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The Enlightenment refers to the age of reason. This was the period of time when people became more curious and aware of the surroundings where they lived, especially in the Western part of the world and Europe (Lecture’s Note One 1). Two main thrusts had led to the Enlightenment period. It was the scientific evolution, which kept people questioning of things that happened in their environment, and it was the rise of the philosophers who took these curiosities and principles in order to apply them in both political and social perspectives, which paved way to the questions of humanity (Lecture’s Note One 2).

The Enlightenment and Slavery

During the Enlightenment period, the philosophers were preoccupied with the issues of humanity and they questioned the justification of slavery. Some of the thinkers justified by stating that blackness was the punishment as the result of a curse cast on the descendants of Hum (son of Noah) and believed that black people were inferior, while others argued that it was in accordance with the biblical requirement of resource exploitation; therefore, slavery was positive and profitable (Lecture’s Note One 3). This was the case in the Caribbean where people believed that blacks were entitled to be slaves, and slave owners opted to buy adults rather than breeding the ones they had. They also believed Africans were primitive and it was justified to enslave them since it would be a waste of time and resource to leave them idle because they were lazy (Campbell, Myers, and Miller 34).


On the other hand, some thinkers felt that there was no justification and they saw slavery as an insult to the idea of the Enlightenment. Some felt that by virtue of one being a human was entitled to universal rights of dignity (Lecture’s Note One 4). The emergence of communism led by Karl Max believed in equality and shared responsibility while opposing slavery (Lecture’s Note Two 4). In another instance, Grotius argues that slavery is absurd and the imagination of a person offering himself for nothing is unthinkable since even a father cannot decide to sell his children into slavery because the two of them are two unique individuals with dignity (Rousseau 12). He further emphasizes that everyone has natural rights that cannot be separated from him; therefore, he points out that right to slavery is nonsense since the two are a contradiction (Rousseau 12).

The Ways, in which the Enlightenment Ended Slavery

The philosophers’ ways of thinking on the issues of society and humanity became the starting point of an end to slavery. Their willingness to convey information widely trickled down to those who practiced slavery and to the slaves themselves in every corner of the world. Soon, the time arrived when they became more concerned with freedom, equality, and humanity. It was after this that the slaved started to question how their world was shaped and hence, they saw the need to reconsider their status in society, which became a build up to the numerous revolts in the future (Lecture’s Note One 5). The period of the Enlightenment was characterized with revolutionary wars. Thus, according to Halpern and Dal Lago, it led to the freedom of the African slaves as Africans had been exposed to the war and they pleased their masters; moreover, some were given their freedom as a reward (90). For example in 1775, Lord Dunmore of Britain ordered that all the slaves who participated in the British army be freed (Halpern and Dal Lago 90). In 1779, Sir. Henry Clinton further proclaimed the freedom of all slaves and as a result, they were to be absorbed into the army (Halpern and Dal Lago 90). Many of them were not absorbed, but they took this opportunity to free themselves from their masters.

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Most European countries began to seek other means of production other than slaves since the free market economists like Adam Smith’s believed that freed people would be more productive than when they were slaves, which this paved way for the liberation (Lecture’s Note Two 2). Therefore, by 1772, there were no slaves in the United Kingdom and France in the preparation of liberation, which they feared it would adversely affect their economic production.

In other instances, the mainstreaming of the Enlightenment in religion played a part in the abolition of slavery as it offered an avenue, in which people could converge collectively and condemn it on the moral grounds (Lecture’s Note Two 4). This is well narrated in “Turner’s Confession”, where Nat Turner confesses of the religious uprising of August 1831 he led in Virginia (2). He talks of the vision given to him by God to deliver his fellow blacks from slavery and through the revolt. They murdered many whites with the sole purpose of liberation. There were also others who were strongly against slavery used their efforts to get those affected to their freedom. Thus, Harriet Jacobs narrates about her travel northward where the white captain of the vessel is kind and he acknowledges that his late brother carried out the slave trade (239). Nevertheless, even though he felt ashamed even to mention that, he himself ferried these passengers to their masters.

At the same time, the world experienced the rise of socialism and communism spearheaded by the likes of Karl Max. It was against slavery and instead advocated equality and shared responsibilities (Lecture’s Note Two 4). Socialists were ethically antislavery, which also led to the widespread abolition of slavery. This was especially evident in Britain and France, and Britain was a state free of slavery by 1846 while France managed to be slave free in 1830 (Lecture Note Two 4).

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The Ways, in which the Enlightenment Failed

The failure of the Enlightenment came about as the result of the people of goodwill who believed enslaving was unjust but who could not gather the courage to call for its abolition. For example, Guillame Raynal was convinced that slavery was unjustified but he could not advocate its abolition because he considered the blacks primitive and they could not be able to know what to do with the freedom (Lecture’s Note One 5). In other instance, Thomas Jefferson believed that slavery was wrong on moral grounds but due to his prejudice, he termed blacks as lazy and inferior, so he still could not let go of his slaves (Halpern and Dal Lago 88; 92). In addition, Fredrick Douglass showed how the Christians in Baltimore were against slavery, but their fear could not allow them to stand up against their fellow whites (98). Furthermore, it was clear that the philosophers only initiated the idea but they did not aggressively endorse it, as they did not want to be involved in political matters (Lecture Note One 5).

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Conclusion

Conclusively, the Enlightenment was a crucial part of slave trade abolition. It is visible through the ideas of the philosophers and their willingness to dissemination this information. With the new reawakening, those who were enslaved began to reconsider their place in society and they collectively rose above their fears in order to fight for their freedom, which led to widespread revolts. Finally, the Europeans had to give in and abolish slavery.