On this compensation for slaves story

Yes, indeed, the British Government did compensate slave owners when they abolished colonial slavery. Damn good thing they did too.

For it was the thing which got slavery abolished. Without the compensation it\’s extremely doubtful that it would have passed: and it certainly wouldn\’t have passed when it did.

The true scale of Britain\’s involvement in the slave trade has been laid bare in documents revealing how the country\’s wealthiest families received the modern equivalent of billions of pounds in compensation after slavery was abolished.

The previously unseen records show exactly who received what in payouts from the Government when slave ownership was abolished by Britain

Think through the flow of money for a moment. At the time the British State was largely supported by two sets of taxes. Those on the rich and those on commodities like, erm, tea, sugar and tobacco. The products, largely so, of that slave economy. The Government borrows money which it pays to free the slaves. It then collects the money again in taxes either from the rich or from those who use the products of that now ex-slave economy. And the original borrowing was largely from the sort of rich people who owned slaves anyway.

In the meantime, the slaves are free. Sounds like a reasonable enough plan to me.

And there\’s one truly terrible statistical fault here:

The British government paid out £20m to compensate some 3,000 families that owned slaves for the loss of their \”property\” when slave-ownership was abolished in Britain\’s colonies in 1833. This figure represented a staggering 40 per cent of the Treasury\’s annual spending budget and, in today\’s terms, calculated as wage values, equates to around £16.5bn.

\”Wage values\”, eh? So we\’ll take the highest possible measure of inflation over that period to use as our comparator, eh? Using a more standard CPI stylee measurement it would amount to some £1.4 billion in today\’s money. And all of the various amounts received by the various families should be reduced by the same proportion.

And finally, what is perhaps really important here.

Britain spent more in the years 1807 to the 1930s in the suppression of slavery than it earned in the profits from the slavery before that.

Finally finally: did slavery exist? Yup. Was it a bad thing? Yup. Did our forefathers abolish it? Yup. Good, eh?

50 comments on “On this compensation for slaves story

  1. North vs. South.

    One key thing one needs to understand is that we are all Americans now; in particular Political Correctness (or whatever you call it) is an American invention, derived from their Yankee evangelicals who became Progressives and then, mixing Marxism in, the New Left. In other words, it is the triumph of the American North.

    The issue of slavery in the USA wasn’t just, or even really, about slavery. It was about the intense hatred between North and South. Thus, the rhetoric of the time was that the bestial Southerners must not have any compensation. They must be forced out of slavery, by the maximal use of violence. The North didn’t give a damn about niggers. Slavery was just a proof of the moral turpitude of the South and, as such, the harshest lesson possible must be taught to them.

    The same hatred continues to this day; it is why the Yankess can’t shut the fuck up about slavery.

    And, because the USA is the cultural superpower, the world within its cultural orbit is obligated to have all the same arguments as the USA does, as a kind of proxy culture war. The narratives on race, on gender, on health, on sexuality, are all driven by the USA’s cultural discourse. Why are we arguing about gay marriage, for instance? Because the American Yankess want to inflict it on the Rednecks. That’s why.

    The Yankees are enormously proud to this day of the murder, pillage and destruction of their internal holy war. It is proof to them that America- in killing large numbers of Southerners- was morally superior. No wonder that our own proxy Yankees would bring this up. Damned namby pamby Brits, daring to compensate the Great Satan!

    We have to stop being proxy Americans. Or, pray that that big caldera in Yellowstone goes off and rids us of the whole ghastly bunch.

  2. The French, too, insisted their slave owners in Haiti be compensated. After Toussaint Louverture’s rebellion. 30 years after, in fact. When Haiti refused, they sent a battle fleet to blockade the port. Haiti had to obey, and took bank loans to pay. The loan was not paid off until 1940.
    At least the British government didn’t expect the slaves to pay for their freedom.

  3. I reserve the right to be skeptical of those who apparently have the time to say something is bollocks, but don’t seem to have the time to say why.

