Jump to Content Jump to Main Navigation
The Oxford Handbook of International Human Rights Law edited by Shelton, Dinah

Part II Historical and Legal Sources, Ch.9 The Anti-Slavery Movement and the Rise of International Non-Governmental Organizations

Jenny S Martinez

From: The Oxford Handbook of International Human Rights Law

Edited By: Dinah Shelton

From: Oxford Public International Law (http://opil.ouplaw.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2015. All Rights Reserved.date: 20 January 2020

Subject(s):
Access to justice — Women, rights — Development, right to — Enslavement and forced labour — Crimes against humanity — NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) — Colonization / Decolonization

(p. 222) Chapter 9  The Anti-Slavery Movement and the Rise of International Non-Governmental Organizations

Today, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) play a central role in international human rights law and practice. As of 2012, more than 3,500 NGOs have been granted consultative status with the United Nations;1 countless other organizations work on a local level in particular countries or regions. Not only has the number of such organizations grown exponentially in the past few decades, but the reach of these organizations has grown, as well.

The term ‘non-governmental organization’ is said to have come into common usage with the founding of the United Nations in 1945. Article 71 of the UN Charter provides that ‘[t]‌he Economic and Social Council may make suitable arrangements for consultation with non-governmental organizations which are concerned with (p. 223) matters within its competence’. At the founding convention of the United Nations in San Francisco in 1945, representatives of NGOs were pivotal in pushing for the inclusion of references to human rights in the UN Charter. The great powers that had crafted the charter had not included any mention of human rights in the original draft; Britain feared this might add fuel to the independence movements in its colonies, and the Soviet Union did not want interference in its growing sphere of influence.2 Because of pressure from civil society and smaller countries, references to human rights were included in the final version of the Charter.

In the following decades, an increasing number of NGOs received consultative status before various parts of the UN; some of these NGOs worked to promote policy agendas that encompassed the advancement of various rights enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).3 Nevertheless, it was not until the late 1970s and early 1980s that use of the term NGO, along with the number and influence of such organizations, began to flood the international scene.4 Popular usage of the term ‘human rights’ also increased sharply in this same time period.5

A recent historian has asserted that the international human rights movement of today (including the central role played by human rights NGOs) is really only a product of the 1970s or later.6 Yet another scholar suggests that even the 1970s is too early, asserting that ‘if one must find a recent starting point, a more appropriate (p. 224) decade would be the 1990s, when human rights organizations truly flourished and international criminal tribunals became reality’ in the geopolitical space that opened up as a result of the end of the Cold War.7 Still other commentators contend that the euphoric, post-Berlin Wall 1990s were a blip in history and that 11 September 2001, is the proper date from which to evaluate the impact, if any, of the concept of international human rights and the role of NGOs.8

A larger group of scholars, however, has taken a broader view, in which they treat earlier episodes in history (though distinguishable on a variety of grounds) as having relevance to those seeking to understand international human rights law and advocacy today. Many have emphasized connections with the post-Second World War period,9 including the Nuremberg trials,10 the drafting of the UDHR,11 and the Genocide Convention.12 Still others have reached further back. For example, as one scholar has written:

If you think of ‘human rights activism’ in another way—as efforts to make claims across borders in the name of basic rights—this activism has been intermittently strong but not sustained. The international campaign against slavery, scattered attempts in the 1880s and 1890s to regulate the Ottoman Empire’s treatment of Christians, the birth of the international women’s rights movement are all examples.13

As one scholar has noted in relation to activism on behalf of women’s rights:

[long before the past few decades,] women were engaged in collective action to restructure civil society. Such groups were nongovernmental not by choice but by necessity. Until all too recently, women could not vote, run for office, become lawyers, serve in the military or as jurors, or, if married, contract or hold property in their own names. Yet, lacking juridical voice, women nevertheless voiced their views through the means then available, often inventing organizations that had small numbers but grand aspirations.14

(p. 225)

This chapter, focused on the antislavery and women’s movements of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, clearly falls into this latter camp in the historiography of human rights. That is, it asserts that there is some relationship between these movements, the organizations and legal frameworks they inspired, and the international human rights law of today. But the disagreement among scholars suggests that a word of caution is necessary at the outset. The nineteenth-century abolitionists and crusaders for women’s rights were not quite the same as those involved with Save Darfur,15 the Coalition for the International Criminal Court,16 or Human Rights First,17 and not just because they lacked cell phones and Twitter accounts. It would be foolish to assume similarities that do not exist between the social, intellectual, economic, and political milieu of an entirely different time and place in history; it would be more foolish still to assume that history led inexorably towards the present state of things. The world is far more contingent than that, and the past is always distinguishable from today.

