What is the Abolition of Slavery in French Revolution?

By Shivank Goel|Updated : September 5th, 2022

On February 4th, 1794, the National Convention of France approved a law declaring slavery illegal in the French provinces. However, Napoleon Bonaparte, then First Consul, repealed the law in 1802 because this had no natural effect. The British pushed European nations to forbid the slave trade, also known as the trade and shipping of people, in 1815. The slave trade persisted discreetly in Portugal, Spain, and France. In this article, we will discuss the abolition of slavery in the french revolution.

Abolition of Slavery in the French Revolution

The triangular slave trade between Europe, Africa, and the Americas started in the 17th century to address the lack of labor on the plantations. From the ports of Bordeaux or Nantes, French traders traveled to the coast of Africa, where they procured enslaved people from regional chiefs. Enslaved people were branded, chained, and crammed into ships for the three-month trip over the Atlantic to the Caribbean. They were bought by plantation owners there. The Slave trade thus had a long history in France.

Slavery in France received minimal criticism over the entire 18th century. The National Assembly undertook protracted discussions about whether or not all French people, including those in the colonies, should be granted human rights. However, it refrained from doing so because of concern for the reaction of businesses whose livelihoods depended on the slave trade. In 1794, the Convention passed legislation that abolished slavery throughout all French overseas holdings. However, this did not last for very long. Napoleon reinstated slavery in 1804 after a ten-year absence, and it was eventually outlawed in French territories in 1848.

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  • Both in metropolitan France and the French Caribbean, reliance became increasingly gendered due to the Revolution. It freed male domestics from serfdom and slavery and abolished slavery.

  • Napoleon aimed to take over the Caribbean by expanding the French colonial empire. He needed workers to populate the vast region of Louisiana in North America, so he started the slave trade again.

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