The disintegration of the Caribbean slave systems, 1772–1886

  • Franklin W. Knight


Slavery remained such an integral aspect of Western society for so many centuries that it could not be easily nor willingly dismantled. Having been part and parcel of the expansion of Europeans into the American hemisphere, slavery remained firmly embedded in all the resultant social, political and economic systems. Throughout its history the concept of slavery had been a controversial one, yet no generalized opposition to the deplorable institution arose before the eighteenth century. In law as well as in practice, individuals and groups had sometimes expressed vehement opposition to slavery — although more often to the enslavement of their fellow citizens, rather than objection to the institution in general. The precedents for anti-slavery opinion have a long, varied and distinguished history. In the earliest known codification of Roman law made by the Emperor, Justinian I (AD 527–565), slavery, though widely practised, was acknowledged as ‘contrary to nature’. The Siete Partidas, the first important codification of Spanish laws made between 1252 and 1255 by Alfonso X, El Sabio, reflected some of the humanistic Roman tradition concerning slavery by describing the institution as ‘the vilest and most despicable thing which can exist among men’ and something ‘which men by nature abhor’.1 The quarrelsome renaissance pope, Pius II (1405–64), announced in 1462 that slavery was a ‘great misfortune’ — meaning that it was not a natural condition for mankind — and encouraged individuals to manumit their slaves.


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© UNESCO 2003

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  • Franklin W. Knight

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