Comparison of slavery in three time periods

Comparison of slavery in three time periods


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            Slavery is a term that is used to refer to a social-economic system under which persons who are referred to as slaves are denied their personal freedom, but instead they are compelled to work.  The slaves are usually held against their will and often deprived of their rights to leave.  Instead, they are forced to work without any compensation.  Slaves can also be treated as property belonging to a person, a government, a company or a corporation.  Slavery is a social system that has existed throughout the human history.  However, different time periods have shown different ways in which slavery was practiced and why it was practiced at that particular time.  In this paper, slavery will be looked at based on three time periods.  These periods are, the Enlightenment and Revolution period (1550-1800), the Industrial Revolution period (1550-1800) and the Contemporary World period (1945 to present).

Slavery during the Enlightenment and Revolution Period

            The period of Enlightenment and Revolution in the history of man is represented by the events that occurred and happenings that were experienced between 1550 and 1800.  The system of slavery was practiced during this era, which affected the economics, politics and the social order of the society - Comparison of slavery in three time periods introduction. Slavery that was practiced during this era led to the establishment of slave trade routes, a good example being the Atlantic Trade Route (Postman, Johannes.2003).  The trade routes were very instrumental in the buying and selling of slaves by the traders.  The trade routes created more room for the growth of the slave trade, a situation that made the society then to perpetrate activities that  promote the capture and selling of slaves in the market. Growth of the trade created a society that preferred to use slaves in their work, due to the availability of slaves in the markets (Shell, Robert. 1994).

            Capitalism prospered in the presence of slavery. The society that existed then had adopted capitalism where individuals (European capitalists) owned and managed large financial resources.  The management of these huge resources involved the production of products to be sold for profits. Slavery acted as a very efficient way of cutting down the production costs (in terms of labour), since the slaves provided free labour in production-related processes. Slaves were greatly used as a source of labour in business enterprises that were aimed at maximizing financial gains.

            The slavery system was accepted as legal at some point during this period. For instance, in America, slavery for life was legal.  Slavery was not entirely based on the race. The British colonies also took Irish, Scottish, English and German whites to become indentured slaves. Even after being freed, the slaves could not manage to become prosperous.  The wealthy owned huge pieces of land, while the former servants or freed slaves could only belong to an underclass. In addition, the Europeans also were captured by the Barbary pirates, and they would be held hostage.

 However, a large percentage of the slaves were blacks, making slavery to a larger extent to be based on the race. The black slaves were owned by the white land owners, and worked to maximize agricultural production.

             The slaves were used to provide labor in the agricultural farms. Slavery then managed to penetrate the social and political body of the Western Hemisphere, where slavery was highly practiced. Slave plantations then became a central resource, which acted as a consuming and profit-generating mechanism. This resulted to the formation of a “Plantation complex”, where the slaves were used for production of sugar which was an important intercontinental trade commodity. For instance, the Plantation complex was introduced in Brazil in 1550, and later introduced in West Indies by the Dutch. By the year 1630, the complex was in English Barbados, and it resulted to spectacular sugar boom. Jamaica was turned into a slave society by the English after conquering it. Slavery also spread to France (Guadeloupe, Martinique and St.Domingue). Slavery made St.Domingue to become the most profitable colonies in history, and due to this the society saw it as a positive system in creation of wealth. It was not considered as something so evil to be done away with.

            The system of slavery then started to receive criticisms by the beginning of 1750s .For instance, during the American Revolution; slavery was seen as a social evil.  Some regions of the world   began to put in place measures that would to abolish slavery. For instance, example being   emancipation acts passed between 1780 and 1804 by the northern states…  Britain and France during this era were the most determined slave holders in Europe, where profit generation acted as a motivation to the slavery system.  Though the slave revolution brought protests where slaves turned against their white masters, slave revolts were diminished with ferocious brutality and unfailing success.

 The Industrial Revolution (1700-1900)

            The Industrial revolution resulted to growth of industries in many regions of the world.  The revolution began in England, in 1733 after the invention of a cotton mill and new inventions led to the establishment of factories.  Industrial revolution in the USA promoted slavery whereby slaves provided cheap labour in the industries or agricultural farms. Furthermore, women and children worked in the industries to provide cheap and unskilled labor at very low wages (Davis, David.1999).  Important inventions that were made during the Industrial revolution include, the Mechanized Reaper, Safe Elevator, steam boat, cotton gin and steam engine.