And yet, the nascent international activism of nineteenth-century civil society organizations reveals some of the key developments that undergird twentieth-century international human rights law. For example, it was in the context of the campaign against the international slave trade that ‘[t]‌he idea that nations should use international lawmaking to protect the rights of individuals outside their own territory was first put into practice’.18 The widespread adoption of treaties against the slave trade:

introduced into modern international legal discourse the idea that violations of human rights were offenses of concern to humankind generally, and not just matters between a people and their sovereign. This is the key conceptual step that separates the contemporary world of international human rights law from the ideals of natural and universal rights that arose during the Enlightenment and took national legal form in documents like the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man (which focus on the relationship between individuals and the sovereign states where they reside).19

Moreover, ‘attempts to subject the slave trade to universal jurisdiction by declaring it piracy’ also foreshadowed the later idea that ‘national sovereignty is not an impenetrable barrier to international law action in the case of human rights violations’.20(p. 226)

Like modern human rights movements, the movement for the abolition of slavery and the slave trade involved transborder activism by privately organized individuals and included, as one goal, the strengthening of international treaty regimes concerning the slave trade. Later campaigns for reform in other areas—for example, the movement for women’s suffrage—grew out of the abolition effort, as activists who had learned organizing techniques in the context of abolitionism turned to other issues. As scholars have explained:

T[t]‌he transnational antislavery campaign provided a ‘language of politics’ and organizational and tactical recipes for other transnational campaigns as well. The women’s suffrage campaign initially drew many of its activists and tactics from the antislavery movement.21

This chapter addresses the emergence in the nineteenth century of NGOs, with particular attention to those organized around slavery and women’s rights and suffrage.22 While not every aspect of these campaigns mirrors modern human rights activism, the ties between these historical campaigns and the present, underscore the ways in which contemporary international human rights law is deeply rooted in the past.

1. The Rise of Abolitionism: Religion, Natural Rights, and Civil Society

From the 1500s to the 1800s, chattel slavery was a central feature of the social and economic landscape of the Atlantic world.23 In the year 1800, the system was flourishing; in the first decade of the nineteenth century, slave ships carried some 600,000 slaves from Africa to the Americas. The slave population of the Western Hemisphere numbered in the millions. But cracks in the facade were beginning to emerge. In 1807, Britain and the United States each passed domestic legislation (p. 227) banning participation in the African slave trade. Newly independent Latin American countries, including Mexico, Argentina, and Chile, took steps towards ending slavery itself within their territories.24 Slavery was abolished in British West Indian colonies in 1834. By the 1840s, more than twenty nations—including all the major Atlantic maritime powers—had joined international treaties committed to the abolition of the slave trade. By the late 1860s, only a few hundred slaves per year were illegally transported across the Atlantic. And by 1900, every country in the Western Hemisphere had outlawed slavery itself.

Seeking to explain this dramatic change, historians, economists, political scientists, and others have debated the causes and origins of abolition. The abolition movement spanned the Atlantic world and grew from early efforts to suppress the slave trade, in the late eighteenth century, to the eventual extinction of slavery itself, in the nineteenth century. Abolitionism took earlier and deeper root in some countries than others, and the ties between abolitionists in different countries varied. Britain was a leader, and there were particularly strong personal and organizational ties between British and North American abolitionists, but anti-slavery organizations in other European and Latin American countries were intermittently active and in contact with one another, as well. Early writers emphasized the idealistic motives of those individuals, organizations, and nations who led the abolition campaign,25 though it quickly became apparent that this was too simplistic. Later, more sceptical writers suggested that, far from being a selfless endeavour, abolitionism served the economic self-interest of influential factions of society made wealthy by the rise of industrial capitalism.26 In addition, some have argued that putting a spotlight on the evils of the slave trade and slavery deflected attention from other problematic issues, such as European colonization of Africa and the Indian subcontinent, the so-called ‘wage slavery’ that factory workers experienced, and efforts by countries such as Britain to gain dominance over the oceans for commercial reasons.27 Anti-slavery thus reinforced some problematic social structures (p. 228) and hierarchies, even as it dismantled others. More recent scholarship has landed somewhere in the middle, suggesting that a fortuitous convergence of both idealistic and self-interested motives was involved. Factors including the spread of Enlightenment ideas about natural rights, the attention given to such rights in the American and French revolutions, changes in the structure of the economy, and the spread of religious revival movements that provided both a motive and an organizational structure for reform campaigns, all played a part.28 Some scholars have challenged the degree to which antislavery campaigns did deflect attention from other labour issues and have suggested, instead, that capitalism’s key contribution to the antislavery movement was a subtler one: an awareness of cause and effect across the marketplace led ordinary people to understand that their purchase of consumer goods, such as sugar, led to demand for slave labour on plantations, which in turn led to a demand for slaves and the perpetuation of the slave trade.29 Other scholars have argued more generally that ‘social movements emerged in the eighteenth century from “structural changes that were associated with capitalism” such as “new forms of association, regular communication linking center and periphery, and the spread of print and literacy”’,30 and that abolition was linked to broader humanitarian movements in many countries that addressed issues such as poor laws, labour standards, and prison conditions.31 Still others have emphasized the ways in which literature—eighteenth-century novels in particular—encouraged the development of empathy for the inner lives of others and emphasized personal autonomy.32 Historians have also countered the emphasis on elite interests by underscoring the genuine importance of widespread, popular support for the abolitionist cause, which the hundreds of thousands of individuals who signed petitions in support of (p. 229) antislavery efforts, attended mass rallies, and participated in consumer boycotts of sugar from slave plantations, demonstrated.33 As one commentator has argued in the context of US history:

