Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. VII. - An Essay on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species
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CHAP. VII. - Thomas Clarkson, An Essay on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species 
An Essay on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species, particularly the African, translated from a Latin Dissertation, which was Honoured with the First Prize, in the University of Cambridge, for the Year 1785, with Additions (London: J. Phillips, 1786).
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This slavery and commerce, which had continued for so long a time, and which was thus practised in Europe at so late a period as that, which succeeded the grand revolutions in the western world, began, as the northern nations were settled in their conquests, to decline, and, on their full establishment, were abolished. A difference of opinion has arisen respecting the cause of their abolition; some having asserted, that they were the necessary consequences of the feudal system; while others, superiour both in number and in argument, have maintained that they were the natural effects of Christianity. The mode of argument, which the former adopt on this occasion, is as follows. “The multitude of little states, which sprang up from one great one at this Æra, occasioned infinite bickerings and matter for contention. There was not a state or seignory, which did not want all the hands they could muster, either to defend their own right, or to dispute that of their neighbours. Thus every man was taken into the service: whom they armed they must trust: and there could be no trust but in free men. Thus the barrier between the two natures was thrown down, and slavery was no more heard of, in the west.”
That this was not the necessary consequence of such a situation, is apparent. The political state of Greece, in its early history, was the same as that of Europe, when divided, by the feudal system, into an infinite number of small and independent kingdoms. There was the same matter therefore for contention, and the same call for all the hands that could be mustered: the Grecians, in short, in the heroick, were in the same situation in these respects as the feudal barons in the Gothick times. Had this therefore been a necessary effect, there had been a cessation of servitude in Greece, in those ages, in which we have already shewn that it existed.
But with respect to Christianity, many and great are the arguments, that it occasioned so desirable an event. It taught, “that all men were originally equal; that the Deity was no respecter of persons, and that, as all men were to give an account of their actions hereafter, it was necessary that they should be free.” These doctrines could not fail of having their proper influence on those, who first embraced Christianity, from a conviction of its truth; and on those of their descendants afterwards, who, by engaging in the crusades, and hazarding their lives and fortunes there, shewed, at least, an attachment to that religion. We find them accordingly actuated by these principles: we have a positive proof, that the feudal system had no share in the honour of suppressing slavery, but that Christianity was the only cause; for the greatest part of the charters which were granted for the freedom of slaves in those times (many of which are still extant) were granted, “pro amore Dei, pro mercede animæ.” They were founded, in short, on religious considerations, “that they might procure the favour of the Deity, which they conceived themselves to have forfeited, by the subjugation of those, whom they found to be the objects of the divine benevolence and attention equally with themselves.
These considerations, which had thus their first origin in Christianity, began to produce their effects, as the different nations were converted; and procured that general liberty at last, which, at the close of the twelfth century, was conspicuous in the west of Europe. What a glorious and important change! Those, who would have had otherwise no hopes, but that their miseries would be terminated by death, were then freed from their servile condition; those, who, by the laws of war, would have had otherwise an immediate prospect of servitude from the hands of their imperious conquerors, were then exchanged; a custom, which has happily descended to the present day. Thus, “a numerous class of men, who formerly had no political existence, and were employed merely as instruments of labour, became useful citizens, and contributed towards augmenting the force or riches of the society, which adopted them as members;” and thus did the greater part of the Europeans, by their conduct on this occasion, assert not only liberty for themselves, but for their fellow-creatures also.