The the application of this statement to the

The institution of Slavery The issue of slavery has
been touched upon often in the course of history. The
institution of slavery was addressed by French intellectuals
during the Enlightenment. Later, during the French
Revolution, the National Assembly issued the Declaration of
the Rights of Man, which declared the equality of all men.

Issues were raised concerning the application of this
statement to the French colonies in the West Indies, which
used slaves to work the land. As they had different interests
in mind, the philosophes, slave owners, and political leaders
took opposing views on the interpretation of universal
equality. Many of the philosophes, the leaders of the
Enlightenment, were against slavery. They held that all
people had a natural dignity that should be recognized.

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Voltaire, an 18th century philosophe, pointed out that
hundreds of thousands of slaves were sacrificing their lives
just so the Europeans could quell their new taste for sugar,
tea and cocoa. A similar view was taken by Rousseau, who
stated that he could not bear to watch his fellow human
beings be changed to beasts for the service of others.

Religion entered into the equation when Diderot, author of
the Encyclopedia, brought up the fact that the Christian
religion was fundamentally opposed to Black slavery but
employed it anyway in order to work the plantations that
financed their countries. All in all, those influenced by the
ideals of the Enlightenment, equality, liberty, the right to
dignity, tended to oppose the idea of slavery. Differing from
the philosophes, the political leaders and property owners
tended to see slavery as an element that supported the
economy. These people believed that if slavery and the slave
trade were to be abolished, the French would lose their
colonies, commerce would collapse and as a result the
merchant marine, agriculture and the arts would decline.

Their worries were somewhat merited; by 1792 French
ships were delivering up to 38,000 slaves and this trade
brought in 200 million livres a year. These people had
economic incentives to support slavery, however others
were simply ignorant. One man, Raynal, said that white
people were incapable of working in the hot sun and blacks
were much better suited to toil and labor in the intense heat.

Having a similar view to Raynal, one property owner stated
that tearing the blacks from the only homes they knew was
actually humane. Though they had to work without pay, this
man said slave traders were doing the blacks a favor by
placing them in the French colonies where they could live
without fear for tomorrow. All of these people felt that the
Declaration of the Rights of Man did not pertain to black
people or their descendants. All people were not ignorant,
however. There was even a group of people who held
surprisingly modern views on slavery; views some people
haven’t even accepted today. In his Reflections on Black
People, Olympe de Gouges wondered why blacks were
enslaved. He said that the color of people’s skin suggests
only a slight difference. The beauty of nature lies in the fact
that all is varied. Another man, Jacques Necker, told people
that one day they would realize the error of their ways and
notice that all people have the same capacity to think and
suffer. The slavery issue was a topic of debate among the
people of France. The views of the people, based on
enlightenment, the welfare of the country or plain ignorance
were tossed around for several more years until the issue
was finally resolved. In the end the philosophes, with their
liberated ideas, won out and slavery was abolished.

Category: History


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