If anti-slavery promoted the hegemony of middle class values, it also provided a language of politics, a training in organization, for critics of the emerging order. The anti-slavery crusade was a central terminus, from which tracks ran leading to every significant attempt to transform American society after the Civil War.34

Antislavery was at ‘the vanguard of a new mode of collective action’, in which organizers deployed ‘a new repertoire of public meetings, demonstrations, and special interest associations’, while ‘using newspapers to project their demands and presence onto a national and international stage’.35 Scholars have identified the abolition movement as a product of the space opened up by the development of ‘civil society’ in Western Europe and North America from the mid-eighteenth through the mid-nineteenth centuries.36 As one scholar has noted, ‘[o]‌ccupying the broad swath of social life that unfolded between the formal authority of the state and the economic domain of the marketplace, civil society steadily expanded in the Atlantic world between 1750 and 1850’.37 Moreover, ‘[w]ithin civil society antislavery ideas and social movements steadily acquired the power to challenge the alliance between state and marketplace that legitimized slavery’.38 As discussed in great depth below, women were an important part of this movement. For them, civil society took form

as gatherings of private citizens meeting together, and explicitly engaging in the formation of public opinion. This might take the form of elite salons and tea tables, or voluntary associations of various descriptions, but for many...it also meant their churches and chapels.39

The development of civil society was particularly pronounced in both the United States and Britain. Alexis de Tocqueville observed the proliferation of civil associations in the United States for not just political or commercial enterprises, but for all manner of purposes.40 Across the Atlantic, ‘[r]‌apid economic development, (p. 230) combined with a reduction or governmental authority and the decline of governmental censorship in Britain’, led to a proliferation of newspapers and voluntary associations.41

Opponents of slavery and the slave trade conceptualized the issue at least partially in terms of individual rights (described as ‘the rights of man’, ‘natural rights’, or occasionally even ‘human rights’), as well as of religious and moral obligations to end a practice that was increasingly understood to be barbaric and cruel. In 1776, one member of the British Parliament argued, for example, that the ‘[s]‌lave-trade was contrary to the laws of God, and the rights of men’.42 Another speaker before Parliament in 1806, Lord Grenville, described slavery as contrary to the ‘rights of nature’ whereby ‘every human being is entitled to the fruit of his own labour’.43 That same year, President Thomas Jefferson wrote that he supported legislation banning the slave trade because it would ‘withdraw the citizens of the United States from all further participation in those violations of human rights which have been so long continued on the unoffending inhabitants of Africa’.44

Arguments against slavery and the slave trade were deeply intertwined with ideas of natural law and natural rights, and also with international law (then called the ‘law of nations’). Slavery was a particularly complicated case, because although some philosophers going back to Aristotle had characterized slavery as a natural part of the order of the world (and perhaps even mandated by God), over time other philosophers had concluded that slavery was contrary to natural law (or jus naturale, to use the older terminology). At the same time, jus gentium, the Roman predecessor of the law of nations, sanctioned slavery as a lawful consequence of warfare. Indeed, texts on Roman law pointed to slavery as the sole example of a conflict between (p. 231) the jus naturale and the jus gentium.45 Slavery and the slave trade were tolerated by the law of nations into the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and usually justified on grounds that prisoners captured in war could be enslaved instead of killed. While it was no longer the custom for Europeans to enslave one another, this was described as a custom based on shared religion and not an obligation that either natural law or the law of nations imposed, and no such custom attached to non-European prisoners in other lands.46 As the Enlightenment progressed, philosophers writing about natural rights became less comfortable with the traditional justifications for slavery. John Locke believed that man was naturally entitled to the fruits of his own labour, and though he accepted that slavery might be justifiable in a situation where a man might otherwise rightly be slain, he called it a ‘vile and miserable’ state of man.47 Not much later, Jean-Jacques Rousseau asserted that slavery was entirely contrary to natural right. He argued that slavery could not arise from voluntary contract because ‘[t]‌o renounce one’s liberty is to renounce one’s humanity, the rights of humanity and even its duties’; nor could slavery justly arise from warfare, because there was no right to kill the vanquished and no right to enslave as a lesser measure.48

