What do you do with your freed slaves? (3)

I suppose that the major problem with abolishing slavery is knowing what exactly to do with this newly created army of probably uneducated people, who may well be quite ill fitted to deal with an independent life. Jefferson, the man who coined the expression “all men are created equal” seems to have supported a gradual process, with slaves being first educated and then freed as they reached adulthood:


Apparently he later realised that this would created an inadequate return on the slave owner’s investment, if that’s the word, and altered the age of freedom to 45. After that, they would be taken back to Africa:


Overall though, mainly for various personal reasons, Jefferson did not have a lot to say about slavery.
He did recognise one dilemna though.

The difficulties of freeing the slaves and the difficulties of not freeing the slaves:

“There is not a man on earth who would sacrifice more than I would, to relieve us from (slavery).
We have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other”

Jefferson was not the only one to have worries about “safely letting go” the country’s slaves.. In 1806, the Virginia General Assembly grew so concerned about the number of free black people living in the state that they changed the law to make freeing slaves more difficult.  From 1790-1810 the population of black people there had risen from virtually nothing to more than seven percent. In Delaware, they too were worried about freeing their slaves. By 1810, 75% of the state’s slaves had been given their liberty.

Many of these politicians were equally worried about the influence Haiti might have on the thinking of black people in the USA. Around this time, of course, Haiti was a revolutionary state on an island in the Caribbean to the south of the USA. A little like a black Cuba rather than a red one:

revolution in haiti

And presumably, the Americans did not want similar scenes of bloody revolution in their own southern states:


In 1801 President Jefferson was delighted to see the French intention to take back the island and thereby stop it becoming a base which might foment black revolution in the United States. He loaned the French $300,000 “for the relief of whites on the island.”

The southern slave owners in the US, of course, were just as scared of similar rebellions in their own states as President Jefferson. He said of this dilemma:

“If something is not done and soon, we shall be the murderers of our own children.”

But, in practical terms, what could be done?  Another article to follow in the near future.


Filed under Criminology, France, History, Politics

19 responses to “What do you do with your freed slaves? (3)

  1. It would take a terrible civil war from 1861 to 1865 and the greatest loss of American lives in history (620,000 to 750,000 soldiers dead) to bring the abominable process of slavery to an end. But even the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 wouldn’t change the status quo. ‘Liberation’ is very different to ‘freedom’. As we know from history, it would be another 100 years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was introduced, and even now, prejudice, and inequality plague our society. Jefferson may have observed that “All men are created equal”, But all men still do not live a life of equality.

    • You are absolutely right. And the great problem with this is that the nation as a whole never gets any benefit from the brains and talent of whatever group is not encouraged to prosper. Over here, it’s probably black people, but poor whites don’t stand a chance either. For a country to thrive, it must have social mobility or eventually it will wither on the vine.

  2. I don’t think too many people back then thought this through. I should have been gradual, but it wasn’t. The cities were flooded with people, but there weren’t enough jobs or housing!

    • No. I don’t think they did. And if you don’t reach out to the people who feel you have exploited them, and help them along, their hatred can fester for a very long time.

  3. A bit of a dilemma there!

    • There certainly was. I think that the Americans had much more of a problem as well because their slaves were in a location where it was easy to migrate elsewhere…to the cities of the north for example. British slaves were located on islands in the West Indies, where they were stuck, not having the money to travel, either back to Africa or to England.

  4. Good one, John. Most timely

  5. Chris Waller

    The American Civil War was essentially a fight between the Protestant northern states settled originally by such as the Pilgrim Fathers and the southern states, settled by the younger sons of the British aristocracy and those Royalists dispossessed of their estates by Cromwell. The southern states thus clung to what was a form of feudalism, their predecessors having benefitted from that societal arrangement for centuries past. One could argue that the American Civil War as a continuation of the English Civil War. I have often wondered to what extent Britain’s decision to abolish slavery was an attempt to undermine the American economy rather than a genuinely altruistic act. Britain continued hostilities against the Americans until 1814, a war which was finally ended by the Treaty of Ghent.

    • I think there must have been some kind of ground swell in England against slavery because of all the badges which were produced, presumably by people who were motivated by religious ideas of the need to treat people decently. The very first country to abolish slavery was Denmark, I believe, so there must have been motives around at the time other than the desire to harm the American economy, although that doesn’t mean that that was not the British government’s motivation. Thanks a lot, by the way, for such a detailed reply.

  6. Thank you for article. This history I was not aware of .

  7. Never actually wondered about this side of the story… thanks for sharing. Look forward to knowing the unknown side of history…. 🙂

    • It is more or less the biggest problem with freeing slaves. What to do with them. And don’t worry, plenty more about this aspect of history to come. Lots of things that important people ought to be embarrassed about!

  8. Interesting debate, though I find it a little difficult to see Britain;s anti-slavery work as being an economic assault on the USA.

  9. We in the Americas, including the Caribbean Region, have yet to resolve those dark days of slavery.

    • Like most people, I cannot see how you could possibly behave like that to another human being, no matter how much you despised him or her. I have never been to the Americas but when I watch the news, I repeatedly have the idea that a lot of Americans are still fighting the Civil War and behaving to black people accordingly. At the same time, slavery has made an unwelcome return to our country, with a number of cases being prosecuted recently. They don’t seem, though, to involve ordinary British people very often. It seems as if it is a case of outsiders pursuing their own sad prejudices.

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