Sesquicentennial Comparisons: Black Slavery in America and Ottoman Turkey

“…Amongst the Mussulmans, however, the use of having slaves is universal; with them it is just as natural to have negro slaves as it is [for non-Muslims] to have cats or dogs in the house…”


Andrew G. Bostom
American Thinker

January 1, 2013 marks the sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which set the United States firmly on the path toward the abolition of slavery.

Frederick Douglass, in his autobiography, Life and Times, described how, in his view, Lincoln’s proclamation morphed the Civil War beyond a struggle to preserve the Union, into a transcendent war against slavery:

The first of January, 1863, was a memorable day in the progress of American liberty and civilization. It was the turning-point in the conflict between freedom and slavery. A death blow was then given to the slaveholding rebellion

During a January 13, 1865 speech in New York City, Douglass had elaborated:

The abolition of slavery is the comprehensive and logical object of the war, for it includes everything else which the struggle involves. It is a war for the Union, a war for the Constitution, I admit; but it is logically such a war only in the sense that the greater includes the lesser… An Abolition war, therefore, includes Union, Constitution, Republican institutions, and all else that goes to make up the greatness and glory of our common country. On the other hand, exclude Abolition, and you exclude all else for which you are fighting.

This weekend, I came upon a remarkable lecture/paper presented at the Anthropological Society of London, and published in its Journal (Vol. 8, 1870-1871, pp. 85-96), “On the Negro Slaves in Turkey.” The presentation was not only a very informed analysis of black slavery in Ottoman Turkey, particularly Istanbul, through 1869, but also included a unique contemporaneous, objective comparison of the plight of black slaves in Turkey and America, during that era.

Before illustrating the paper’s background and comparative remarks-apropos to the Emancipation Proclamation sesquicentennial-it is important to note the complete absence of anything resembling a slavery abolition movement within Ottoman Turkey, even during the late 19th century modernization period, through its early 20th century disintegration. As Ehud Toledano concludes in his Slavery and Abolition in the Ottoman Middle East,

…abolitionism was rejcted on the ideological, not merely the political, level.

The aggressive campaigns of Western abolitionists stand in stark contrast. Due to these efforts-spearheaded, initially, by Evangelical Christians, such as William Wilberforce-slaves were freed within England via court order during 1772, in the British colonies starting in 1834, and colonial France in 1848; the United States abolished in slavery in 1865. Slavery did not become illegal within Islamdom, however, until large swathes of its territory came under European colonial rule (for example, Egypt in 1882; Morocco in 1912), or Muslim nations sought admission to the League of Nations after 1920 (p. 12).  Thus slavery was not formally outlawed in Republican Turkey until 1933, when, within a year of joining the League of Nations, Turkey sanctioned its prohibition by ratifying the League of Nations Convention on the Suppression of Slavery (p. 217)…

This remarkable article continues at American Thinker.

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