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The Suppression of the Transoceanic Slave Trade  

Hideaki Suzuki

Since the last quarter of the 18th century, the suppression of the transoceanic slave trade had been under way. A popular movement became active in Britain, while a number of US states abolished the trade in the last quarter of the 18th century. Denmark abolished the trade completely in 1803, Britain in 1807, and the United States in 1808. After the Congress of Vienna, the British took the initiative in creating a network of bilateral and multilateral treaties to legalize naval suppression of the slave trade in the Atlantic, and, accordingly, Britain, the United States, France, and Portugal stationed naval squadrons off the African coast. From the 1840s onwards, another network to suppress slave supply was formed with African rulers, those agreements providing in some cases both justification and the practical basis for European territorial expansion in Atlantic Africa. The Europeans’ antislave-trade activity caused the Atlantic African economy to shift toward so-called legitimate commerce, and, since the 1960s, evaluation of that economic transition has been at the core of debate among historians of West Africa. In the 1810s in the Indian Ocean, similar progress toward suppression of the slave trade took place almost simultaneously with that of its Atlantic counterpart, although progress was much quicker in the Atlantic. In fact, the suppression campaign in the Indian Ocean, which began with various treaties concluded by the British with local polities, gathered full force only from the 1860s. Interestingly, in Indian Ocean Africa the relationship between the suppression of the slave trade and imperial territorial occupation was more distant than on Africa’s Atlantic rim. The suppression of the transoceanic slave trade cannot be understood without a multifaceted perspective, because this subject is connected to and so must be integrated with various fields, including naval, political, economic, legal, and social history. The transoceanic slave trade must therefore be located within a much wider context.