Monday, May 05, 2008 5/5/08-Coal and Slavery

In today's excerpt--coal and the abolition of slavery:

"With the harnessing of coal, which made labor less scarce, slavery and forced labor gradually became less attractive or economical. Right at the height of slavery and serfdom in the world, these two ancient arrangements were, rather rapidly, mostly abolished worldwide.

"The peak of slavery and serfdom came in the first half of the nineteenth century. Slavery quintupled between 1800 and 1860 in the U.S. South to produce cotton. It expanded in the Caribbean and Brazil to produce more sugar. In southeast Asia slaves on plantations produced sugar and peppers. In Russia millions of serfs raised wheat; in Egypt they formed the army and raised cotton; in North Africa slavery increased during this time, especially to raise palm oil, used as an industrial lubricant.

"Agitation to abolish slavery began with the Quakers in England and with the enlightenment philosophers in France in the late eighteenth century. Printing and travel circulated the idea. By 1807 in England and 1808 to 1830 in France the selling of slaves was abolished. In the 1820s Chile and Mexico abolished slavery itself; England did so in 1833. Other Atlantic countries followed: the United States in 1865, Spain in 1886, Brazil in 1888. In 1861 Russia abolished private serfs, who had to work at least nine more years to own their land communally; government serfs were freed in 1866. The Ottomans succumbed to European pressure and banned slave trading but never slavery itself, since it was recognized in Muslim law. In Africa, trading ceased by 1914, and abolition came in the first third of the twentieth century. On the whole, the abolition of slavery and serfdom represented a historic liberation for humanity; 50 million serfs in Russia alone gained their freedom. The use of fossil fuels helps explain why slavery has officially if not completely vanished."

Cynthia Stokes Brown, Big History, The New Press, Copyright 2007 by Cynthia Stokes Brown, March 2008, pp. 217-218.


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