Wild Wild West


The theories of Free Trade, Scientific Racism, Social Darwinism and Eugenics that were produced in Britain, served well the Anglo-American colonial elites who engaged in slave trade and plantation economy. Millions of African men, women and children were shipped from West Africa in appalling conditions to the Caribbean and North America where they toiled in scorching heat at the cotton, sugar or tobacco plantations, experiencing physical and sexual abuse at the hands of their British and American masters. By the mid eighteen century there was a growing pressure from the Anglo-American clergymen and Christian missionaries to abolish slavery. In 1772, Granville Sharp, a civil servant and son of a clergymen, secured a ruling by Lord Chief Justice William Mansfield who concluded that slave owners could not legally force slaves to return to the colonies once they were in Britain. This was regarded by many as effectively abolishing slavery within Britain. Concurrently, in Britain and in the United States, the Christian groups, particularly the Quakers, spoke against slavery in the colonies. In 1783, they presented British Parliament with petition against the slave trade but many British MPs were slave owners and vigorously opposed the motion. Thus, in 1787, an Anglican priest, Thomas Clarkson, set up, together with Granville Sharp and a group of Quakers, Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade to campaign to change the law. Clarkson travelled around England, promoting the cause and gathering evidence such as instruments of slavery and testimonies to produce a research. He also promoted the sale of memoirs of a former slaves, such as The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or Gustavus Vassa, The African, which became a sensation on publication in 1789 and fuelled a growing anti-slavery movement in Britain, Europe and America.143 In the 1780s, the English parliamentarian, William Wilberforce, came into contact with Thomas Clarkson and other abolitionists and decided to lobby for the change of law in the British Parliament. The outbreak of the French Revolution and subsequent war with France effectively delayed the debate for many years. Yet the revolts on the slave plantations were endemic. The rebellion led by a Toussaint L'Ouverture, a member of the masonic lodge,144 in the French colony of Saint-Dominigue started in 1791 and culminated in the elimination of slavery and the establishment of the Republic of Haiti in 1804, the first Republican state in the “New World”, to be run by the people of African descent. In 1807, by the Act of British Par - liament colonial slave trade was finally banned yet the slave trade continued. In 1816, there was a rebellion in Barbados and in 1823 in Demerara (today’s Guyana). Shortly after Christmas in 1831, a rebellion broke out in Jamaica where some 60,000 enslaved people went on strike, burning the sugar cane in the fields and using their tools to smash up sugar mills.

Pressurised by the rebellions in the colonies and abolitionist lobby at home, the British Parliament banned slavery in the British colonies in 1833, freeing about 800,000 Africans. However, the merchant elites of the City of London were determined to ensure they preserve their wealth by all means, as long as practically possible. Thus, the British Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 specifically excluded the Territories in the Possession of the East India Company, or the Island of Ceylon, or the Island of Saint Helena, and contained provision that former slaves were to provide 45 hours of unpaid labour each week for their former masters for a further four years after their supposed liberation. Furthermore, the act contained provision for the financial compensation of the owners of those slaves by the British taxpayers. The slave compensation package was £20 million which represented 40% of the total government expenditure for 1834 and was the largest bailout in British history until the bailout of the banks in 2009.145 The money was borrowed from Nathan Mayer Rothschild and his brother-in-law Moses Montefiore who were paid off from the public taxes. The last payment was made in 2015.146 The men who received highest compensation were those who owned slave plantation in West Indies including John Gladstone, the father of future Prime Minister William Gladstone. Anglican Church was also generously compensated for the loss of slaves it owned on Codrington plantations in Barbados.147 Other slave-owning states, including France, Denmark, the Netherlands and Brazil, would follow the British example of compensated emancipation in the coming decades. But the compensation that Britain paid to its slave owners was by far the most generous. Britain stood out among European states in its willingness to appease slave owners and to burden future generations with the responsibility of paying for it.148 149

In the United States, Thomas Jefferson, Freemason, slave owner and third President of the United States, signed into law an act which criminalized the slave trade but did not abolish slavery on American soil. Furthermore, the American settlers kept raiding Indian land, forcing native American communities often through bribery, threat or deception, to sign treaties and cede land. After President Jefferson made a landmark purchase of Louisiana in 1803 from Napoleon Bonaparte he sent a group of men, Corps of Discovery, to survey the land and establish U.S. sovereignty over the native peoples along the Missouri river. He proposed to the Congress that Indians should be encouraged to trade with whites, to incur debts, and then pay off these debts with tracts of land. “Two measures are deemed expedient.”, said Thomas Jefferson, “First to encourage them to abandon hunting...Secondly, To Multiple trading houses among them....leading them to agriculture, to manufactures... civilization...”150 The new American elites planned to expand beyond the boundaries set up in the treaty of Paris in 1783, that is beyond the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes. In September 1809, William Henry Harrison, governor of the Indiana territory negotiated a treaty in which a delegation of Native Americans in the Wabash River area ceded 2.5 to 3 million acres of land in what is present-day Indiana and Illinois to the U.S. government. Ohio born Indian chief, warrior and orator Tecumseh and his brother, Tenskwatawa, denounced the treaty and began recruiting members to form pan-Native American alliance.151 In one of their confrontations, Tecumseh told Harrison: “Sell a country! Why not sell the air, the great sea, as well as the earth? Did not the Great Spirit make them all for the use of his children?”152

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143 Olaudath Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudath Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African (1794) »

144 Madison Smartt Bell, Toussaint L'Ouverture: A Biography (New York: Pantheon, 2007;Vintage Books, 2008), p. 63 »

145 David Olusoga, “The history of British slave ownership has been buried: now its scale can be revealed”, The Guardian, 12 July 2015 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/12/british-history-slavery-buried-scale-revealed »

146 “When will Britain face up to its crimes against humanity”, The Guardian, 29 March 2018 https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/29/slavery-abolition-compensation-when-will-britain-face-up-to-itscrimes-against-humanity »

147 Stephen Bates, “Church apologises for benefiting from slave trade”, The Guardian, 9 February 2009 https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2006/feb/09/religion.world »

148 “When will Britain face up to its crimes against humanity”, The Guardian, 29 March 2018 https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/29/slavery-abolition-compensation-when-will-britain-face-up-to-itscrimes-against-humanity »

149 Further reading: Michael Jordan, The Great Abolition Sham. The True Story of the End of the British Slave Trade (The History Press, 2010); or Adam Hochshild, Bury the Chains (Pan, Reprints edition, 2012) »

150 Zinn, A People's History of the United States, p. 126 »

151 Andrew Cayton, Frontier Indiana (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996), p. 216-217 »

152 Frederick Turner, Poetry and Oratory. The portable North American Indian Reader (Penguin Books, 1973), pp. 245-246 »