'WHEREAS divers Persons are holden in Slavery within divers of His Majesty's Colonies, and it is just and expedient that all such Persons should be manumitted and set free, and that a reasonable Compensation should be made to the Persons hitherto entitled to the Services of such Slaves for the Loss which they will incur by being deprived of their Right to such Services: And whereas it is also expedient that Provision should be made for promoting the Industry and securing the good Conduct of the Persons so to be manumitted, for a limited Period after such their Manumission: And whereas it is necessary that the Laws now in force in the said several Colonies should forthwith be adapted to the new State and Relations of Society therein which will follow upon such general Manumission as aforesaid of the said Slaves; and that, in order to afford the necessary Time for such Adaptation of the said Laws, a short Interval should elapse before such Manumission should take effect[.]'
-An Act for the Abolition of Slavery throughout the British Colonies; for promoting the Industry of the manumitted Slaves; and for compensating the Persons hitherto entitled to the Services of such Slaves. (full text here).
The British ended slavery quite differently from the way the Americans did. First of all, they compensated slave owners. Second, actual emancipation for slaves came in stages, with most slaves being converted to “apprentices” for a few years before they were able to exercise their actual freedom. Full emancipation is said to have been accomplished by August 1, 1838 (a bit ahead of the original schedule set in 1833).
Modern commentators have sometimes called Britain’s decision to compensate slave owners shameful. Maybe. But America’s alternative method—emancipation by civil war—was one of the greatest catastrophes in human history. The death toll was approximately 620,000 (or more by some estimates). I’m not enough of a Puritan to see the British method as a source of shame.
For a full account of the campaigns that led to the Act, the politics behind its passage, and its legacy, see, e.g.:
- Drescher, Seymour. Abolition: A History of Slavery and Antislavery (2009)
- Hinks, Peter, and John McKivigan, eds. Encyclopedia of Antislavery and Abolition (2 vol. 2006)
- Huzzey, Richard. Freedom Burning: Anti-Slavery and Empire in Victorian Britain. (Cornell University Press, 2012) 303pp.
- Washington, Jon-Michael. "Ending the Slave Trade and Slavery in the British Empire: An Explanatory Case Study Utilizing Qualitative Methodology and Stratification and Class Theories." (2012 NCUR) (2013)/