European Slavery: France


Figure 1.--

France as one of the major colonial powers partipated in the African slave trade. France was involved in both the Indian Ocean and Atlantic slave trade, but the Atlantic slave trade was of far greater importance. France mainly used Africn slaves in its Caribbean colonies, especially Haiti. African slaves were used in the enormously profitable sugar indusry. France shiped an estimated 1.25 million Africans to its Caribbean colonies. Most were seized in Senegal and transported through Goree Island. The French Revolution moved against slavery (1789). It was formally abolished (1794). Napoleon revived it because of the economic importance of Caribbean sugar and his desire to restore a French empire in North America (1802). This dream was ended by miliitary disaster in Haiti and Nelson's victory at Trafalgur. France after the Napoleonic War did not cooperate with the British effort to end the slave trade. Many in France profited by the trade and saw the Royal Navy campaign s a way of weakening France. France did not abolish slavery until the liberal revlution that ended the Bourbon monarchy (1848).

Medieval Era


Atlantic Slave Trade

France as one of the major colonial powers partipated in the African slave trade. France was involved in both the Indian Ocean and Atlantic slave trade, but the Atlantic slave trade was of far greater importance. It is no entirely sure just when France first entered the slave trade. Historians believe that French merchants may have sold small quantities of Africans in the Spanish colonies beginning in the mid-16th century. The first documented French slaver was the L'Espérance out of La Rochelle (1594). France mainly used Africn slaves in its Caribbean colonies, especially Haiti. African slaves were used in the enormously profitable sugar indusry. France shiped an estimated 1.25 million Africans to its Caribbean colonies. Most were seized in Senegal and transported through Goree Island.

Caribbean Islands

France became one of the principal European colonial powers vying for control of American colonies. Nicolas de Villegagnon led a group of Norman and Breton sailors to Brazil. They attempted to found a colony near Rio De Janiero which they name La France Antarctique (1555). It was in the Caribbean, however that the French had more success. The Spanish held most of the Greater Antilles. France obtained control of the western coast of Hispsaniola from Spain which did not heavily settle. St Domingue (Haiti) becomes an enormously profitable colony because of the earnings from the sugar plantations. Frrance also colonized several smaller islands. French colonists established settlements on many other islands (Dominca, Grenada, Guadelupe, Martinique, and St. Lucia). Britain anf France with the Glorious Revolution and the accession of William and Mary embarked on a conflict that lasted on an off for more than a century. It began with a campaign to save the Dutch Republic, but was fought on a world-wide front and the Caribean was one of those fronts. The superiority of the Royal Navy made it difficult for France to hold on to its smaller island colonies. Britain gained Dominica, Grenada, and St Vincent from France as a result of the Seven Years War (1756-63). France seized seized Grenada, Tobago, and St Kitts from the British during the American Revolution (1775-83), but retained onlt Tobago in the Peace of Versailles that ended the War.

Indian Ocean


French Revolution (1789)

The French Revolution moved against slavery (1789). The retoric of the Revolution spark discontent in French and other European Caribbean colonies. Liberty was a byword of the French Revolution as it had been in the American Revolution. But like the Americans, the leaders of the French Revolution did not move toward abolition. In America any step toward abolition during the Revolution or the frameing of the Constitution would have meant disunion as it would have been unacceptable to the southern colonies. In France it appears to redlect the bouergoise character of the Revolution and the economic importance of Caribbean slavery to the French economy. While France did not move toward abolition, the Revolution did have substantial reverbreations, both in the Caribbean and in England which affected slavery. Neither the Revolutionaries or Napoleon moved yoward abolition. Neither did the restored French monarchy after the Naoleonic Wars. This in fact posed a problen for Britain which after abolishing slavery gave the Royal Navy the task of ending the Atalantic slave trade.

Hatian Slave Rebellion (1791-1804)

The French Revolution ignited a slave rebellion in St Domingue, the most important of the French Caribbean colonies. (1791). Toussaint L’Ouverture forms an army of ex-slaves. on Haiti The French Republic formally abolished slavery and frees all slaves throughout the Empire (1794). The revolution eventually leads to St Domingue becoming independent Republic of Haiti, the first independent black state outside Africa. (1804).

Napoleon's American Dream (1802-03)

Napoleon revived slavery (1802). Napoleon also reinstituted the "Code noir" which prohibited Africans, mulattoes, and other people of color from both entering French colonial territory and intermarrying with whites. Napoleon saw slavery as necessary because of the economic importance of Caribbean sugar and his desire to restore a French empire in North America (1802). Napoleon's military campaign was enomously expensive, The potential earnings of the Haitian sugar plantations were a powerful lure. Napoleon obtained Louisana from Spain. He dispatched a large army to first subdue the Haitians and then occupy Louuisiana. General Antoine Richepance was given the responsibility of reinstituting slavery. Thousands of blacks were killed in Guadeloupe alone when the former slaves resisted. Haiti proved even more difficult. Napoleon dispatched a massive 82,000 man army to the Caribbean commanded by his brother-in-law--Leclerc. Leclerc captured Toussaint L’Ouverture through a ruse (1802). He is taken in chains to France and dies in a prison (1803). This did not end Haitian resistance. Napoleon's dream was ended by miliitary disaster in Haiti . The French Army not only failed to subdue the Haitians, but was also decimated by disease. Napoleon decided to sell Louisiana to the Americans (1803). Nelson's victory at Trafalgur (1805) made any hope of reviving the French North American Empire impossible.