  4. Why is any of this a surprise? The British Empire didn’t abolish the slave trade for sentimental reasons, but for reasons of big business profit. Slaves have low morale and thus a low level of productive labour compared to the “free” paid wage worker, so this fact along with increasing protests against slavery, saw the British Empire illegalise the ancient form of slavery seen in the slave trade and focus on wage slavery, something that hugely increased during the industrial revolution. Of course, the industrial revolution and the abolition of the slave trade were hugely progressive events, and capitalism was still a progressive system back then, but the ruling class did it for reasons of big business profit, not moral conviction.

  5. I don’t think so. The British abolitionists (e.g. Wilberforce) seem to have been primarily driven by moral fervour.

  6. Why would you compensate slave owners for the compulsory abandonment of a system that was fundamentally unprofitable?

    I think people frequently have a rather strange view of historical councils and parliaments. Much of what they did was fundamentally reactive – you’d be hard pressed to find direct evidence of policies that anticipated anything as complicated as changes in productivity.
    It’s also rather too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that “the ruling class” was a single monolithic entity.

    You’re right to note the growth of indentured labour after the abolition of the slave trade though.

  7. It was not only the British slave owners who were paid compensation for the loss of capital when slavery was abolished throughout the then British Empire.

    The Cape of Storms, where the Dutch introduced the practice of slavery, the Cape Dutch farmers were reimbursed for the cost of freeing the slaves.

    Of course, the complaint against the British was that they did not pay the Cape Dutch farmers enough to reimburse the full cost of acquiering the slaves.

    So, even if you are trying to do the right thing, there will always be someone that finds fault.

  8. Ian B

    Just so that I can understand your argument clearly are you saying that moral fervour in relation to slavery is wrong ? Genuine question this I’m not trying to trick you into saying something awful.
    Surely without that moral fervour slavery would have lasted a lot longer, not withstanding it’s inefficiency, as Charlie Suet points out. On the matter of the Southern states haven’t you got that a bit back to front ? The South was determined to import slavery into the mid western states and understandably surely, abolitionists were opposed to that. The South was at least as much to blame for the war as the North and just as prepared to do terrible things in disputed territories, they lost so inevitably suffered more. The moral fervour wasn’t all one way either, there were just as many hardline evangelicals in the South as the North, perhaps more, who saw the war as a Godly fight.

  9. The British abolitionists (e.g. Wilberforce) seem to have been primarily driven by moral fervour.

    No seeming about it. They were entirely driven by a non-Biblical, though no less moral, fervor.

  10. Woulda been good if some sort of compensation had been given to the freed slaves too. I may be wrong, but it seems they we just freed and left to make the best of their new freedom with not assistance at all…

  11. Just so that I can understand your argument clearly are you saying that moral fervour in relation to slavery is wrong ?

    No, I’m not saying that. I was trying to say that so far as I read it, the Brits like Wilberforce were driven by moral conviction as to the wrongness of slavery (in his and many other cases derived from religious conviction) whereas in the States it was more about the hatred between North and South.

    So it was an “approving” appraisal of Wilberforce.

  12. The greatest ancestral beneficiaries of slavery are not the descendants of a few sugar or cotton magnates in Bristol and Liverpool but modern American blacks. I demand a share of Oprah Winfrey’s fortune because if it were not for my ancestors her chat show would be a lot lower tech and less lucrative.

  13. Also, regarding the USA, without writing another tl;dr I’ll just say that the North won the war and the North wrote the history.

  14. Of course the ruling class isn’t a monolithic entity. No class is monolithic or homogeneous. I was talking about the majority of the ruling class, which ultimately drives their policies. Liberals always want to take the moral highground and try to convince the established bourgeois that they should listen to liberals, and thus advance the corporate careers of liberals as a result. This is always behind the main motive of liberal politicians, of all eras.

