A (Brief) History of Abolitionism

“Human trafficking” may sometimes feel like a distinctly modern term, which is one of the many reasons why its synonym, “modern slavery,” is often more evocative and visceral. As an anti-trafficking organization, LifeWay Network is part of a deep, historical tradition of activists working to abolish slavery. Today is Remember Slavery Day and to better reflect on this history, we rounded up some of the major milestones:

1315: King Louis X of France publishes a decree declaring that any slave who set foot on French soil would be freed.

1542: Emperor Charles V of Spain passes a law abolishing slavery in colonial territory. The colonial states themselves do not pass the law however, so it is not enforced.

1550-51: The Valladolid debate is the first moral debate in Western history that was focused on the rights of colonized persons. Bartolomé de las Casas was appalled by the treatment and enslavement of native Americans by the Spanish and argued for their freedom.

1772: Sommersett’s Case sets the precedent that slavery was never formally legalized in Great Britain and is therefore prohibited. It is, however, still legal in British colonies.

1775: The Pennsylvania Abolition Society is founded, the first of its kind in America.

1777: Vermont becomes the first state to abolish slavery

1787: The Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade is founded. Their parliamentary campaign would lead to the 1807 Slave Trade Act, which banned the buying and selling of slaves throughout the British Empire.

1788: Jacques Pierre Brissot founds the Society of the Friends of the Blacks in France. James Drummond MacGregor publishes Letter to a Clergyman Urging him to set free a Black Girl he held in Slavery in Canada.

1794: Under Maximilien Robespierre, the Convention of the First Republic abolishes slavery in France and its colonies.

1826: As a result of the Spanish American wars for independence, slavery is abolished throughout much of Latin America.

1838: Slavery is abolished throughout all of Great Britain.

1846: Slavery is abolished in Tunisia without any other precedent in the region.

1863: President Abraham Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation.

1865: The Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution takes effect, prohibiting slavery throughout the entire country.

1926: The Convention to Suppress the Slave Trade and Slavery, an international treaty outlawing slavery and the slave trade, is signed at the League of Nations.

1938: Congress passes the Fair Labor Standards Act, effectively outlawing child labor.

1948: The United Nations General Assembly adopts the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, stating: “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.”

1957: The Abolition of Forced Labour Convention is ratified by the International Labour Organization.

2000: The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) is passed in the United States.

2001: The US State Department publishes the first Trafficking in Persons Report, which rates countries based on their trafficking record.

2007: LifeWay Network is founded by Sr. Joan Dawber!

2007: Polaris begins overseeing the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which provides 24-hr assistance in 200 languages. January 11th is declared National Human Trafficking Awareness Day in America.

2009: The UN Office on Drugs and Crime launches the Blue Heart Campaign Against Human Trafficking, where people are encouraged to wear a blue heart demonstrating their solidarity with trafficking victims and survivors.

2015: The Modern Slavery Act is passed in Great Britain, consolidating the legal mechanisms through which traffickers can be prosecuted.

2017: I Am Jane Doe, a documentary about young girls exploited for sex, is released.