Perhaps equally important were religious arguments and changes in the ideology and institutional structure of Christianity. While Christianity had always had a strand of egalitarianism, religious beliefs had long been used to justify, rather than condemn, slavery. However, in younger Protestant sects there emerged new understandings of sin and bodily and spiritual liberty. Among the Quakers in particular, slave holding came to be seen as sinful.49 A strain of philanthropic tradition also ran through British Protestantism, was linked to the emergence of capitalism, and was a response to problems created by economic change.50 Surges in religious enthusiasm and participation fostered the spread of anti-slavery thought and an organizational infrastructure for antislavery work.

While slavery was a lynchpin of the economy in new world colonies at the periphery of empire, it was not a practice that was legally encouraged in the metropolitan centre, even for non-Europeans. While the occasional African slave might reach Western Europe in the company of a well-travelled master, chattel slavery was not part of daily life. William Blackstone’s famous Commentaries on the Laws of England thus suggested in the 1765 edition that ‘a slave or negro, the moment he lands in England, falls under the protection of the laws and with regard to all natural rights becomes eo instanti(p. 232) a freeman’ (though, curiously, the 1769 edition retreated somewhat from this assertion).51 The same was true, at least some of the time, in France.52

In 1772, the landmark British case of Somerset v Stewart made clear that slaves who set foot on British soil would, in fact, be free, on the grounds that slavery was contrary to natural law and was not legally authorized within the United Kingdom proper (as opposed to its colonial possessions).53 James Somerset, a slave from Virginia, had arrived in England with his master, Charles Stewart; Stewart intended to continue to hold Somerset as a slave and eventually to return with him to America. Granville Sharp, a lawyer known to be opposed to slavery, and who had helped other Africans in London defend their freedom, became aware of Somerset’s presence and helped him file a petition for habeas corpus seeking his release.54 The lawyer argued that slavery was contrary to natural law and inalienable human rights, as well as to the customary liberties of English law. He suggested that slavery could not lawfully be based on a contract, for a man could not consent to ‘dispose of all the rights vested by nature and society in him and his descendants’ without ‘ceasing to be a man; for these rights immediately flow from, and are essential to, his condition as such; they cannot be taken from him’.55 Nor did capture in war justify slavery; the right to kill in battle did not translate into the right to enslave instead, he argued. On the other hand, Stewart’s attorneys emphasized conventional conflict of laws doctrine and suggested that Somerset’s legal status as a slave should follow him to England. These lawyers also argued that it would be impractically idealistic to find in Somerset’s favour.

The court held that slavery was ‘so odious’ and contrary to natural law that it could only be justified by ‘positive law’.56 While slavery was recognized in other territories, the law of England itself did not allow or approve of it. Thus, despite the practical ‘inconvenience’ that might follow from the decision, the court ordered Somerset’s release.57

Somerset was an important symbolic victory. However, it was a relatively isolated event. Granville Sharp was a lawyer who supported abolition, yet at the time there existed no NGOs that would allow for a more widespread movement against slavery to gain momentum. Such a civil society emerged only in the late eighteenth century, when religious organizations began translating their antislavery (p. 233) ideas into practical action and reform. Quakers were some of the first to organize against slavery. In 1787, a mixed group of Quakers and members of the Anglican Church and other denominations in Britain, came together to form a committee and launch a campaign that would, over the next two decades, change both mass and elite opinion concerning the slave trade. It was a novel undertaking. As one scholar has described, in Britain, NGOs of this sort ‘were unknown in 1750, novel in 1780, commonplace in 1830’.58

It was not yet politically feasible to try to abolish slavery in British colonial possessions. Attacking the trade was more practical, although British merchants who participated in the trade, as well as those who owned slaves in the West Indies, resisted the effort. But it was easier to portray the slave trade as cruel and unjust than to attack the image of benign plantation masters. Newspapers and pamphlets carried stories by sailors and freed slaves of the horrors of the transiting the Atlantic in the hold of a slave ship, and slave ship crews were not made up of the best kinds of men, but instead of characters who were easy to demonize. Abolitionists also argued that plantation owners would treat their existing slaves better, and thus reduce horrific mortality rates on plantations, if there was not a plentiful supply of new captives from Africa.

