Article 4:
No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Concepts and Ideas

  1. Concepts and Ideas
  2. The Abolitionist Movement

Anti-slavery sentiments can be found in literary references through the ages which suggests that opposition to slavery has accompanied its spread, both globally and historically. For example, the following fragments from religious and historical texts portray the sense of moral wrongdoing inherent in holding slaves [all from UNESCO, The Birthright of Man, 414 ff]:

Hebrew Bible

Leviticus 25

God said: For unto me the children of Israel are servants.


Kiddushin 22, commenting on the above passage

But not servants unto servants.

St. Augustine 354-430 BC

From "The City of God"

This is prescribed by the order of nature: it is thus that God has created man. For 'let them,' He says 'have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every creeping thing which creepeth on the earth' (Genesis I:26). He did not intend that His rational creature, who was made in His image, should have dominion over anything but the irrational creation--not man over man, but man over the beasts. And hence the righteous men in primitive times too were made shepherds of cattle rather than kings of men, God intending thus to teach us what the relative position of the creatures is, and what the desert of sin; for it is with justice, we believe, that the condition of slavery is the result of sin. And this is why we do not find the word 'slave' in any part of the Scripture until righteous Noah branded the sin of his son with this name (Genesis 9: 25-26). It is a name, therefore introduced by sin and not by nature.

Isidore of Pelusium

From a letter written by the Egyptian monk in the 5th century

We should treat slaves as we treat our own kind. For they are men as we are .... And, in truth, we are all one by nature, by faith and by judgement awaiting us.

Caliph Omar ibn al-Khattab

Writing to the Governor Amr ibn al-As of Egypt in the 7th century

How couldst thou reduce human beings to servitude, knowing that they were born free on leaving their mother's womb?

Reform of the Emperor Sigismund

15th century

It is absolutely outrageous, and must therefore be published forth throughout Christendom, this scandal of anyone daring, in the sight of the Lord, to say to another man 'You are mine'--to someone who God has redeemed at a great cost and set free. It is heathen. God has freed us from all fetters, and no one should henceforth presume to coerce another. This the Lord himself has confirmed. His disciples were some high-born, some humble, and some were arrogant in their hearts. Christ knew well all that was in the hearts and said: Let he who would be first among you be the servant to all. God wills that we could be equal. Whatsoever has been baptized and believes shall be saved: none has more freedom in heaven than another. Let all therefore know in manner to hold him who dares to say 'You are mine': he is no Christian. But if he does not leave off and honour God, let him be stripped of his goods like a heathen [sic], for he stands against Christ, and God's commandment in him are vain.

Jean Jacques Rousseau

Addressing slavery in his The Social Contract (1762)

No man has any natural authority over his fellow man.

In the same work, Rousseau also touched on an issue debated by the drafters during the drafting process, namely whether a human should have the right to sell himself into servitude:

To renounce one's liberty is to renounce one's quality as a man, the rights and also the duties of humanity. For him who renounces everything there is no possible compensation. Such a renunciation is incompatible with man's nature, for to take away all freedom from his will is to take away all morality form his actions.

The drafters agreed with Rosseau on this issue, as becomes clear by studying the drafting history of Article 4.

next page>>

Peter Danchin, Columbia University