    Why did they compensate the slave owners? Because they regretted putting the former slave owners out of business as a result of the slave trade’s abolition. Then, they would have ideally liked the slave owners to move with the times and turn themselves into business owners, and many would have done so. Whether the politicians and philosophers of the early 19th century were consciously aware of the changes in productivity doesn’t change the fact that it is always the development of the means of production that drives history and always has been, even if it finds a completely different expression. For example, the English bourgeois revolution of the 1640s, when the Roundheads beat the Cavaliers, saw the old feudal property relations overthrown and replaced by capitalist property relations, but this didn’t express itself in terms of capitalism vs. feudalism amongst the people of the time, but in terms of religion. That the people involved had religious conviction as their driving force doesn’t change the fact that behind the Roundheads were the interests of the nascent rising bourgeois class, while the Cavaliers represented the old feudal order and the then ruling class, the feudal lords. Neither side could have mobilised the people to arms by saying that the masses would be subjugated by exploitation afterwards.

  15. Seth

    “For example, the English bourgeois revolution of the 1640s, when the Roundheads beat the Cavaliers, saw the old feudal property relations overthrown and replaced by capitalist property relations, but this didn’t express itself in terms of capitalism vs. feudalism amongst the people of the time, but in terms of religion. That the people involved had religious conviction as their driving force doesn’t change the fact that behind the Roundheads were the interests of the nascent rising bourgeois class, while the Cavaliers represented the old feudal order and the then ruling class, the feudal lords. Neither side could have mobilised the people to arms by saying that the masses would be subjugated by exploitation afterwards.”

    If the rising bourgeois class were so identified with the ‘Roundheads’ how was it they did so well after the restoration ? How do you explain the strong correlation between the most strongly Parliamentary areas and the areas where low church protestantism was strongest ? How also do you explain the intervention of the Scots on Parliament’s side other than by religious motivations ? The stuff about subjugation of the masses is just vulgar Marxism which has nothing to say about people’s non economic motivations. Who were the masses in the Seventeenth century anyway, the term is pretty meaningless given the social structures of the times.

  16. Was it compensation or bribery?
    The Royal Navy could get at the slave traders but not at the slave owners.
    The question then arises: given the notorious inefficiency of slavery (this has been measured for ancient Greece and Rome in a book I’ve forgotten but no doubt has been re-analysed for Louisiana in other studies) Was the compensation / bribe too generous?

  17. The abolition movement (Wilberforce and so on) was one of the most remarkable phenomena in history. Aristotle would have been astonished.

  18. Not enough about the indentured labour, particularly in the West Indies ,which was moved when the slaves moved out,which is why so many places have descendants of Africans and descendants of Indians /Asians living, sometimes not very peacefully, side by side.Chinese coolie labour in California was indentured.
    Really all the child labour in the UK in our glorious Industrial Revolution, particularly the workhouse kids who were n’t paid at all, were slaves ,since they could n’t give legal consent.And they often worked on processing the products of slave plantations: cotton, tobacco ,sugar.
    Indentured labourers sold themselves to pay off some enormous debt and then,when they had finished, got some small patch of ground to live on: this is more or less what people do with modern mortgages now.

  19. Ian, that was polite of you.

    There is an American North. it is monolithic, with one set of attitudes, which has evolved on a continuum of Yankee/evangelical.marxist/progressive/New Left. It is the same now as it was in 1860. It has emotions, and hates the South.

    there’s not much else to discuss about the US – no border states, no West, no minorities, no other strong and continuing debates. And the South is not only vanquished, but silent.

    The US Civil War was not about slavery but about “hate”.

    “the Yankess can

  20. The English bourgeoisie took fright at how far their own revolution had gone and restored the monarchy in 1660. Even Oliver Cromwell suppressed the Levellers and the Diggers, and was restoring a lot of the old feudal privileges, making himself Lord Protector and seriously considered making himself King at one stage. The same sort of thing happened in France after their 1789-1793 bourgeois revolution, first the Directory, then Napoleon, then the Bourbon restoration.

