| Ending Slavery: The Beginning of New Imperialism
Until the 18th century, the slave trade had been recognized as a "legitimate business activity"1 by Europeans. In 1775, an extensive campaign to abolish slavery based on its inhumane nature emerged; women were critical to this movement as they emphasized the despicable treatment of female slaves and slave families.2 Political ideologies of the British accomplished the ending of the slave trade in 1807, when it was deemed illegal by the Parliament.3 Despite Britain's efforts—including seizing slave runners' vessels and freeing the slaves on board—the world wide trading of African slaves only declined slightly. 4 The monetary gains associated with the slave trade, for both European slave traders and the Africans involved, made it difficult for Britain to convince others to discontinue the trade.5 In fact, it took until the 1860s for the slave trade to begin to diminish significantly.6 Furthermore, the reliance on slave labour in the Americas to work on the plantations created an even bigger obstacle to accomplishing the goal of ending slavery. The struggle to eliminate slavery motivated new imperialism; the abolishment of slavery could satisfy many European's economic goals, political ideals, and moral obligations.
A devastating economic hardship was experienced in Europe from 1873-1879, the Long Depression, was one of the biggest contributing factors in the drive for imperialism.7 The main goal of European countries (and America) during the Long Depression was to defend their own industries by discarding free trade, increasing trade restrictions, and abandoning capitalism; however, Britain and the Netherlands did not react in the same manor.8 The adverse reactions to the Long Depression created even more problems than before: Britain, Europe, and America were unable to export their goods— which they had a surplus of— this lead to increased rates of unemployment.9 The halt in the practice of laissez-faire economics was proving to have devastating results that could be felt throughout Europe and in America. It was apparent to Britain that a market was needed to sell their goods; furthermore, the accessibility of cheap raw materials from Africa seemed plentiful.10 The British argued that the slave trade was not profitable; to have a strong market economy one needs consumers.11 Slaves were unable to purchase goods—unlike wage labourers—and in the long term slavery was not the most economical option. Britain would have to occupy lands and establish relationships with the Africans to accomplish the goal of the abolitionists. Britain had a lot to gain economically when it came to abolishing slavery—creating a new market place to purchase their goods, access to cheap raw materials, and justification of the colonization of African territory.
Abolishing slavery helped to serve the purpose of accomplishing political goals for both the citizens and the governments of European countries. The middle class was growing and gaining strength European, Britain for instance, and the working class was demanding a voice in politics and often demanded reform.12 Liberalism was an increasingly influential political ideal and it demanded equality and liberty before the law and promoted individual freedoms. 13 Supporters of liberalism greatly opposed slavery because it, obviously, neglected to provide equality amongst people. The governments of the European powers could use the political goals of its growing middle class to serve different nationalistic purposes. "Conservative political leaders often manipulated colonial issues in order to divert popular attention from domestic problems and to create a false sense of national unity. Imperial propagandists relentlessly stressed that colonies benefited workers as well as capitalists, and they encouraged the masses to savor foreign triumphs and imperial glory."14 Therefore, the governments masked the need for colonization as a response to the masses to abide by their liberalistic ideologies; however, the principle purpose of imperialism was to build nationalism and give the governments' more power over of their citizens. The Berlin Conference (1884-1885) was the most impactful political movement of new imperialism: during this conference the continent of Africa was literally divided amongst the European powers without any African input.15 However, another purpose of the Berlin Conference was to "stop black and Islamic slave dealers and to bring Christianity and civilization to Africa". 16 Despite the fact that abolitionist efforts were used as to rationalize European colonization of African territory, the goal of ending slavery was a far less important goal; the principle focus was European powers expanding their political and economical influence.17
New imperialism was largely driven by moral obligation, especially the efforts to enlighten other cultures and spread Christianity. Europeans felt as though they were superior not in only in race but also because of their religion—Christianity.18 Christians felt that they had a moral obligation to end slavery and to convert others to Christianity.19 The civilizing mission was one of the most influential aspects of European imperialism in Africa. European imperialism in Africa was meant to assist with ending the slavery that existed within Africa; this would serve the purposes of satisfying Europeans moral and political objectives.20 Missionaries were ingrained into the local communities and were the only exposure to Europeans that most Africans had, in a sense they were the "frontline agents" of imperialism.21 European powers who were trying to establish footholds in Africa (so they could later claim the territory as a colony) took advantage of this relationship to gain trust; essentially they used the missionaries as tools to acquire territorial holds.22 Having noble objectives such as civilizing Africa and bringing commerce and religion excused the actions taken while pursuing imperialistic objectives.
The shift in political influence, moral ideologies, and economic strategies in Europe greatly influenced the persistence in the abolishment of slavery. Furthermore, efforts to pursue the ending of slavery served to accomplish many other objectives. Europeans used abolitionist goals to justify the colonization of Africa—Africa was almost entirely divided among European powers without any African influence. 23 The Europeans masked self-serving goals underneath the facade of the abolition of slavery. Indeed, it was a very clever way to have the support of their citizens when the governments were actually striving to achieve political and economic supremacy: European powers were not as focussed on the abolishment of slavery as they pretended to be.