Civil society actors used a number of different tactics to organize around antislavery. One of the key strategies for conveying popular sentiment in Britain was the petition to Parliament. At a time when voting rights were limited to a small segment of property-owning elites, the petition was a way in which ordinary people could express their political opinions. It was a mechanism for translating civil society’s aspirations into political action. A mass petition drive concerning the slave trade in Britain in 1788 gathered 60–100,000 signatures, followed by 390,000 in 1792, and 750,000 in 1814.59 The strategy was used again at various times. In 1833, some 1.3 million people in the UK signed a petition in support of immediate emancipation of slaves in British colonies.60 Petitions were also used in other countries, including the US and France, though not on the same scale or with the same positive effects on legislative action.61 Other modes of organizational action that were developed and perfected included public meetings and rallies, as well as placement of newspaper articles.62(p. 234)

As the early abolition movement sought to mobilize greater numbers of supporters, activists in some places eagerly sought out women’s involvement.63 As one scholar has noted, women ‘were targeted as, and credited with, having an inherent sensitivity to the sufferings of slavery, especially its female victims’.64 In 1791, British abolitionists launched a boycott of slave-grown sugar, introducing a new tool into the activists’ toolbox (one particularly suited to a capitalist economy). This was a moment that would prove important, both in the history of anti-slavery activism and in the involvement of women in abolitionist causes.65 The boycott began following the failure in Parliament of a measure that abolitionist leader William Wilberforce introduced to abolish the British slave trade. As scholars have described, ‘[i]‌t was an attempt to overcome a failure in politics by action in the spheres of civil society and the market’, and ‘[t]he initiators of the movement believed that women were both susceptible to the message and essential to the campaign’.66 An estimated 300,000 people participated in the boycott, and women were considered particularly important in its success, as they determined their families’ purchasing and consumption decisions.67

Abolitionist organizations thus gained traction in British politics. With the leadership of William Wilberforce, the House of Commons passed anti-slave trade legislation in 1792, but conservative forces in the House of Lords blocked the measure.68 The movement stalled, and other events overtook abolition in importance. Political agitation was viewed as dangerous and threatening in the wake of the bloody French Revolution, and the public meetings and petition campaigns that had galvanized Wilberforce’s campaign could not continue.69 Wilberforce dutifully introduced antislavery legislation each year, but the legislation was dead on arrival and received little attention.

In the spring of 1806, a change in strategy broke the log jam. The Foreign Slave Trade Act70 prohibited British subjects from participating in the slave trade with the current or former colonies and possessions of France and its allies, with whom England was at war.71 The act easily passed the House of Commons, framed as part of the war effort. Conservative forces finally noticed the measure and submitted a petition opposing the act to the House of Lords with more than 400 signatures from (p. 235) the key trading centre of Manchester. The abolition forces proved their growing organizational sophistication and responded within hours with a counter-petition from Manchester bearing more than 2,300 signatures.72 The act passed the House of Lords.73 The slave trade proved an issue in key parliamentary elections in the fall of 1806.74 In early 1807, both houses of Parliament finally passed the Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade.75 The law prohibited participation in the slave trade by British subjects and the importation of slaves to British possessions.

With strong enforcement by the Royal Navy, slave trading soon became an intolerably risky venture for British ships.76 At the same time, it quickly became clear that the slave trade ban would have little constructive effect unless other countries followed. If Portugal, for example, did not prohibit the trade, Portuguese slave traders would simply pick up the slack created by the British exit from the market. In addition, Portuguese colonies would continue to import slaves, making their plantations more productive than those in British colonies. Accordingly, absent a repeal of the legislation (which seemed improbable), the best hope for British West Indian plantation owners was a re-levelling of the playing field through the abolition of the slave trade by other countries, as well. In other words, activism against the slave trade could not be solely confined within one nation, but would eventually have to address the transnational nature of the slave trade and the existence of slavery in many different nations. This would eventually take the forms of transnational civil society organizing for abolitionism, as well as the use of international law in the form of treaties to facilitate multi-country cooperation.