    Despite these things, the new capitalist property relations established by the revolutions remained. Charles II taking the throne in 1660 didn’t turn everything back 20 years, because the capitalist property relations established in 1649 remained. The same was true with France, as the Bourbon restoration after Napoleon Bonaparte’s downfall didn’t turn the clock back to 1789. The era of the Divine Right of Kings was over. The fact is, the bourgeoisie are terrified of revolutions, even their own revolutions from the past, and they’ve always wanted to reach an accomodation with the feudal institutions, but no ruling class gives up power voluntarily, and it was the same with the feudal lords. Many of the feudal institutions, like the monarchy, the House of Lords etc. are still here, even though their historical role belongs to feudal society and feudal society hasn’t existed in England and Wales since 1649.

    The Scots supported the Roundheads, because Scotland had been controlled by the Convenanters since 1639, and the Convenanters were allied to the English Parliament. In 1640, Charles I was compelled to recall parliament for the first time since 1629 in an attempt to raise funds to fight wars against the Scots.

    The masses in the 17th century were the peasants, obviously, as well as the increasing city populations.

  21. Seth, I have rarely seen so much simplistic Marxist tripe on this site. But for the record, slavery was not even remotely unprofitable when slavery was abolished. It was a massive self inflicted economic wound done entirely for moral reasons.

  22. IanB has lost his moral compass. Slavery was abolished in the USA because it was wrong.

    Of course, it’s much easier (for all of us) to tell right from wrong when our financial interests do not lie with the wrong side. Which is why the North wanted to abolish slavery, and whites in the South did not.

  23. “Moral compass”? Hmmm. Was the slaughter and carnage of the USA’s holy civil war more “moral” than peaceful compensation?

  24. Leaving aside the moral element here, it does seem to me that if you want to abolish what is at the time a perfectly legal trade, however, morally abhorrent, and the people you upset by doing so are rich and well-connected, and – moreover – you are (though everyone forgets it) the only western european nation to have had not one but two successful revolutions/civil wars, then compensating those people is probably a good idea. It does, after all, save you having a third civil war.

  25. I may be wrong, but it seems they we just freed and left to make the best of their new freedom with not assistance at all…

    There was a programme set up to provide freed slaves with land and compensation during Reconstruction. I’m not sure how effective it was but it did exist and was mentioned several times in Gone With The Wind.

  26. Seth

    “Despite these things, the new capitalist property relations established by the revolutions remained.”

    What new capitalist property arrangements ? This really is nonsense, can you cite these changes or is it just assertion ?

    “The Scots supported the Roundheads, because Scotland had been controlled by the Convenanters since 1639, and the Convenanters were allied to the English Parliament. In 1640, Charles I was compelled to recall parliament for the first time since 1629 in an attempt to raise funds to fight wars against the Scots.”

    Well yes, which was pretty much my point, a religious issue was the cause of the Scots intervention, nothing to do with property relations.

  27. The american civil war ( more propoerly the second american civil war) was about secession and taxes (loss off). I suspect that the slavery justification was inserted post hocter proc… as for Wilberforce and his movement they were motivated by moral outrage that as a civilized nation we could permit men to be treated so disgustingly and he shamed the empire into abolition.

    The compensation was understandable; slavery was disgusting but it was also legal – as a matter of principal changes to the law which outlaw activities should enable the payment of compensation to those whose livelihoods are affected. There is surely room to argue about the amounts, and the fact that the beneficiaries were doubtless well connected; but as Tim says, the overall result was a win for humanity.

  28. It was about the intense hatred between North and South. … The same hatred continues to this day;

    That’s why the the USA has never had any southern presidents. As you can tell by Bill Clinton’s and George W. Bush’s accents.

