IN THE
BLOOD
OF OUR BROTHERS

Abolitionism and the End of the Slave Trade in Spain’s Atlantic Empire, 1800–1870

IN THE

BLOOD

OF

OUR

BROTHERS

Abolitionism and the End of the Slave Trade in Spain’s Atlantic Empire, 1800–1870

It was a

momentous night

It was a momentous night. The British Prime Minister William Wyndham Grenville rose from the red benches in the House of Lords to move a second reading of the Bill for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. “What right do we derive from any human institution, or any divine ordinance,” he asked, “to tear the natives of Africa, to deprive them by force of the means of laboring for their own advantage, and to compel them to labor for our profit?”¹ The legislation was passed. Watching from the chamber’s public gallery, a young Spaniard, Agustín de Argüelles, felt that he had witnessed an event of monumental significance. Little did he know that three years later he would attempt to put an end to the “infamous traffic” across the dominions of the Spanish crown.

 

Argüelles had arrived in London in 1806 and was working for the Spanish government as a secret agent. He would become one of the most important statesmen of his generation and a central figure in Spanish politics for more than forty years. The abolition of the slave trade and slavery would be a recurrent concern during his life, and in many ways his inconsistent convictions and thoughts, his changing attitudes and political action, mirror the complex ways in which Spaniards from both sides of the Atlantic thought about the slave trade and slavery.

1802 - 1814

1802

1814

Early Spanish Anti–Slave Trade Discourses, 1802–1814

“Trading in the blood of our brothers is horrendous, atrocious and inhumane and the National Congress must not hesitate for a single moment between its high principles and the interest of certain individuals.”

 

— Agustín de Argüelles, 1810

Agustín de Argüelles and British politician and abolitionist William Wilberforce never met in person. Most likely, Wilberforce did not encounter his name until 1811, when Argüelles, member of parliament for the northern region of Asturias, become a central figure in Spanish politics. But Argüelles knew well who Wilberforce was. Wilberforce’s fight represented, in Argüelles’s mind, the very best of the British political system, capable of conducting a radical transformation from the benches of a freely elected parliament, respecting the tradition while embodying the passion of a true Jacobin. Argüelles admired Wilberforce, and if he had the chance, he wanted to become him.

1814 - 1823

1814

1823

Defining a New Discourse on the Slave Trade

Absolutist Nuances, Toreno’s Commitment, and Varela’s Utopia

“The longer that the People have lost their liberty, the stronger becomes in them their anxiety to recover it.”

 

— Council of the Indies, 1816

The Spanish king Fernando VII was no abolitionist. Contrary to what he occasionally expressed, his political actions demonstrated a general disregard for the lives of those enslaved and transported across the ocean to labor for others for free in his dominions. However, the Spanish state was heterogeneous and exposed to the new ideas circulating in the Atlantic World. Abolitionism was so persuasive as to pervade the court of the absolutist king, with important consequences for the political counsel he was given at certain junctures.

Book_Cover_Mockup-1.png

1823 - 1835

1823

1835

Abolitionism, Exile, and the “Necessary Evil” Argument, 1823–1835

“It is well known, that every river on the coast of Africa, where slaves are to be obtained, still swarms with slave-ships, bearing openly the flag of Spain.”

 

— Lord Palmerston, 1831

In April 1823, some 95,000 French soldiers invaded Spain in response to the call for help made by Fernando VII to the so-called Holy Alliance of the Austrian and Russian Empires and the kingdoms of France and Prussia. The host commanded by Louis Antoine of France, Duke of Angoulême, wrested control of the country without significant opposition. The Liberal government sought refuge in Cadiz, but on August 31 the French army conquered the city. Fernando was restored as absolute monarch, the Liberal constitution of 1812 annulled, along with all ancillary civil liberties. Thousands of Spaniards sought political asylum abroad, in many instances resuming work for their previous causes—or new ones— from their new havens.

