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Politics & Views

His convictions

The Abolition of Slavery
« As I see it, the question of abolishing slavery is not only a question for France but also a question of honor. »
(Intervention in the debate on the law governing slaves in the colonies, May 30, 1845)

Since a bill stipulating "the era
of a generalized, simultaneous abolition of slavery in the French colonies" - which Tocqueville had called for in his 1839 report
- had not been filed, the debate continued in the Chamber of Deputies throughout the 1840s, until the degradation of the situation in the colonies forced the powers that be to re-examine the problem. Two scandalous trials in particular highlighted the question of the condemnation of the poor treatment and torture to which slaves in the French colonies were submitted. Both the Valentin affair in Martinique and the Jahan trial in Guadeloupe ended in the acquittal of the defendants, who were accused of forcing inhuman treatment on their slaves. The evidence was overwhelming, and everything seemed to point to finding the accused guilty, but since the jurors were also chosen by the colonists, they refused outright to condemn their peers and thus apply the law. In the face of this judicial failing and situation in which slaves were deprived of any rights, the July Monarchy attempted to react by modifying the ways in which colonial juries were constituted, and in 1845 filed a new slavery bill that guaranteed improvements in slaves' conditions. Tocqueville, finding the proposals in the bill too timid, once again took the floor of the Chamber of Deputies on May 20, 1845 to remind his colleagues of how urgent it was for France, not to create legislation concerning the lot of slaves, but to decide definitively to abolish slavery. To convince them, he forcefully developed an argument according to which "this great and saintly idea" was nothing less than the fruit of the French Revolution, and that if the "religious philanthropy of the English" was able to carry it out before France could do so, France could legitimately claim seniority and consequently show its faithfulness to the great principles of 1789 by giving slaves in the colonies their freedom.   play sound extractlire l'extrait sonore  
Although his speech was greeted with "many and prolonged signs of admiration", as the Moniteur reported on May 31, 1845, it was not followed by immediate results. As we know, it was not until the Revolution of 1848 that slavery was definitively abolished in France's colonies.

Political Figures

The abolition of slavery in the French colonies

The abolition of slavery in the French colonies on April 27, 1848, François Biard © RMN / Gérard Blot


The Valentin Afffair, Martinique

The Valentin Affair, letter from the governor of Martinique, dated February 25, 1842 © CHAN

Bill concerning the slavery regime

Bill concerning the slavery regime in the French colonies, dated June 4, 1845 © CHAN

The Jahan Affair

The Jahan Affair, order dated December 26, 1845

Decree extending the Code Noir in the colonies

Decree extending the Code Noir in the colonies

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