Across the Atlantic, legislation against the slave trade was also working its way through the American political system. Individual states took measures against the slave trade starting in the late eighteenth century. Between 1776 and 1787, ten of the thirteen states banned importation of slaves from abroad. Two others imposed high tariffs or had very low rates of import.77 The Constitutional Convention in 1787 did not resolve the slave trade question; it deferred it, providing that the federal congress could not ban the importation of persons until 1808.78 In the early 1790s, abolition societies began petitioning Congress for national anti-slave trade legislation. A statute passed in 1794 prohibited slave ships in American ports from being fitted out for slave trade abroad.79 In 1800, Congress passed an act that outlawed US (p. 236) citizen involvement on slave ships, and slavery-related trips, abroad.80 These statutes allowed for a number of civil forfeitures and criminal prosecutions in federal court in the following years.81 Congress then passed legislation fully prohibiting the slave trade on 2 March 1807, effective in January 1808.

The anti-slavery movement in the United States had begun to emerge in the aftermath of the American Revolution.82 The Quakers played a central role in its emergence, speaking out against slavery starting in the latter half of the eighteenth century.83 Early anti-slavery activism focused on attempts to gradually emancipate slaves, as well as suggestions of colonizing Liberia with free blacks, in order to end slavery in the south.84 More radical efforts soon developed. By 1838, there were about 1,350 anti-slavery societies, which together had as many as 250,000 members, in the United States.85 These associations were deeply rooted in American communities of Quakers, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Unitarians.86

2. International Action against the Slave Trade

2.1. Civil society networks

A rich transnational network flourished between abolitionist organizations in Britain and the United States. Activists in the two countries ‘frequently exchanged letters, publications, and visits’, drawing on ‘a tradition of transatlantic networking and information exchange that had flourished among them during the last decades before American independence’.87 These links were particularly rooted in the relationships that Quakers had built over the course of the eighteenth century.88 Activists shared tactics, including petitioning, boycotting goods produced by slaves, (p. 237) and hiring abolitionist speakers, which were often transmitted from Britain to the United States.89 Several key abolitionist figures were crucial to solidifying these links in the 1830s, including William Lloyd Garrison, Charles Stuart, and George Thompson.90 Garrison, for example, started the American Anti-Slavery Society. He sought British assistance, which came in the form of the Universal Abolition Society defining one of its aims as ‘aiding American abolitionists and campaigning against foreign involvement in the slave trade’.91 Stuart and Thompson also prioritized establishing more links between the two countries. Upon his return from one tour in the United States, Thompson encouraged the creation of more universal abolition societies.92

The World Anti-Slavery Convention, held in 1840, was central to solidifying the ties between British and American abolitionist organizations.93 As one scholar has noted, ‘[t]‌he 1840 conference was built on efforts of women and men working on both sides of the Atlantic, in Calcutta, Sierra Leone, and the Cape of Good Hope’.94 The conference ‘represented a joint English and American undertaking’ that key antislavery leaders in both countries attended.95

2.2. State-to-state action: international treaties and courts

At the same time as civil society actors in various countries were working together to further the abolitionist agenda, developments were taking place on the state-to-state level. Influenced by domestic pressure groups, Britain in particular made suppressing the slave trade a pillar of its foreign policy. Over the course of the nineteenth century, a network of treaties against the slave trade were put in place and played a significant role in solidifying the international consensus against slavery. The international legal effort against the slave trade began with declarations that the slave trade was contrary to the interests of humanity, in instruments such as the Treaty of Ghent (between the US and Britain at the end of the War of 1812) and in a non-binding declaration by European powers at the Congress of Vienna.96 These were followed by more binding forms of international law-making, including treaties against the slave trade and even provisions for international judicial enforcement of those treaties.(p. 238)

The late eighteenth century had seen the emergence of arbitral commissions for settling disputes between countries, such as the 1794 Jay Treaty between Britain and the United States97 to settle claims that arose from the American Revolutionary War, and the November 1815 peace treaty addressing claims from the Napoleonic Wars.98 From such institutions emerged the idea of establishing courts to enforce the new treaties against the slave trade. By 1817, Britain had established bilateral treaties with the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain that allowed for ‘mutual rights of search and established mixed courts to try and condemn captured slave ships’. These treaties were formulated using language that clearly condemned slavery as an offence against humanity and can thus be understood as ‘the world’s first international courts directed at the protection of human rights’.99

These courts were set up in possessions of each of the four treaty member countries: Freetown, Sierra Leone; Havana, Cuba; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and Suriname.100 Other countries, including Brazil, Chile, the Argentine Confederation, Uruguay, Bolivia, Ecuador, and the United States, eventually joined and established additional courts.101 The courts initially struggled with uncertainties about procedural rules and substantive law, further complicated by the high absenteeism of European judges and arbitrators who would fall victim to tropical diseases.102 But ultimately, the international courts condemned more than 600 illegal ships, and freed more than 80,000 slaves.103 In addition, national courts operating under national laws and sometimes theories of universal jurisdiction also took action at various times to enforce the international slave trade ban.104

