The Abolition of Slavery in France

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No one in France thought that helping the Americans gain freedom from Great Britain would lead to an all-out revolution of their own. Similarly to other revolutions that were sweeping the Atlantic region at this time, the French Revolution was largely based on the newly minted ideas of natural law and natural rights. While France dealt with their problems at home, people began to question slavery in French controlled colonies such as Saint Domingue, present day Haiti. The majority of French philosophes, the general name given to supporters of the Enlightenment, denounced slavery and urged for its termination. Others were not so sure how to approach this issue however, fearing what it would mean for the French economy if slaves were set free.
One of the many critics of slavery was outspoken Abbé Guillaume Thomas Raynal, a French priest. In his book, “Philosophical and Political History of the Settlements and Trade of the Europeans in the East and West Indies,” Raynal not only condemned slavery and the slave trade, he also predicted a slave uprising if rights were not granted (Hunt, 1996). He questions whether people should listen to the past or present, “Are we to listen to the suggestions of interest, of infatuation, and of barbarism, rather than to those of reason and of justice?” With this he is saying that the past is riddled with barbarism and that they should listen more closely with the new ideas of the time: reason and justice. Later on in the passage, Raynal expresses his opinion that if no action was taken to free or grant rights to slaves, they would revolt ending in great death for both slaves and their masters. Vincent Ogé, a mulatto property owner also wrote of his concerns about a slave revolt in the Car...

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...ights, slavery was abolished in France. It goes to show that a set of new ideas, so basic yet unheard of, can go a long way in changing society. It was hard to argue against these ideas since it had led to the rights of Frenchmen. Those that were opposed to slavery after the debut of these ideas only used the economy as a reference. No longer were people going around supporting slavery because they felt it was right, but rather they felt it was a necessary evil to keep the wealth. This goes to show that “natural rights” even affected those that had previously supported slavery in full. Before anyone had mentioned “natural rights,” slavery was part of everyday life with few stopping to give it much thought. Natural rights and natural law not only not only provided the base stone to the American Revolution, but to essentially every revolution thereon after.
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