    The North didn

  29. Seth: Despite these things, the new capitalist property relations established by the revolutions remained.

    What new capitalist property relationships? I’ve studed the English Civil War period quite thoroughly, and I don’t recall any setting up of any new capitalist property relations at that time. There was some transfer of property from the losers to the winners of the civil war, but it seems pretty grand to call a change of offers “new capitalist property relations”. The old set up of common law rights, trial by jury, private ownership of land, etc, goes back a lot longer than the English Interregnum.

  30. It was not part of Lincoln’s platform in 1860 to abolish slavery – he was a moderate on the issue. However, he was opposed to the expansion of slavery into new US territories, and that was sufficient to provoke the Confederate States into secession before his inauguration. The Confederacy then foolishly provoked war by attacking Fort Sumter. It was only at the beginning of 1863 that Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves in the Confederate States: this was primarily a military tactic.

    In the circumstances, there was no chance that compensation would be paid. Had the Confederate States been willing to proceed peacefully, things might well have developed otherwise.

  31. Same people moaning about compensating slave owners would probably exult in Bevan’s famous explanation of how he kept the doctors onside during the foundation of the NHS: he stuffed their mouths with gold.

    Same principle: get what you want by paying off the mouthy opponents.

  32. Ian B: It was about the intense hatred between North and South. … The same hatred continues to this day;

    Thus explaining why neither Bill Clinton nor George W Bush never got elected President.

    Slavery was just a proof of the moral turpitude of the South and, as such, the harshest lesson possible must be taught to them.

    Well, slavery is fairly good proof of moral turpitude. Not the only proof, as a brief knowledge of history tells us, but fairly good proof. Raping women, or allowing them to be raped (to breed more slaves), beating people, tearing families apart, that is pretty depraved. That the North grasped that slavery was proof of moral turpitude is a plus on the North’s side.

    Though, if the Northern states thought that what they did to the South, including Sherman’s March to the Sea, was the harshest lesson possible, it does imply a certain level of ignorance of history. Genghis Khan would have called them namby-pamby knicker-wetting liberals.

    So, by your description, we can rate the North as follows: B on recognition of moral issues. D- on knowledge of past military atrocities. D- on maintaining intense hatred.

  33. So basically Tracy, you’re arguing that if people are in your opinion morally debased, you can kill them, yes?

  34. Tracy W, I’m searching for the right word. Magisterial? Devestating? Awesome? Anyway, have a look at Noahpinion on Django – you may or may not agree, but you ‘ll probably be interested.

  35. I believe in the right to kill in self-defence or the defence of others against certain crimes such as murder, rape or kidnapping (bearing in mind such issues as immediacy, lack of alternative obvious ways of stopping the crime, etc). I have never found pacifism to be totally morally convincing.

  36. Yes, against an occupying Union garrison who had been repeatedly requested politely to leave by the South Carolina government. The shooting started when Lincoln attempted a resupply of Fort Sumter. Since S. Carolina had seceeded, the Union troops were now the army of a foreign power.

    Tracy W’s answer is far from “magisterial”. I was trying to think of a single word that means “completely missed the fucking point” but couldn’t find one pithy enough.

  37. I believe in the right to kill in self-defence or the defence of others against certain crimes such as murder, rape or kidnapping (bearing in mind such issues as immediacy, lack of alternative obvious ways of stopping the crime, etc). I have never found pacifism to be totally morally convincing.

    I didn’t ask that. I asked whether moral turpitude is adequate casus belli.

  38. Ian B, that misses the point. Turpitude may or may not be a causus belli. What was going on was that rednecks were shooting. Is that a causus belli?

  39. Luke, I was addressing Tracy’s bizarre assertion in his/her magisterial post that the apparent moral turpitude of the South justified the North’s aggression.

    As to “the Rednecks” (a word that is itself evidence of the continued despising of the South by the North) shooting, as I said, they were shooting at foreign (Union) armed forces who not only refused to leave their territory but were attempting to reinforce. If the Russian army marched across the Rhine and refused to leave Germany, would it be the Germans starting a war if, after repeated demands that the Russians leave, they eventually shoot at them?

