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Post Abolition and Emancipation are Not the Same Thing
Created by John Eipper on 04/26/17 8:49 AM

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Abolition and Emancipation are Not the Same Thing (David Pike, -France, 04/26/17 8:49 am)

These days it is rare for me to post on WAIS, but I returned to Paris yesterday from Madrid, and later this spring I may write to say that my life has taken a most auspicious turn. (And it is not another book contract!)

So I can seize the leading post of the morning, that of Leo Goldberger (April 26) on Denmark and slavery, and re-enter a topic that was important for me at Stanford. I studied it under Sir Harold Mitchell, Bart. who was one of Bolivar House's four Lecturers. (Two others were James Taylor and Burnett Bolloten, but I forget the name of the third. Letzinger?). Sir Harold was the leading authority at the time on the Caribbean, and some WAISers must have known him. He had estates in Jamaica and Brazil and other places, where he offered careers to some of us students, but it was to his Chateau de Bourdigny near Geneva that he invited me to spend the summer of 1962 as his research assistant on Europe in the Caribbean.

So now to the point. Leo writes of Denmark's decision "to abolish the slave trade as early as the 1840s." "Abolition" is a technical term. Putting an end to European slavery required two separate champions, for two separate stages. "Abolition" was the term for ending the slave trade, and that was the life's work of Granville Sharp. "Emancipation" meant the end of slavery as such, and that consumed the life of Wilberforce. Abolition was introduced into the British Empire in 1807, and all the European empires followed in the same decade. Abolition was carried out with energy, but it was held back until the United States agreed to join in 1842 (check date). As for Emancipation, after 1848 there were only three states in the Western world still in the slavery business: Brazil, Spain in Cuba, and the US.

JE comments: This distinction warrants further discussion. In the US, abolition and emancipation are used interchangeably.  As schoolchildren we learned to conflate: "President Lincoln abolished slavery with the Emancipation Proclamation."  My understanding is that the US abolished the importation of enslaved people at virtually the same time (1808) as the UK.  This date is largely forgotten in history, as the Emancipation Proclamation overshadowed it on January 1st, 1863.  Even that measure outlawed slavery only for the states in rebellion.  Border states Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware would wait until the 13th Amendment in 1865.

If you're a WAISer or a friend of WAIS, thank Sir Harold Mitchell.  His $5000 donation in the 1960s formed the seed money for our endowment. 

So thank you, Sir Harold!  And please, David--give us a hint of your auspicious news!  I have auspicious suspicions, but I'll keep mum.


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  • Abolition vs Emancipation; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 05/01/17 7:34 AM)

    Gary Moore writes:



    In response to David Pike (April 26th), John E is right that in the US, abolitionism and emancipation
    were synonymous.  All those Antebellum slave owners
    weren't hollering about "emancipationists," and the trade
    itself had long since been outlawed. And yes to Timothy
    Ashby on how the slave trade was not "the systematic and
    intentional destruction of a people"--but it was a parasitic depredation
    on many different peoples.


    JE comments:  I'm going to stick (stubbornly) to viewing slavery as a "systematic destruction."  Can't "destruction" be defined in ways other than liquidation?


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