Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death! - Patrick Henry
No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck. - Frederick Douglas
Is one man superior to another in terms of freedom? Are there some for whom freedom is a birthright, while others are meant to be enslaved? Along with great advancements in knowledge and self-development, man created and followed the cruel and punishing practice of slavery. Enslaving human beings to do their masters bidding at all times, without pay or privileges and subject to every whim and fancy of their owners, was first seen in the population of colonized or captured territories such as Africa, South America and parts of Asia.
Timeline of the Abolition of Slavery
The first anti-slavery tract is written by John Woolman, a Quaker from New Jersey.
The Quakers of England hold their annual meeting and for the first time, denounce England's role in the Slave Trade.
Granville Sharp becomes a prominent lawman for slaves in court. The Quakers of England and America exchange letters, and England's Quakers are urged to start the fight against slavery. Letters, essays and other forms of inspirational messages are released amongst the public. An example is Thomas Clarkson's "Is it lawful to make slaves of others against their wills?" essay.
The Strong Case establishes that slaves from the Americas and other colonies would remain slaves in England only if they have signed a contract agreeing to leave the country and be a slave. Else their master has no rights over them.
The Somersett Case takes place, ruling in favor of abducted slave James Somersett and setting him free. With this case, English law sets a stand that slavery is illegal in England.
Ignatius Sancho, "the extraordinary Negro" votes in England's parliamentary elections. He is of African origin and becomes a symbol of inspiration for the abolition movement. The same year, Scottish law officially states that slavery is not a recognized practice.
The Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage is formed. It is the first formal abolitionist group that is American in nationality.
Sir Cecil Wray submits a petition to the English parliament to recognize the unfairness of slavery and asks or its abolishment. On the other side of the Atlantic, the American states of Massachusetts and New Hampshire begin to free slaves. Connecticut and Rhode Island follow suit in a year.
William Wilberforce, the MP of Hull, joins the abolitionists and over a period of time becomes the most influential leader of England's movement against slavery.
Using his parliamentary seat, Wilberforce brings up the issue of slavery in Parliament and urges to change English law for its pro-slavery attitude.
An anti-slavery supporter, Lord Grenville becomes the Prime Minister of England in 1806. One year later, he introduces the Slave Trade Abolition Bill and a month later, the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act is passed. Carrying slaves on ships from colonies, selling and buying of slaves is banned by law. This act is passed after nearly 200 years since the first ship carrying slaves from Africa arrived in America.
America abolishes trading of slaves. Like England, owning and controlling slaves is still legal. England ends its slave trade and urges other European nations to follow through.
England starts negotiations with Portugal to end the slave trade.
At the Congress of Vienna, England urges Spain, France and the Netherlands to stop slave trading.
In a step to counter illegal trading, Wilberforce introduces and passes a Slave Registration Act, according to which, slave owners must create a bi-yearly account of the slaves they own. The central registry is set up in London.
France and Netherlands abolish slave trade from its shores.
Mexico abolishes slavery.
Greece abolishes slavery.
Uruguay declares abolition of slavery.
The Slavery Abolition Act is passed, banning slavery in totality in any British state or colony. This act wipes out the last dregs and traces of slavery as a practice. But, slaves are not freed immediately, they have to remain apprentices for six years under their masters. Five years later, even this system is abolished, and slaves gain complete freedom.
The nations of France and Denmark ban trading and owning of slaves. Holland, Spain, and Argentina follow suit in 1853, 1863 and 1870 respectively.
The Emancipation Proclamation is passed, freeing slaves who live in the Confederate states in America.
The Thirteenth Amendment is added to the U.S. Constitution which legitimately bans slavery and bonded or forced labor throughout the American nation.
Cuba puts a complete ban on slavery.
Brazil bans slavery.
China declares that effective 31st January, 1910, slavery will be abolished.
Siam (modern-day Thailand) abolishes slavery.
Afghanistan abolishes slavery. Iraq follows suit a year later.
Iran abolishes slavery.
Saudi Arabia and Yemen abolish slavery.
Oman abolishes slavery.
Mauritania abolishes slavery, but as per the US State Department 2010 Human Rights Report, slavery is still rampant in the country and "Government efforts were not sufficient to enforce the antislavery law. No cases have been successfully prosecuted under the antislavery law despite the fact that de facto slavery exists in Mauritania." A story by news agency CNN called Mauritania as 'Slavery's Last Stronghold.
Starting from the Quakers, there have been many spirited individuals who contributed in the fight against slavery. They felt it was wrong and evil to enslave fellow humans, and ignored the tide of opposition to remain steadfast to their belief that slavery should end. Numerous figures and unsung heroes of the abolitionist movement are forgotten in the pages of history but their message remains eternal - do not hesitate to stand up against oppression and cruelty.