Slavery in the NAL

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Slavery in the NAL was a potentially divisive issue within the North American League, but one which the nascent nation avoided via abolition of the practice.

Origins

Population pressure in England and Scotland during the late 17th century became much greater than *here* and all the more once the so-called mini-Ice Age hit. English colonies needed more manpower and the biggest players in the slavery business were (naturally enough) charging for as much as the market would bear. The FK was not a major supplier or purchaser of slaves and as a result did not get the best deals.

So in cases of capital punishment (which, at the time, was pretty close to anything) an option was offered anyone able-bodied. Instead of a hanging, they could work off a hefty fine in America. This was called "taking the King's fine". Sounded good, until you looked at the fine print...

The fines were large, very large--about as much as a young man might earn in three or four decades of solid work. The rates at which work paid off said fines were not even remotely fair. Expenses--such as transportation, food, lodging, etc.--were added to the fine total. And landowners in the colonies were in charge of the bookkeeping anyway, buying whole lots (or rights to whole lots) of indentured servants for little more than the price of transport.

Transportation itself was often brutal. Human cargo in these situations were slightly more prized than those in slave ships, but that hardly made much difference to those who died of dysentary en route.

More, local laws in places like Virginia and Jacobia were passed to make a man's heirs liable for his indenture debt. It wasn't slavery, but only by a gnat's whisker. Actual slaves augmented this supply of labor. For some areas and plantations the slaves were the majority. Either way, the two groups intermingled and in four or five generations they started to think of themselves as pretty close to the same. As far as blood goes, most of them were by that time.

Difer became the common term for those in indentured service--short for "Debtor For Life." It was shared as something of a courtesy with actual slaves--who often ended up being Difers' wives or brothers in law. African slaves were called "Afroes." But Scandinavians tended to lump the two together with the word "Samboes."

Reform

Waves of enlightenment crossing Europed also reached the North American colonies. By the 1770s Emancipation Societies were active in all the original nineteen founding provinces of the NAL. The works--written and otherwise--of Paul Erdmann Isert were much hailed, so that trafficking in human slaves began to carry a stigma. With Isert's murder, the political winds started to blow consistently in favor of emancipation, fueled in part by the heat of indignation.

Debate was often intense and severe. One of the most famous was in 1819 between Senators Ion Calhoun of Carolina and John York Adams of Massachussets Bay over a bill intended to make the importation of slaves a national feloney. Senator Calhoun said "Even in Eden, one person was made subservient to the other" to which Senator Adams replied "Having met My Elder Brother's wife, allow me to assure posterity that Mrs. Calhoun is in no way her husband's slave nor servant--nor is he fool enough to pretend otherwise outside these walls!"

Between 1810 and 1833 the provinces that still had slaves and the worst of indentured service began passing a series of reforms. Involutary servitude was not abolished so much as whittled away.

  • The debt amounts were reduced, in some cases forgiven.
  • The indenture itself became more regulated.
  • Inheritance of debt was reduced, restricted, then done away with.
  • The offspring of indentured servants, of whatever degree, began to be freed.
  • Actual slavery was impeded then eventually abolished in 1833 by which time hardly anyone was even considered a slave anymore.

Aftermath

One consequence of this was that the Solemn League Navy had a new mission--hunting down slavers on the high seas. Arguably the most famous of these was Bjørn Honstadt. But on the other hand, there was created a new "class" with NAL society, the Difers who once freed, found themselves with political liberty but little else.

Yet Difers also shared a common identity which helped them function as a group. Indeed, by the end of 19th century there were labour unions and some Socialist Party chapters where Difer heritage was a mark of such pride that people pretended to have it who in fact did not.

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