1833 - 1845

1833

1845

Political Exclusion, Racism, and Abolitionism in the 1840s

“In vain are my efforts to arouse any repugnance in myself at the thought that a man of color might sit at my side on these benches.”

 

— Domingo María Vila, 1837

By 1833 Spain was a very different country from the one that had resisted the Napoleonic invasion. The independence of most of the American territories, the civil war, the repression and the long exiles of some of its key Liberal political figures had created a much darker political climate, in which many pledged to preserve what was left of a shrinking empire at any cost— even if for some, like Agustín de Argüelles, this meant arguing against what they had passionately fought for twenty-five years before. The new regime restricted the liberties and rights of colonial subjects, excluded their representatives from the parliament, and ignored those “philanthropic theories” that had inspired the debates of Cadiz. All in the name of the preservation of what was left: Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines.

1845 - 1868

1845

1868

The End of the Slave Trade in the Spanish Empire

“Horrible slavery! (. . .) Who in righteous anger does not burn? / Who, heartbroken, does not groan / and to God and the world cry for their help?”

 

— Concepción Arenal, 1866

The end of the slave trade had been regarded for decades as inevitable. The political efforts of slave owners, abolitionists, and authorities had concentrated on the question of just how long the trade could persist, rather than contestation of whether it could be tolerated indefinitely. In the two decades leading up to the 1860s, the forces opposed to abolitionism had profited from a general atrophy in this debate, and as such the Spanish slave trade of the late 1850s was as profitable and dynamic as ever before. There was little hope in the abolitionist camp of seeing a sudden end to the “odious commerce.”

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About the author

Dr. Jesús Sanjurjo is a Lecturer in Hispanic and Latin American Studies at Cardiff University. In Spring 2022, he will be joining the University of Cambridge as an Early Career Fellow of the Leverhulme & Isaac Newton trusts. His new research project is entitled ‘Black Soldiers of the Caribbean: Race, Slavery and Radical Politics’.

He was born in Gijón, Asturias, on the northern coast of Spain, in 1991. He studied History at the undergraduate level at the University of Oviedo and then obtained an M.A. in Race & Resistance and a Ph.D in Spanish and Atlantic History at the University of Leeds, under the supervision of Prof. Manuel Barcia and Dr. Gregorio Alonso. He was awarded an AHRC-WRoCAH Doctoral Studentship. Before joining Cardiff, he taught at the University of Leeds and the University York.

Between 2010 and 2012, he worked as Production Assistant for the online magazine Periodismo Humano under the direction of the Pulitzer Prize winner Javier Bauluz. In 2013, he was appointed by Ambassador Alan D. Solomont as a member of the US Embassy Youth Council of Spain at the United States Embassy in Madrid and continued serving under the mandate of Ambassador James Costos. At Leeds, he served as Vice-President of PILAS, the postgraduate affiliate of the Society for Latin American Studies (SLAS). In 2017, he co-organised the research conference ‘Comparative Abolition in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans’ at the University of Leeds in partnership with the Afro-Latin Research Institute at Harvard University. He also served as an external reviewer for the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and collaborated as a tutor with the British educational charity The Brilliant Club.

He has published various articles, in English and Spanish, and has recently co-edited a special issue for the journal Atlantic Studies: Global Currents on comparative abolition in the Atlantic and Indian oceans. He has also been commissioned by the journal European History Quarterly to direct a special issue on ‘Centering Blackness in European History’, which will be published in 2022. Since 2018, he has co-directed the interdisciplinary research group ‘Blood and Radical Politics.’ He has been invited to speak at various universities and research centres, including the Centro de Altos Estudios Fernando Ortiz of the University of Havana, the Latin American Centre of the University of Oxford, the Centre de reserche d’histoire de l’Amerique Latine at du monde ibérique at the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and the Research Centre of Historia Constitucional de España (ICOES) in Madrid, among others. He has served as a reviewer for the academic journals Atlantic Studies: Global Currents, The Journal of African History, The Journal of Iberian and Latin American Studies and the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of African History.