    South Carolina had declared secession from the Union. Why were the Union troops still there?

  40. I didn’t ask that. I asked whether moral turpitude is adequate casus belli.

    Nope, you asked: if people are in your opinion morally debased, you can kill them, yes?

    Nothing in there about casus belli. Do try to read what you wrote previously, it’s just a matter of scrolling upwards on your screen.

    I was addressing Tracy’s bizarre assertion in his/her magisterial post that the apparent moral turpitude of the South justified the North’s aggression.

    I think slavery goes rather beyond “apparent moral turpitude”. It, at least in the form practiced in the Southern US states, was bloodily-obvious moral turpitude. Did you hear about the Fuguitive Slave Act? This was a federal law, passed in the USA in 1850, saying that any runaway slave had to be returned to their master. When you’re passing laws trying to get other states to enforce something, it’s entirely reasonable for people to assume that you’re practising that thing.

    Tracy W’s answer is far from “magisterial”. I was trying to think of a single word that means “completely missed the fucking point”

    Well that’s the thing about freedom of speech. It cuts both ways. You’re free to misrepresent my, and indeed your own statements and questions, and I’m free to pick and choose and zoom in on some of the details of your arguments and give my own opinions of their quality. And what’s more, I’m free to make use of all the tools of rhetoric in doing so.

  41. I didn’t ask that. I asked whether moral turpitude is adequate casus belli.

    Nope, you asked: if people are in your opinion morally debased, you can kill them, yes?

    Nothing in there about casus belli. Do try to read what you wrote previously, it

  42. I didn’t ask that. I asked whether moral turpitude is adequate casus belli.

    Nope, you asked: if people are in your opinion morally debased, you can kill them, yes?

    Nothing in there about casus belli. Do try to read what you wrote previously, it

  43. The new property arrangements established in England in 1649 were private ownership of the means of production (where big business profit becomes the main motive of the system, i.e. capitalism) replacing fixed ownership of the means of production (where classes are fixed according to birth right and customs, i.e. feudalism).

    Regarding what you said about the Scots, I made the point earlier about how the development of the means of production is always the thing that drives history, and always has been, even if it finds a completely expression amongst the classes of people at the time. As Hegel said, necessity expresses itself by accident. Another example is the English Reformation of the 1530s. This was the first serious challenge that the bourgeois class posed to the ruling feudal order, usurping the latter’s dominance over the Church of England. Henry VIII’s motivation was wanting a legitimate son and heir to the throne and his desire to marry Anne Boleyn. Even Thomas Cromwell and the Boleyn family, the most cunning of them, failed to see the class interests, but they were wise to the threat that they posed to the Vatican’s control of the church and the church’s dominance over the minds of the masses.

    Ultimately, from a Marxist point of view, the reformation was progressive because it freed people from being completely tied to the Vatican papacy and the priests. Likewise, the Roundhead victory in 1649 was progressive because it freed the control over the means of production from being fixed as a birth right. The slave trade being crushed by the march of industrial capitalism was another progressive event in history. The stage we are at now, in the 21st century, is where the limits of private ownership of the means of production, as well as the limits of the nation state, have become a barrier to the further progress of society. Today, the capitalist system can’t even maintain our current living standards, let alone improve them. So what we need now is for the majority of society (i.e. workers and the masses in general) to become the ruling class by seizing control of the means of production and the economy, and to build our own state apparatus. Once the majority of people belong to the ruling class, there is no need to have the continued existence of states indefinitely, so they can be done away over time by planning society so as to reduce waste, narrowing the wealth gap while every worker’s wages increase (which will make money increasingly irrelevant), this will then cause classes to increasingly fade away, and thus end the need for nation states altogether. When all states have withered away, we will have a communist society, which can only be worldwide, and this is a society where every commodity is afforded by everybody, where people work according to their abilities and receive according to their wants and needs.

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