Would one be accurate in stating that it was the general ideological and political consensus and subsequent actions of the Western World during the early to mid 1800s that were primarily responsible for ending slavery and serfdom as legal institutions around the world? Prior to that were slavery/serfdom legally allowed for the vast majority of countries, ruling over the vast majority of peoples around the world? Were any edicts, that may have ended slavery prior to the Western ideological and political general consensus, rather limited in enforcement, time and geography?

  • 4
  • 2
    "In 1807 Britain and soon after, the United States also, both criminalized the international slave trade. The Royal Navy was increasingly effective in intercepting slave ships, freeing the captives and taking the crew for trial in courts." Wikipedia and " Britain ended slavery in its empire in the 1830s."
    – MCW
    Mar 23, 2023 at 18:23
  • 3
    Regarding China, this per wikipedia: "In the 14th century, the Hongwu Emperor ordered an end to all slavery, but in practice slavery continued without heed to his commands. In the 18th century, the Yongzheng Emperor made similar attempts to abolish slavery. In 1909, the Qing officially abolished slavery, but due to internal turmoil and its demise, the institution persisted until 1949 when the People's Republic of China was founded.[4]"
    – Keith626
    Mar 23, 2023 at 22:51
  • 3
    @Astor Florida: The point of the comment--as was explained in the original question--is that in other than brief moments in history and geography, was the world made up of countries or civilizations that allowed slavery up until the Western World started to prohibit it. Momentary decrees that neither lasted long or were never substantially enforced wouldn't count.
    – Keith626
    Mar 23, 2023 at 23:34
  • 5
    As asked, the answer has to be "no" because "the global ending of slavery" hasn't happened.
    – shoover
    Mar 24, 2023 at 23:57

1 Answer 1


If I read it correctly, your question is:

"Were the Western World's general political and ideological consensus and consequent actions primarily responsible for the global ending [the legal institution of] slavery?"

There is considerable debate in the historical community about this.

One prominent theory is the the industrial revolution led to a structure of labor that was more efficient than slavery. In a few words, the rise of wage labor was more economically efficient than slave labor.

Another theory is that the mechanization of farming led to the end of slavery - that is, machines made agricultural slavery obsolete.

Another theory is that as European culture became more enlightened and democratic, the abolitionist movement naturally gained steam and became mainstream.

While it is likely that these or other theories are responsible for the impetus and motivation behind the ending of the legal institution of slavery, one thing is clear: Slavery as a legal institution was ended was worldwide for two reasons. First, because the Europeans in the 1800's were opposed to slavery. More importantly, the second reason is because Europeans controlled most of the world's legal systems via colonialism, and were thus able to impose their will upon the rest of humanity.

Please note that the Europeans exported their economic models as well, which made the abolition of slavery stick. Whether the export of the industrial revolution was good or bad is, of course, a matter of opinion.

  • 2
    I like this answer. Helps to clarify the question and then offers a survey of the diversity of answers. I'd love it if you could cite those answers so that I could do further research.
    – MCW
    Mar 30, 2023 at 12:24
  • 1
    I'll add the update tonight. Mar 30, 2023 at 13:16
  • @Astor Florida. As per the industrialization/mechanization perspective, in the early to mid 1800s in Europe, this played a minor role in at least what the majority of people would be toiling at: agriculture. citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/…. An exception would be the cotton gin, which indeed increased productivity by the mid 1800s substantially. However, according to the National Archives: "Cotton growing became so profitable for enslavers that it greatly increased their demand for both land and enslaved labor."
    – Keith626
    Mar 30, 2023 at 15:18
  • @Astor Florida. Any substantive transference of technologies from colonizer to colony would have been minimal for a long time after the period in question. And, as stated, at the time may have only increased the value of enslaved labor.
    – Keith626
    Mar 30, 2023 at 15:37
  • @Astor Florida. One more point is I'm not sure how wage labor could be cheaper than slave labor. The implication being that slave labor would be economically preferable to a worker than paid salary. Could this be true? And once again, in other than brief moments in time and history? Would like to see a citation in order to better understand this train of thought.
    – Keith626
    Mar 30, 2023 at 17:12

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.