While the international treaties and the international court system did not alone end the slave trade, they played an important role in solidifying the consensus against the slave trade and provided a mechanism for cooperation between nations.105 While abolitionist organizations were not predominantly focused on the international legal regime, they did recognize it was a tool that could aid in their fight. The delegates at the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention, for example, voted in favour of a proposal for dramatically expanding the jurisdiction of the mixed courts, and the British government in turn drafted a treaty that would have done just that, although that particular draft was never adopted.106 Ultimately, however, the campaign for abolition of the slave trade stands as a milestone in the history of international human rights law, both conceptually, as the first time international treaties were seen as a proper mechanism for countries to address the violation of the rights of persons who were not their citizens, as well as practically, as in the first instance in which international treaties were successfully used to change global practices in relation to a human rights issue.(p. 239)

2.3. Women and abolition

Historians have recognized that women were centrally involved in anti-slavery movements on both sides of the Atlantic, and there were strong connections between women’s anti-slavery work and their eventual organizing in support of women’s rights and other issues.107 As one scholar noted:

Some associations, women’s antislavery organizations foremost among them, offered women opportunities to create institutions, to master the arts of debating, to formulate resolutions, to hold office, to negotiate with other branches, and to form contacts and alliances at the local, national, and international level. In short, they were a major pathway in the formation of what might be called feminine social capital, the art of building effective networks, coalitions, and leaders.108

Women could not vote at this point, and it was through non-governmental organizing in the context of civil society that they not only made their voices heard on the issue of slavery, but eventually organized themselves to demand greater political and civil rights. As previously noted, anti-slavery campaigns were closely entwined with religious activity, with Quakers and other Protestant denominations involved to varying degrees. Different religious sects, not surprisingly, had differing views on the role of women. Baptists, Congregationalists, and Methodists, for example, ‘continued to emphasize women’s role as godly wives and mothers, and their dependence on men’.109 Other denominations, such as Unitarians, did not feel that women’s role in the home was limited to ‘maternal or domestic duties’.110

Women played an important part in abolitionist movements in many countries, ‘especially in Great Britain and the United States, where the state did not regulate civil society or women’s activism as much as it did in Germany or France’, though some women were active in smaller anti-slavery movements at various moments in those countries, as well.111 Historians have argued that abolition was a critical point for women’s entry into the public space. The extent to which various abolitionists thought women should be involved varied. A striking example of this surrounded the controversy of American women and the 1840 London Conference, discussed in great detail below, where female delegates were not allowed to take a seat at the conference. Yet some abolitionists invited and rationalized women’s involvement in the movement, as aspects of slavery were thought to be of particular concern to women, such as the ways in which slavery destroyed family structures (a traditional sphere of women) and the plight of women slaves.112 While some have suggested that this reinforced the ideology of ‘separate spheres’ and distracted from more fundamental (p. 240) challenges to gender and class hierarchies,113 it is not clear that women’s voices could have entered the public sphere in a more radical way, at that moment in time, and met with any sort of success.

One of the factors that facilitated the entry of women into civil society, and eventually political activism, in both the US and Britain was the centrality of religion to abolitionist organizing. As one scholar has noted, churches—particularly those of newer, dissenting Protestant denominations—offered a structure for women to gather and interact, and ‘women took strength from their church networks to become involved in collective activism for causes which, in the case of anti-slavery, took them into the political arena’.114 Particularly in the US, ‘religion, no longer supported by the state, became a competitive form of voluntarism that encouraged women’s collective activism’.115 Religious ideas and values heavily influenced abolitionist women, and the framework in which many of them experienced religion—that of evangelical conversion and dissent—created space for their work in challenging authority and existing social norms, whether related to gender norms or other issues, such as slavery.116

As historians have recounted: ‘For over six decades, from the 1790s to the 1850s, religious women connected anti-slavery movements across the Atlantic, forging bonds of friendship, sharing strategies and resources, nurturing commitments, and constructing an international movement.’117 But there were differences in the social and political contexts on opposite sides of the Atlantic. British women abolitionists emphasized ‘political economy’ and ‘profitability’ to a greater extent than Americans, who ‘embraced a strategy whereby they sought to influence “public opinion” while avoiding any claim to “political” standing as such’.118 In contrast to the British:

American women did not, on the whole, take up an analysis of the economics of slavery or its abolition; instead they abstained from slave goods so that their behaviour (and their persons) reflected their souls...They paid homage to their British predecessors for formulating a basis for women’s engagement in anti-slavery work, but, moved in part by the powerful evangelical currents that gave their abolitionism a wider audience, they embellished the emotionalism of their appeal.119

