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The economics of slavery—primitive accumulation—had begun to give way to what were the beginnings of an industrialized economy. While this did not occur in the same way or at the same time across the landscape of the modern world—not just the Atlantic world—it is important to emphasize that things were moving to a critical juncture as the costs borne by maintaining systems of enslavement were not bearing the same economic fruit. A third factor is the threat of violence. Enslaved Africans resisted their enslavement. As a result of that resistance, slaveholding empires fought costly wars to maintain control of these economies. This proved to be unsustainable in the long run, compromising the efficacy of a centuries-old system. Historians have offered different versions of each of these three factors and continue to debate which of them was most consequential to the ultimate undoing of slavery. Here, we will take them up in turn.
==The Moral Argument ====
[[File:Slaveshipposter.jpg|thumbnail|left|Stowage of the British slave ship Brookes under the regulated slave trade act of 1788]]
The evolution of the moral argument dates back to the long conversation around the question of human nature. What Sylvia Wynter and others frame as the “genre of the human” provides a roadmap to the nature of the conceptual arguments advanced by Western philosophers. Clearly, who gets constituted as human determines who is offered the protections offered by a social contract that confers rights upon those humans that belong to a particular society.
The foundations of enslavement, then, are based upon the denial of the humanity of those that are enslaved. Importantly, this precedes the enslavement of Africans, but it is also true that it was already racialized if we take the arguments of Cedric Robinson to heart.
The famous image that galvanized the movement there was Josiah Wedgewood’s image of an enslaved African declaring, “Am I Not and a Brother”? It served as the emblem of the Society for the Abolition of Slavery in England. It was the work of these abolitionists, which included figures like Granville Sharp and William Wilberforce, that prepared the ground for challenges such as the one taken up in the famous Somerset case, which abolished slavery in England. Another factor in England that rankled its moral fibers were the horrors of the Middle Passage exposed by figures like Thomas Clarkson. Along with Wedgewood’s image, the famous rendering of the Brookes contributed directly to Britain’s abolition of the slave trade in 1807.
In the United States, the Quakers were the critical voice on the question of abolition. Influenced by Anthony Benezet, they argued that slavery contradicted Christianity. Though predated by earlier organizations, the founding of the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833 was the signal moment in modern American abolitionism. Founded by longtime activist William Lloyd Garrison, the American Anti-Slavery society advanced both moral and political claims in their opposition to enslavement. Their arguments spoke to the immorality and brutality of the slave states as well as to the need to elevate enslaved Africans from their degradation.
Garrison famously employed and supported freed Africans like Frederick Douglass to advance these arguments. Perhaps most critically, the abolitionists in America strenuously debated the notion of whether or not the United States Constitution was a pro-slavery document. In a critical period where enslavement was growing precipitously in the South and where much of the political momentum swung towards expanding it, their readings of the Constitution helped abolitionists advance a range of arguments that challenged the very foundations of the American social order. Their tactics remained in the realm of moral suasion.
====The Question of Political Economy====