Database documenting payouts to UK slave-owners to be launched for public use

The British government paid out £20 million to compensate 3,000 slave-owning families for the loss of their "property" when slave ownership was abolished in Britain's colonies in 1833. At the time, that sum amounted to 40% of the UK's annual spending budget; today, one could calculate the total value of the 19th-century payouts to be around £16.5 billion (=USD $25 billion; the actual sum can vary, depending on how you calculate).

In The Independent, an article digging in to the data, which will be released this week in the form of a publicly accessible database.

The previously unseen records show exactly who received what in payouts from the Government when slave ownership was abolished by Britain – much to the potential embarrassment of their descendants. Dr Nick Draper from University College London, who has studied the compensation papers, says as many as one-fifth of wealthy Victorian Britons derived all or part of their fortunes from the slave economy.As a result, there are now wealthy families all around the UK still indirectly enjoying the proceeds of slavery where it has been passed on to them.

According to a researcher quoted in the piece, rich and socially prominent families benefitted, but so did "very ordinary men and women." The benefits of slavery affected "the entire spectrum" of the UK's economy. The newly accessible data is sure to spark renewed debate over reparations to former British slave colonies.

Read the full report: Britain's colonial shame: Slave-owners given huge payouts after abolition (via Ned Sublette)

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  1. The switching between currencies threw me off me, for anyone after a bit more consistency the current value would be around £16.5 Billion; assuming the ‘$’ wasn’t a typo?

  2. I look forward to slavery reparations as I am descended from one of local First Nations Chief Joseph Brant’s white slaves.  He was paid for her release by a French military attache who convinced the chief that such property would not go down well with the British.

    I note also that, having inherited the refugee status of my United Empire Loyalist ancestors of 250 years ago, I await the return of our Boston properties  which were illegally confiscated without compensation by the revolutionary government of the day.  I believe that in the meantime Bank of America or some such has constructed some sort of edifice on the site which will have to be demolished in order to restore the original homestead.  Fortunately, as attested to by a resolution in the US Congress regarding the confiscation of property by some chap named Castro in Cuba, there is no statute of limitations on the heinous crime of property theft.

    1. The only reference I see to white “slaves” is on some kind of Canadian “Masons” website. What exactly are you suggesting here anyway?

      1. Look it up in the wikipedia entry for Joseph Brant.  If you can make it to the Joseph Brant museum in Burlington, Ontario you can see my ancestor doing some washing in the background of one of the big oil paintings there.  She’s the slave on your right.  Many Native American nations were into slavery of assorted kinds before they met any white (or black) people.  See also 

        http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/17/the-cherokees-free-their-slaves/?hp

        1. B.S.

          It’s not even sourced in wikipedia, and as I said before, all searches seem to point back to some article by Canadian “Masons”.

          Native American nations were into slavery of assorted kinds before they met any white (or black) people.

          And no, Native Americans were not into anything remotely resembling the industrial or plantation slavery that whites engaged in on an unbelievably massive scale for centuries. Native Americans would capture enemies in battles, hold captives etc. even integrate them into their own tribes and families, but nothing resembling the kind of slavery that white people got up to.

          And you’re surprising nobody with your clever linking to the Cherokee freedman stuff. A favorite topic for racist white men to harp on while crying about ‘reverse racism’.

          So again, I ask you: What was your point to begin with, and what motivates you here?

    1. Y’know, there’s the whole Acadian population all around the world that could stand to have some reparation.

        1.  Almost nothing.  It was a cheeky reply to Xeni’s White Men’s Rights comment.  ‘Cuz, you see, Acadians, for the most part, are white people.

  3. I think that 40% of the UK’s current spend budget would be around -£10 billion.

    “As a result, there are now wealthy families all around the UK still indirectly enjoying the proceeds of slavery where it has been passed on to them.”

    Everyone in the UK and USA and much of Europe, whatever their colour, are directly enjoying the proceeds of slavery past and present.

    1. Nu-uh. 2012 budget was £682b. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_United_Kingdom_budget
      Give the Tories another 3 years though and it might be close to the £25b you imply…

    2. Ancestors of slaves are enjoying the fact that their ancestors were not paid for their work, didn’t get property, and couldn’t pass that accumulated wealth and power down through the generations?  Hilarious…….sickening…

      1. If you are born in to a culture that grew fat off slavery you are enjoying the benefits of slavery. If you are British you get all sorts of infrastructure paid for by the slave trade. I didn’t say it is fair or good; it is simply inescapable.

  4. Today, it looks a hideous joke, to pay compensation, not to the slaves- but the slave owners. Forty percent of one year’s budget to placate a bunch of rich idlers who had already profited from the sweat of their “property”.
    And yet, with such grubby compromises, history is made. The act passed through a parliament of the rich and landed, with the compensation section, and by bribing some horribly undeserving people, and slavery was abolished. The state that had allowed the hideous practice to continue, paid up. It seems a high and bitter price to pay, but in a year that also sees the 150th anniversaries of everything from the proclamation to Gettysburg, I wonder which price seems cheap?

  5. The Brits paid off thier slaveholders while we fought a civil war (which cost much more then paying off the slaveholders would have).  Who were the smart ones then?

    1. Another reason they didn’t have a civil war over slavery is that their country wasn’t geographically divided between “slavery is illegal” states and “slavery is the foundation of our entire economy” states.

