32 Pages Posted: 28 Jul 2008
Date Written: June 20, 2008
The recent focus on the Slave Trade Abolition Bill as a key step towards the eventual total abolition of slavery can obscure the extent to which slavery was not brought about by international law alone. Although the Bill had a significant impact, it was decades before its domestic practice was entirely eradicated. This paper seeks to argue how the abolition of slavery can only be fully understood by incorporating an analysis of the role that the slaves themselves played in their emancipation. It distinguishes between different types of struggle which slaves became involved in, with a particular emphasis on the interplay of those struggles with the Law. Religious reformism, the Enlightenment and liberalism all created a potential to challenge slavery, but the routes taken by slaves were varied, including rebellion (which operates outside the law), and legalist challenges to the law (whose ambition was limited to reform). The paper suggests and analyzes a third way to challenge slavery which it describes as "resistance". Slave societies were under the influence of many contradictory intellectual influences. Among them were ideas of "resistance to oppression" which had been successfully used in the decolonizing struggles, and which were heard by some slaves as having profoundly emancipatory potential. Resistance is a means of struggle that is both against, within and for the Law, and which foreshadows theories of civil disobedience. The paper suggests that the struggle of slaves for their own emancipation can help us better imagine an international law made real "from below", rather than simply dictated by the international community "from above".
Notes: Downloadable document is in French.
Keywords: esclavage, slavery, international law, 1807, droit international, resistance, oppression, colonies, abolition, lumieres, liberalisme, liberalism, Enlightenment, rebellion, desobeissance civile, civil disobedience
JEL Classification: K1, K10, K19, K33, K42
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation
Megret, Frederic, Commemorating the Bicentenary of the Abolition of 1807: Revolt, Opposition and Resistance to Slavery by Slaves Themselves (A l'occasion du Bicentenaire de l'abolition de 1807: revolte, contestation et resistance a l'esclavage par les esclaves eux-memes) (June 20, 2008). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1148814 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1148814