After the publication of his first book, his next major research project is entitled ‘Black Soldiers of the Caribbean: Race, Slavery and Radical Politics.’ This project interrogates the intersection of Blackness, radical politics, slavery and self-emancipation in the Caribbean during the Age of Revolutions. It proposes that General Lorenzo’s uprising of 1836 in Santiago de Cuba is a fundamental episode in the history of revolutions of the Atlantic World and explores the motivations, fears and aspirations of the Black soldiers who participated in this failed rebellion. This project will contribute significantly to debates on colonial slavery, the role of Black people (and Black soldiers in particular) to imagine post-emancipation societies, and about the relationship between liberal and modern thinking and the legacies of slavery.

More information and Publications 

sanjurjo.jpg

Dr. Jesús Sanjurjo is a Lecturer in Hispanic and Latin American Studies at Cardiff University. In Spring 2022, he will be joining the University of Cambridge as an Early Career Fellow of the Leverhulme & Isaac Newton trusts. His new research project is entitled ‘Black Soldiers of the Caribbean: Race, Slavery and Radical Politics’.

He was born in Gijón, Asturias, on the northern coast of Spain, in 1991. He studied History at the undergraduate level at the University of Oviedo and then obtained an M.A. in Race & Resistance and a Ph.D in Spanish and Atlantic History at the University of Leeds, under the supervision of Prof. Manuel Barcia and Dr. Gregorio Alonso. He was awarded an AHRC-WRoCAH Doctoral Studentship. Before joining Cardiff, he taught at the University of Leeds and the University York.

Between 2010 and 2012, he worked as Production Assistant for the online magazine Periodismo Humano under the direction of the Pulitzer Prize winner Javier Bauluz. In 2013, he was appointed by Ambassador Alan D. Solomont as a member of the US Embassy Youth Council of Spain at the United States Embassy in Madrid and continued serving under the mandate of Ambassador James Costos. At Leeds, he served as Vice-President of PILAS, the postgraduate affiliate of the Society for Latin American Studies (SLAS). In 2017, he co-organised the research conference ‘Comparative Abolition in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans’ at the University of Leeds in partnership with the Afro-Latin Research Institute at Harvard University. He also served as an external reviewer for the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and collaborated as a tutor with the British educational charity The Brilliant Club.

He has published various articles, in English and Spanish, and has recently co-edited a special issue for the journal Atlantic Studies: Global Currents on comparative abolition in the Atlantic and Indian oceans. He has also been commissioned by the journal European History Quarterly to direct a special issue on ‘Centering Blackness in European History’, which will be published in 2022. Since 2018, he has co-directed the interdisciplinary research group ‘Blood and Radical Politics.’ He has been invited to speak at various universities and research centres, including the Centro de Altos Estudios Fernando Ortiz of the University of Havana, the Latin American Centre of the University of Oxford, the Centre de reserche d’histoire de l’Amerique Latine at du monde ibérique at the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and the Research Centre of Historia Constitucional de España (ICOES) in Madrid, among others. He has served as a reviewer for the academic journals Atlantic Studies: Global Currents, The Journal of African History, The Journal of Iberian and Latin American Studies and the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of African History.

After the publication of his first book, his next major research project is entitled ‘Black Soldiers of the Caribbean: Race, Slavery and Radical Politics.’ This project interrogates the intersection of Blackness, radical politics, slavery and self-emancipation in the Caribbean during the Age of Revolutions. It proposes that General Lorenzo’s uprising of 1836 in Santiago de Cuba is a fundamental episode in the history of revolutions of the Atlantic World and explores the motivations, fears and aspirations of the Black soldiers who participated in this failed rebellion. This project will contribute significantly to debates on colonial slavery, the role of Black people (and Black soldiers in particular) to imagine post-emancipation societies, and about the relationship between liberal and modern thinking and the legacies of slavery.

