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The British Empire Formally Abolishes The Slave Trade

Today on March 25, 1807, Great Britain officially put an end to centuries of slave trading across its vast empire.

After years of national debate, the Parliament of the United Kingdom finally enacted the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act. The Act was the first significant step towards full emancipation for African slaves living throughout its vast empire. It essentially prevented any new people from being enslaved; however, all existing slaves sadly remained in chains. In 1787, a committee was formed by English Evangelical Protestants to explore options for ending the slave trade. An alliance led by William Wilberforce eventually united the various factions who supported emancipation.

The Atlantic Slave Trade was one of the most well organized and efficient human trading systems in history. Leading European powers used the slave trade to support their growing colonial and industrial aspirations. According to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, 12.5 million Africans were shipped to the New World between 1525 and 1866 — millions more died while making the treaded voyage.

Britain subsequently began persuading other countries to follow their lead and outrightly ban human trading. The United States Congress enacted a similar bill, the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves, later that same month. Portugal, Sweden, France, Netherlands, and Spain all agreed to restrict slave trading by 1820. Anti-slavery treaties were also signed with more than 50 African nations. The British Parliament instituted a fine of £100 for any captain transporting slaves. Factoring in inflation, that fine would be close to £8,300 in today's dollars. The following year, the Royal Navy established the West Africa Squadron to patrol and enforce the Act.

The squadron began with only two 32-gun frigates and rapidly expanded over the following decade. At the height of its operations, it represented around one-sixth of the entire Royal Navy and was renamed as the Prevention Squad. Over the next fifty years, the squadron seized over 1,500 slave ships and freed more than 150,000 Africans - many went on to settle in the Bahamas and Jamaica. It would take another twenty-six years before slavery itself became entirely outlawed in Britain. In 1833, the Slavery Abolition Act was passed, which officially made slavery illegal across the British Empire.


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