      1. And Alabama in the news this afternoon for fighting the 1965 Voting Rights Act TODAY in 2013. Some people refuse to change..

      2. If you’re speaking of the British Empire, then yes, they were geographically divided in exactly that way. From about the 1770s, in England they disregarded claims of chattel slavery ownership. (It was not illegal to be a slave-owner as such, but if you took a slave to England he could just walk away and there would be nothing the owner could legally do about it.) But it would take seventy years until it was entirely forbidden in the overseas colonies. 
        In this period, there was probably a certain risk that colonies would declare independence in order to keep their slaves, if it was outlawed. So it was a lot more similar to the US than you give credit for. I guess if the US had been centralized like the British Empire, it would have dealt with slavery in a similarly appeasing way rather than risk open conflict (but maybe quite a bit earlier as well, as the Empire did).

        1.  Unfortunately, given the much stronger role that the slave economy held in the USA, I don’t think the economic means to peacefully extinguish slavery in the US was available.  It would have been like trying to outlaw the internal combustion engine today.

          The sad truth is that once slavery was an integral part of the southern US economy, it was there to stay until removed at gun-point (at least until automation made slavery uncompetitive).

          I cannot think of a region that has freely chosen to economically self-destruct for ethical reasons.  Slavery could have only ended peacefully when it had so debilitated the Southern economy compared to the North that it would be obvious to even the most ardent supporters of Slavery that they would lose any armed conflict, and God knows how many millions more would have lived and died in bondage before that occurred.

        2. If you’re speaking of the British Empire, then yes, they were geographically divided in exactly that way.

          I was talking about the UK, just as the article does. If we extend the discussion to the entire British Empire then it’s hard to make the argument that they successfully avoided colonial rebellion.

        3. I doubt  that any of the West Indian islands could have declared independence, they depended upon the Royal Navy for defence.

        4. The enlightened British wanted to abolish slavery but could only do so at home to prevent rebellion in the benighted colonies. Really? The British up to the abolition of the Empire and beyond through the creation of the Commonwealth saw the function of colonies and former colonies to produce the raw materials for British manufacturing Industry. Slavery at home was a threat to the wages on which the incipient home consumer market depended. They did what was necessary not to interrupt their supply of raw materials. It is why we are so universally loved as Cameron found out when he was in India.

          1. > The enlightened British wanted to abolish slavery but could only do so at home to prevent rebellion in the benighted colonies. Really?

            Yes? Do you think this is a flattering description? I don’t, I think shows them as pretty cowardly. But yes, there was a lot of anti-slavery sentiment in Britain, and the best defense for the practice that slavery supporters could come up with was that the slaves “weren’t ready for freedom yet”.

            > Slavery at home was a threat to the wages on which the incipient home consumer market depended.

            That makes little sense. Workers might have objected to slaves undercutting their pithy wages, but workers at the time had no political power. The owners would probably not have objected to slavery@home if they had thought there was a chance they could save money on it, which there probably wasn’t.

      3. Plus the British Empire lost many slave owning colonies after American independence, substantially weakening the position of the pro-Slavery lobby.

  6. While the information will be interesting historically, I find it hard to believe that it will result in anything but some “outrage” over some ancestors from 150 years ago not having our modern moral compass.

    The fact that much of this outrage will likely come from the global 1% (yearly household income > $48K) makes it a bit rich when almost everyone living in North America or Europe is the massive beneficiary of sins committed on our behalf by our ancestors or our governments.

    Far better that we devote resource not to shaming the beneficiaries (which is a useless bunch of self righteousness), but repairing the damage that slavery and colonialism did.  (And yes, pretty much all of these sins were universal, but the Western world won big time, so we in the 1% have the responsibility to ameliorate as we can.)

    1.  “North America or Europe is the massive beneficiary of sins committed on our behalf by our ancestors or our governments.”

      Exactly. My house, the building I work in, and this entire city and country are built on lands taken from natives, without just compensation (as if there could be “just” compensation).  I can’t point a finger at Brits receiving money for their “loss” of slaves when I’m also continuing to receive benefit from taken lands.

    2.  modern moral compass.

      Given that this comment section has numerous racist comments from crying about “reverse racism” to claiming that *everybody* has benefited so greatly from the supreme crime against humanity that was/is slavery, I’d say that modern people haven’t changed quite enough from their slaver ancestors.

  7. I’m okay with this. It got the emancipation done.

    If you want to get angry about compensation for loss of slaves, I have a more messed up story to relate. In order to secure their emancipation and independence, the people of Haiti paid reparations to France. For the loss of land. And for the loss of slaves. 

    Here’s the ringer: they didn’t finish paying reparations until 1947. And that is the reason Haiti is so shit poor. 

    1.  The blood, death, misery, and forced free labor of others. What’s your point? It’s justified because of “the industrial revolution”? It’s not.

      1. Absolutely not. My point is that people seem to forget where all the money that created industrial Capitalism came from, as if a bunch of Victorian inventors suddenly came up with all these great inventions out of nowhere and changed the world. Fact is there were big buckets of cash sloshing around from slavery and/or compensation and a significant proportion of that money was used to fund the industrial revolution. Every time I see an overly ornate Victorian waterworks it screams “funded by slavery” at me.

        1. Every time I see an overly ornate Victorian waterworks it screams “funded by slavery” at me.

          I’ll see your waterworks and raise you one big pile of irony.

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