August 1, 1834 – Slavery Officially Abolished Throughout [Most of] the British Empire

The Slavery Abolition Act was an 1833 Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom abolishing slavery throughout most of the British Empire (with the exceptions “of the Territories in the Possession of the East India Company,” the “Island of Ceylon,” and “the Island of Saint Helena”). It received the Royal Assent (which means it became law) on 29 August 1833 and came into force on August 1, 1834. 

In practical terms, however, only slaves below the age of six were freed, as all slaves over the age of six were redesignated as “apprenticed Labourers.” Apprentices were divided by this law into three classes, with the term of their apprenticeships dependent on their class. All apprentices of all classes were to be released by August, 1840. Additional provisions of the law specified how such apprentices were to be treated.

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The Act also included the right of compensation for slave-owners who would be losing their “property.” The amount of money to be spent on the compensation claims was set at “the Sum of Twenty Millions Pounds Sterling”. In all, the government paid out over 40,000 separate awards. The £20 million fund was 40% of the government’s total annual expenditure.

The Slavery Abolition Act 1833 was actually repealed in its entirety under the Statute Law (Repeals) Act of 1998. The repeal did not make slavery legal again, however, as sections of the Slave Trade Act 1824, Slave Trade Act 1843 and Slave Trade Act 1873 remained in force. In addition the Human Rights Act 1998 incorporates into British Law Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights which prohibits the holding of persons as slaves.

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