            Migration of people in the American society led to the practice of slavery due to the Industrial revolution. In the United States, the western expansion resulted to the settlement of Americans in huge and easily acquired pieces of land.  The demand for labor in the farms promoted the use of slaves to provide labor in the agricultural farms and plantations.  The development and growth of industries was a great motivation for the land owners to use slaves for providing labor.  The Industrial revolution increased the demand for raw cotton, which made new lands to be opened for cotton cultivation. This resulted to the landowners’ decision to increase the number of slaves in their farms and to bring new slaves in their new farms. Sugar growing plantations also used slaves (Rodriguez, Junius.2007)

            During this period, slavery continued but the slave trade began to be linked to debates of freedom and despotism in Europe.  This period promoted humanitarianism with missions to attack any form of inhumane practice (slavery included) being encouraged.  The philosophers during this period believed that their mission was meant to benefit their fellow human beings, a belief that introduced abrupt change in habits, ideas and beliefs.  The European culture underwent very far-reaching changes in its history, with an interface of two fundamental cultural movements (Enlightenment and Romanticism) being experienced.

            A large number of slaves died during the Industrial revolution.  Slave’s owners and the overseers whipped and brutalized slaves who they exposed to hard work, while providing them with inadequate and poor nutrition food.   The agricultural farms which were found in hot areas cause malarial attacks in slaves who died in large numbers. The slavery system then changed, from that of owning slaves to that of renting the slaves out.  Initially, slaves were owned but with their increasing death rates, the slavery system was changed to that of renting them out to avoid economic losses. For instance, it was considered a great loss if an owner was to lost a large number of slaves that he/she owned.

            The Revolution brought rebellion by the slaves, who were normally treated very brutally by the farm owners, a situation that made the slaves to protest.  The owners used brutal methods of punishing the slaves, either by trading their relatives for profit, punishing them, or paying them off as debts.  The slaves in turn killed the land owners, burned their barns, and staged work slow downs.  For instance, in 1804 a slave rebellion in St. Dominguez resulted to the formation of the first non-white post-colonial state (present Haiti).

            Slave trade was later banned by the British Empire from 1808, as mandated by the parliament.  Anti-slavery activist in 1848 led a revolutionary turmoil in France to encourage the abolition of slavery in the French Empire and the American civil war in 1861 led to the collapse of the southern confederation that practiced slavery (Boles, John. 1983). By 1888 slavery in the Atlantic world ended.

Slavery in the Contemporary world

            The Contemporary world has continued to practice slavery, even after many years of its abolishment in many regions and nations in the world. In our modern society, slavery lacks a legal- supporting system that allows it to be practiced (Kevin, Bales.2007).  However, slavery is done by using people to provide labour as wage slaves, contract slaves and as slaves in a traditional sense.  The contemporary slavery system differs from the slavery in the previous time periods, in that no legal law allows people to own slaves or to practice slave trade. Furthermore, those who practice it receive criticism and legal action is taken against them if prove is given that the perpetrate slavery activities. Through wage slavery, employers especially those in underdeveloped areas hire people to work though they pay them very low wages.  The employers normally violate the employee’s rights of employment because the employees cannot afford to risk their employment even if they are mistreated.  For instance, child labor is a form of wage slavery.  It may also involve the denial of access of a person to the fair share of life’s basic necessities by the employer.

            A case of modern slavery through contract slaves relates to the employer’s trick to coerce the poor and the illiterate to sign contracts that they do not understand.  The traditional system of slavery still occurs when slavery activities are done in a secretive manner, and the  victims are usually abducted ,smuggled and sold for labor in farms, in domestic households or even as unwilling prostitutes in brothels.  For instance, in the modern world, women and children in the underdeveloped countries are often abducted and then sold to foreign nations (Muhsen, Zana, and Crofts, Andrew.1994).

            In China, slavery was abolished in 1910 but the practice continues unofficially in some areas. Also, though the United States abolished slavery since 1865, enslavement of individuals as a punishment of crime seems to be permitted (Thirteenth amendment). Child sexual slavery still exists and the rate at which it is being practiced is increasing… For instance, a report by the US Department of State in 2002 indicated that over 50,000 women and children are taken to the US against their will for sexual exploitation through human trafficking (Kevin, Bales.2007).


            Slavery is a system that has been experienced in the past years, and still continues to be practiced even in the modern world. It is the responsibility of a morally right human society to stop this inhumane practice. The views that have been held in the past and even in the modern society do not justify its practice.

Works Cited

Boles, John. Black Southerners: 1619-1869 (1983) brief survey

Davis, David. The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, 1770-1823. 1999

Kevin, Bales. Ending Slavery; how we free today’s Slaves. University of California Press.2007.

Muhsen, Zane. and Crofts, Andrew. Story of Modern-day Slavery. Time Warner Books


Postman, Johannes. The Atlantic Slave Trade, (2003)

Rodriguez, Junius. ed. Slavery in the United States: A Social, Political, and Historical           Encyclopedia .2007.

 Shell, Robert. Children of Bondage: A Social History of the Slave Society at the Cape of       Good Hope, 1652-1813 .1994.


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