Congress of Vienna (1815)

The Congress of Vienna confirms British control of St. Lucia, Tobago and the Guiana colonies (Guyana). The European power as part of restoring the Ancien Regime desire to restore Spanish colonial control of its Ameican empire. The British balk as they benefitted commercially from the end of Spanish trade restrictions. The major powers are unable to prevail here because of the Royal Navy. The British prevail on France, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain to abolish slave trade, but with only limited success.

Campaign to End the Slave Trade

The British launched a campaign to end the slave trade. It began during the Napoleonic War with both a religiously motivated moral commitment and a strategic desire to undermine France. After ththe defeat of Napoleon the campaign took on increasingly moral dimensions. The British persued a dual campaign. First a Royal Navy effort to stop slavers and a diplomatic campaign to get the various European powers and America to cooperate. The Royal Navy campsaign would prove to be the longest campaign in the its long history. The diplomatic campaign would prove to be an enormously difficult undertaking. Other countries were involved in the campaign to end the slave trade, but it was an effort pushed by the British Abolitionist movement and conducted by the Royal Navy.

France and the 19th Century Slave Trade

France for the most part refuses to cooperate with the British France after the Napoleonic War did not cooperate with the British effort to end the slave trade. Many in France profited by the trade and saw the Royal Navy campaign s a way of weakening France.

French Abolition Movement

Britain after the Jamaican slave revolt (1831) finally aboloished slavery (1833). They also launched a diplomatic campaign to convince other countries to do the same. France set up the Societe francaise pour l'abolition de l'esclavage (1834). The French abolitionist movement never was as strong as the movement in Britain. I am not entirely sure why this was. The idels of the Revilution were supressed after Napoleon's defeat nd even Napoleon had reinstitted slavery. And the Catholic Church did not make slavery a major issue as the Methodists and other Protestant churches did in England. Some liberal politicans took cautious steps, articles in minor pulivations, parliamentary manoevres, and poorly publicized commissions. Tere were some politicans and officials who advocated more aggressive steps. Hippolyte Passy was a notable voice, but he failed to convince many colleagues. Alexis de Tocqueville advocated moderate measures short of general emancipation. One officer of the Society, Victor de Broglie, failed to act when in power. The movement was impaired by the Government's laws on association designed to limit liberal criticism of the mnrchy. This meant that the Society could not even organize public rallies. And the police prohibited a meeting with British anti-slavery colleagues (1842). There was no agreement wthin the Society on how to proceed so they usually compromised on a "gradual" approach emphasizing education and "moralization" of the slaves. A limited petition campaign was organized (1847). One strident, but largely marginalized, voice was Cyrille Bissette, a mixed-race former sugar planter from Martinique. It was Bissette who played a major role in the 1847 petition campaign. The Society was also hampered by the well-financed planter lobby. The planyer lobby was able to buy journalists to put the planters in a positive light and to obstruct any real action. The principal problem was King Louis-Philippe. The King did not oppose the idea of abolition. He saw, however, the principle of private property even more important. Thus the Government throught tht the panters would have to be reimbursed, but as funds were not available, no effectve action was taken. [Jennings]

Abolition (1848)

The Government took a half-hearted step, authorizing self-redemption (1845). The terms were not very impressive, resulting in the emancipation of less than 1 percent of French slaves. France did not finally abolish slavery until the liberal revoution that finally ended the Boutbon monarchy (1848). The Second Republic on the initiative of Victor Schoelcher finally ablolished slavery. This was one of the greatest achievement of the 1848 revolution, certainly the most importaht imact on the colonies. Slavery at mid-centyry wa still the foundation of the economy and thus social life in several older colonies (French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martnique, and Réunion) with plantation economies. The National Assembly agreed to the principle of emancipation (March 4, 1848). A definitive decree followed shortly (April 27, 1848. The Assemby declared that slavery was 'an attack on human dignity' and 'destroys the principal of natural law and duty ... it is a flagrant violation of republican dogma.' The Assembly was concerned that great unrest might erupt in the colonies if the giovernment dud not end slavery. The Assemby abolished slavery in all French colonies and possessions. This was finally no half measure. More than a quater million slaves were emamcipsted. A total of 262,564 slaves were thereby freed, most of them in West Indies and Réunion. The Assembly also granted the emancipated slaves civil rights, inclkuding the right to vote. The Assembly promised compensation to the plantation owners who had opposed emancipation and insuisted that emancipation would ruin the colonies. Victor Schoelcher, a businessman in the Antilles, played a key role in French emancipation. He published tracts denouncing slavery and energetically lobbied Arago as well as members of the government and Assembly deputies. Schoelcher was hailed as the liberator of the slaves throughout the Antilles and subequently elected Deputy for both Martinique and Guadeloupe. [Aldrich]

Sources

Aldrich, Robert. "French colonies," Encyclopedia of Revolutions of 1848 (2000).

Jennings, Lawrence C. French Anti-Slavery: The Movement for the Abolition of Slavery in France, 1802-1848 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 320 p.







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Created: 1:32 AM 2/26/2008
Last updated: 9:30 PM 5/7/2012