More information and Publications  

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Ir arriba

Introduction

Spain officially abolished the slave trade in 1820, but its effective eradication took place only around fifty years later. An intricate system of slave traders, planters, financial backers, and public institutions introduced more than 700,000 African men, women, and children into Cuba, the most important remaining colony of a shrinking empire, between 1800 and 1870. The slave trade in the Spanish imperial territories was profitable until its very last day, and its abolition and much later eradication can be comprehensibly explained only as the consequence of a complex and fragmented process. Since the early abolitionist discourses advanced by Isidoro de Antillón, José María Blanco-White, Miguel Guridi, and Argüelles in the 1800s and 1810s, to the antislavery poetry of Concepción Arenal in the second half of the 1860s, discourses against the slave trade and slavery adopted multiple forms and were advocated by Liberal and Absolutist, progressive and conservative, egalitarian and racist actors.

This book examines the processes of production, circulation, and reception of abolitionist ideas in Spain’s Atlantic empire at the beginning of the nineteenth century and their development through to the decade of the 1860s. It charts British ideological, political, and diplomatic influence on the construction of anti–slave trade discourses and policies in Spain and stresses the multiplicity of abolitionist and antiabolitionist ideas between 1802 and 1867. It appraises the emergence and development of public and political expressions of abolitionism and antiabolitionism, studying the ideological backgrounds, political pressures, and motivations that operated during this process.

This book tells the story of people who campaigned for and against the slave trade and slavery but who knew that they would never be enslaved themselves. This is only part of the story: enslaved and free men and women around the world argued, agitated, and fought for freedom, and their contribution is essential to understand the success of the abolitionist cause across the Atlantic. Without the revolts, the activism, and the struggle of Black men and women, the end of the slave trade and slavery would have never happened.

This book resituates Spanish abolitionism in the light of international scholarship on the slave trade, slavery, and abolitionism in the Atlantic World and, in so doing, contributes to filling a significant gap in the Spanish and English-speaking historiographies. The results of this work provide a more consistent and comprehensive theory of the history of the abolition and eradication of the slave trade in Spain’s Atlantic empire.

  1. Hansard, Lords sitting, 5 Feb. 1807, vol. 8, 662.

Early Spanish Anti–Slave Trade Discourses, 1802–1814

The 1811 parliamentary proposal of Argüelles to abolish the slave trade, which adopted and adapted the moral condemnation elaborated by the British abolitionist movement, was crucial in expressing a new ideological stance within Spanish political discourse. His initiative was the result of a coordinated strategy with the British authorities and was key to the construction of early abolitionist discourses in Spain. The first chapter of the book explores the political, ideological, and diplomatic influence of Britain in the development of early antislavery and anti–slave trade discourses in Spain, between 1802 and 1814, and demonstrates the centrality of Argüelles’s proposal.

The economic reforms applied by the Bourbon monarchs in the previous four decades of the eighteenth century laid the foundations for a new political, social, and economic order that brought crucial changes to Cuba.  The freedom to import enslaved Africans, established by in the Reales Cédulas (royal decrees) of 1789 and 1791, started an agrarian revolution in Cuba, which radically transitioned the conditions of production on the island from a smallholding and livestock model to a plantation system.

Condemning the slave trade meant having to confront not only the Cuban colonial elite but also very powerful metropolitan interests. Several aspects of the Cuban slave economy. such as the slave trade, commodity production, investment in infrastructures, and shipping, represented enormous earnings for some of the biggest fortunes in Spain and were based on the integration of all activities related the production of sugar by an enslaved workforce.  The ideological and political reaction against slavery and the slave trade in Spain, confronting both domestic and colonial interests, was a complex and fragmented historical process. However, during the first quarter of the nineteenth century, some voices started to publicly condemn those practices and to develop a Spanish abolitionist discourse.

