Abolition of the Atlantic Slave Trade

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The motive forces behind the abolition movement in the British Empire during the nineteenth century have remained at the heart of a series of historiographical debates. One important thing to keep in mind is that slavery did not end with the British abolition of the slave trade in 1807. Slavery was still recognised as legal within the British Empire until 1834. Slavery remained a mainstay of the US, Cuban and Brazilian economies, and the slave trade moved onto Spanish and Portuguese ships, as well as those of other countries that had yet to abolish the trade. And while Britain ceased to participate in the slave trade, the British textile industry continued to rely on US cotton produced by slave labour until the American Civil War. Both contemporary debates about abolition and later studies of slavery have taken place in the context of changing ideas about the nature of freedom and dependency, and individual rights and liberty. Yet there was, as David Northrup has argued, a ‘significant time lag’ between the emergence of new concepts of ‘freedom’ for white Europeans and the notion that those ideas might apply equally to non-Europeans (David Northrup, ‘Free and Unfree Labour Migration, 1600-1900: An Introduction’. Journal of World History, vol. 14 no. 2 (June 2003), pp. 125-130.).