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Racial Equality And The Abolition Of Slavery In France

1410 words - 6 pages

Racial Equality and the Abolition of Slavery in France

When Abbé Sièyes wondered, "What is the Third Estate [or are slaves]? Nothing. What has it [have they] been until now in the political order? Nothing. What does it [do they] want? To be become something…" (65), he could have just as easily spoken of slave's misery rather than the Third Estate's plight. While, his scope was limited, his pains were not. Following their first revolution, the French National Assembly helped to change the world. Enlightened, they saw, they defined, they tried to ease all of mankind's suffering. Finally, the term man began to transcend color. If man has rights, they must apply to all men. And thus, the ...view middle of the document...

Addressing the slaves in this manner gives even more deference to the lowly slaves. Similarly, the slaves have been elevated to "My Friends," further humanizing their cause. Although Condorcet was a well-respected member of the National Assembly, he relates to the slaves how "he is not one of the them." The ordered diction again serves to equate a white man to a slave. This segment's tone lacks both condescension and sarcasm. He nearly supplicates to the slaves for their quintessence. His friends-the blacks-are his brethren. If he shares spirit, virtues, and reasons with slaves, what is to distinguish them? Condorcet has simultaneously made himself equal to a slave and visa versa. Therefore, if he is to enjoy rights, his colored counterpart should as well. Condorcet is a man. Luckily for pro-abolitionists, according to The Declaration of Man and Citizen all "Men are born and remain free and equal" (78). This logic was far from irrefutable, and Enlightened thinkers realized their argument was flawed, for what is a man? To clarify any confusion, Abbé Raynal posits the principles of abolition more generally. To him "Liberty is the property of one's self" (52). One need not be a man, nor a citizen to enjoy liberty if he owns his life. This argument too is limited. By Raynal's words, liberty becomes a form of wealth, greatly dependant upon ownership. He who owns more possessions is richer, therefore one who controls more lives if more free. The ambiguity of man, life, and freedom are formidable opponents for the eighteenth century French populous.

The Declaration of Man And Citizen also holds "Property [is] an inviolable and sacred right"(79). If a man is owned, he is property. The right of property shall not be violated. Legally, how could they change the status of slaves? Why change the status of slaves, because "Social distinctions may be based…on common utility"(78)? French legislators curtailed their declaration of rights from nearly forty articles to seventeen. Despite the intense scrutiny these articles were under the phrase "may be based upon" seems to have slipped through. Who may decide about social distinctions? May they also not be? The question of supremacy between property and liberty is truly a double-edged sword. Swing either way, and all rights may be sliced. Abbé Sièyes argues for change, but laws must serve a "public good" (68). Therefore, abolition must aide society. If society has more men, more citizens will it be better? Previous thought held that more good men were better; more bad men are worse. This logic was soon shattered. Chained, bad men are of no good to society. Vincent Ogé the Younger manifests the immediate legal and social need for abolition. As a mulatto, he expresses the profound anger of his people. If action is not taken "quickly…we will see [our] blood flowing, our lands invaded, our wives, our children with their throats cut and bodies mutilated" for the slaves "will raise the standard of revolt" (104)....

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