Defining a New Discourse on the Slave Trade

In the aftermath of the restoration, Fernando VII’s government was forced by the British authorities to define a new official stance on the slave trade and to accommodate some aspects of an anti–slave trade rhetoric. This new policy was built upon a conservative tradition, but also on the ideological influence of British and early Spanish abolitionism. In practice the Absolutist regime continued to protect and even promote the continuity of the slave trade in the Spanish colonies. This chapter explores the characteristics of the new official discourse on the trade and the ideological inconsistencies reared within the Spanish imperial administration as part of this process.

During the short constitutional period of 1820–1823, both abolitionist and proslavery discourses found in the reestablished Cortes a prominent platform. Some important Liberal figures, such as José María Queipo de Llano (Count of Toreno), José María Calatrava, and Francisco Martínez de la Rosa, argued against the slave trade and, in collaboration with the British authorities, proposed different strategies to implement anti–slave trade legislation. The Cuban planters in the parliament advanced a consistently pro–slave trade discourse, urging the abrogation of all agreements reached by Spain that re- solved toward abolition. This chapter suggests that both sides failed to meet their conditions of victory. The anti–slave trade discourse cemented during the previous constitutional period (1810–1814) could not be eroded, but a combination of factors interfered decisively with the passage of effective anti–slave trade legislation. By 1823 slavery and the illicit slave trade were “indispensable” engines of the new colonial economic system.

Abolitionism, Exile, and the “Necessary Evil” Argument, 1823–1835

Chapter three of the book addresses the absence of abolitionist discourse produced by Spanish Liberal exiles in London. Considering the actions of the refugees provides us with an insight into the fragility of the abolitionist discourse that had developed within the Spanish Liberal tradition.

In addition, the third chapter explores the breaks and turns in the construction of abolitionist and antiabolitionist discourses in the aftermath of the formal prohibition of the slave trade in Spain. It charts the state of the reactionary turn against enforcement of abolition and concomitant developments in the expression of pro–slave trade ideas. In its last section, the chapter unpicks the threads of the various processes leading to the drafting of an anti–slave trade treaty in 1835 and the unexpected long-lasting consequences that this fresh agreement would have in consolidating the traffic of enslaved Africans into Cuba and Puerto Rico.

Political Exclusion, Racism, and Abolitionism in the 1840s

In this context, new antislavery activism and voices emerged. But not all of them came about in an attempt to protect the dignity of the enslaved Africans. A new anti–slave trade discourse, articulated by key Cuban intellectuals, emerged as a political response to Spain’s inertia. José Antonio Saco publicly advocated the eradication of the slave trade in Cuba as a necessary first step to “whitening” the island, promoting its economy, and advancing political rights for its white population. Saco’s racist anti–slave trade ideas were to become the most successful strain of abolitionism to operate in Cuba during the 1840s.

Chapter 4 of In the Blood of Our Brothers explores the construction of abolitionist and antiabolitionist discourses following the proclamation of the Constitution of 1837, the impact of Britain’s “abrasive” diplomatic strategy, and the reaction to the political and military repression that followed the conspiracy of La Escalera.

The End of the Slave Trade in the Spanish Empire

The final chapter of the book traces the impact of US annexationism with regard to Cuba in the debates on the continuity of the slave trade and the construction of Spain’s “balancing-act strategy,” by which the Spanish authorities managed to disregard British demands for more effective legislation against the slave trade and simultaneously succeeded in persuading London against the pursuit of unilateral action. It tackles how “national dignity” and a “sense of honor” characterized a new phase in the anti–slave trade discourse that operated within the Spanish colonial administration during the 1850s and 1860s.

Finally, the chapter charts the international and domestic factors leading to the end of the slave trade and how the Spanish political actors reassessed their position and built a new narrative that stressed the need for change in order to preserve what was left of a decaying empire.