and came into effect the next year.

  • In practical terms, only the slaves below the age of six years were freed in colonies, and the remaining slaves were re-designated as “apprentices.”
  • Apprentices would continue to serve their former owners even after abolition of slavery and the time period would be based on the class of apprentice they belonged to.
  • The apprentices were divided into three classes-

First Class –  It included the former slaves who were usually employed in agriculture, or in manufacture of colonial produce on the piece of land which belonged to their owners.

Second Class – It included the former slaves who were employed in agriculture, or in manufacture of colonial produce on the piece of land which did not belonged to their owners.

Third Class –  It included all those former slaves who were not included within either of the preceding classes.

  • The apprentices within the third class were released on 1st August 1838 while the apprentices within the first and the second class were released on 1st August 1840.
  • This act also provided compensation to the slave-owners who would be losing their property. The amount of money to be spent on compensating the claims was set as 20 million pounds sterling by the British Government.
  • However, the act did not include any provisions of payment to the former slaves and rather received food and lodging for next 4-6 years.
  • The act did not extend to any of the territories that were within the possession of The East India Company, or to the island of Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka), or to the island of Saint Helena.

The Aftermath Of The Slavery Abolition Act 1833

The Slavery Abolition Act 1833 did not clearly refer to Northern America. It’s main aim was to break the shackles of slavery that existed in large scale plantations of Britain’s topical colonies. This was certainly because the enslaved Africans in Northern America were isolated and were small in number as compared to the large scale enslaved population in Britain.

  • However, the act could only lead to partial liberation as only the children’s below the age of 6 years who were working as slaves were set free while remaining were re-designated as “apprentices” and were freed much later.
  • The British Government also raised a compensation amount of 20 million pounds sterling, to compensate the loss that the slave-owners would face. However, no amount of compensation was made to the people who were enslaved.
  • The act made Canada a free territory for the enslaved American Blacks. As a result, thousands of fugitive slaves and freed blacks landed on Canadian soil between 1834s and 1860s.

Repealing Of TheSlavery Abolition Act 1833

Although, the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 was repealed entirely in the year 1998 by the Statue Law ( Repeals) Act, slavery does not become legal again as sections of The Slave Trade Act, 1824 , The Slave Trade Act 1843 and Slave Trade Act 1873 still remain into effect. However, in its place the Human Rights Act, 1998 has been included in the Article 4 of the British Law Article, of the European Convention of Human Rights which strictly restricts the holding of persons as slaves.

Wrap Up

On the last note, all I would say is at times we take our freedom for granted. All these efforts and struggles to free people from slavery should always be remembered and kept in mind while we go on ignoring this basic and beautiful gift that we have got as a community in general and as an individual in particular.

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