The issue of slavery has been touched upon often in the course of
history. The institution of slavery was addressed by French
intellectuals during the Enlightenment. Later, during the French
Revolution, the National Assembly issued the Declaration of the Rights of
Man, which declared the equality of all men. Issues were raised
concerning the application of this statement to the French colonies in
the West Indies, which used slaves to work the land. As they had
different interests in mind, the philosophes, slave owners, and political
leaders took opposing views on the interpretation of universal equality.
Many of the philosophes, the leaders of the Enlightenment, were
against slavery. They held that all people had a natural dignity that
should be recognized. Voltaire, an 18th century philosophe, pointed out
that hundreds of thousands of slaves were sacrificing their lives just so
the Europeans could quell their new taste for sugar, tea and cocoa.
similar view was taken by Rousseau, who stated that he could not bear to
watch his fellow human beings be changed to beasts for the service of
others. Religion entered into the equation when Diderot, author of the
Encyclopedia, brought up the fact that the Christian religion was
fundamentally opposed to Black slavery but employed it anyway in order to
work the plantations that financed their countries. All in all, those
influenced by the ideals of the Enlightenment, equality, liberty, the
right to dignity, tended to oppose the idea of slavery.
Differing from the philosophes, the political leaders and
property owners tended to see slavery as an element that supported the
economy. These people believed that if slavery and the slave trade were
to be abolished, the French would lose their colonies, commerce would
collapse and as a result the merchant marine, agriculture and the arts...