(p. 241) ‘Hundreds of female anti-slavery societies emerged in the 1830s’ in the United States, mostly linked in some way to churches and emphasizing religious arguments, though in many instances ‘women chose to join a female anti-slavery society despite the opposition of their church’.120

Mass national petitioning was key to women’s anti-slavery activism. While petitioning was originally a male-driven form of activism, by 1830 British women were crucial to its success and essentially took it over.121 Baptist and Methodist organizations asked for their involvement, and by 1838 more than two-thirds of signatures were from women.122 Women also played a crucial role in American anti-slavery petition efforts. As one scholar notes, ‘[f]‌rom 1831 to 1863 women publicly expressed their opinion about slavery by affixing approximately 3 million signatures to petitions aimed at Congress’.123

It was also the case that women were ‘responsible for the most massive antislavery action in Britain during the 1850s’, when in 1852, in response to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s visit to Britain, they authored two addresses to ‘Their Sisters, the Women of the United States of America’, for which more than 750,000 women’s signatures were gathered.124

There were particularly strong ties between North American and British abolitionists, including between women abolitionists, and indeed some scholars have argued that the transatlantic networks that flourished, particularly from the 1830s to the 1850s, constituted ‘the first international women’s movement’.125

Many women involved in abolition campaigns became involved in other issues as well. Most notably, particularly in the United States, campaigners for abolition were transformed into campaigners for women’s rights. As one abolitionist wrote, ‘in striving to strike [the slaves’] irons off, we found most surely that we were manacled ourselves’.126 At the time, ‘married women could not own property, make contracts, bring suits, or sit on juries. They could be legally beaten by their husbands and were required at any moment to submit to their husbands’ sexual demands’.127 As early as the seventeenth century in France, the comparison between marriage and slavery was made by supporters of greater rights for women in novels and other literary (p. 242) works, and eventually was invoked in countries including Germany, Britain, and the United States.128 As one scholar has explained:

[t]The power of the slavery analogy, for feminists, was its insistence that women, and particularly women who married, were individuals in their own right, that they possessed ‘human rights’ and free will and could not legally be disposed of like chattel or forced, even for family reasons, to do things against their will.129

More concretely, women delegates from the United States were denied official seats at the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, an issue referred to as ‘the woman question’.130 This rejection highlighted an important difference in anti-slavery activism in Britain and the United States. While ‘[m]‌ost local anti-slavery societies in the United States before 1840 included both men and women’, in Britain ‘all anti-slavery societies were sex-segregated’.131 This difference became salient when eight women presented themselves as delegates to the London Convention, invited as representatives of the American Anti-Slavery Society. The committee refused them, claiming that ‘their presence constituted “an innovation on [British] customs and usages” that would subject the convention to ridicule’.132 Debate on the issue dominated much of the first day of the conference.133 In a vote at the end of the day, 90 per cent of male delegates voted against seating the women. Instead, the women observed the conference in a curtained-off area off of the main hall.134

The London Conference played a central role in the development of the women’s movement.135 Elizabeth Cady Stanton asserted that it was the experience of that convention that gave ‘rise to the movement for women’s political equality both in England and the United States’.136 She claimed that their exclusion led her and Lucretia Mott to ‘hold a convention as soon as we returned home, and form a society to advocate the rights of women’.137 Eight years later, the Seneca Falls conference launched the American women’s rights movement.138 The issues discussed at Seneca Falls included women’s suffrage, property rights for married women, equal wages, (p. 243) education, and divorce.139 The key actors involved in Seneca Falls and its aftermath came to the issue of women’s rights through their abolitionist activities. They relied on their experiences in public speaking and organizing around anti-slavery in their involvement in the women’s movement.140

In the immediate aftermath of the London Convention, American women turned their attention to women’s rights, in order to create ‘a new place within a civil and political society of equal citizens’.141 In contrast, until the early 1850s, their British anti-slavery sisters ‘were less inclined to form more radical feminist associations’.142 Instead, they chose to focus their attention on ‘the ever-broadening range of social problems being addressed by voluntary associations’.143 Some scholars have noted that in the United States, race and gender ‘were the two key determinants of full citizenship’ that led to an intuitive linking of the issues;144 women and blacks both did not have full enjoyment of the rights that the US Constitution granted to persons, leading to a natural analogy between their situations. In Britain, the picture was more complicated, because ‘class was effectively the determinant of enfranchisement’, with property ownership being the requisite for voting, and because slavery was an institution that existed at the periphery, not in the imperial centre of Britain proper, thus rendering less salient the equation between women and blacks as disenfranchised groups.145 In addition, British women’s activism occurred in the context of empire, as women activists linked their concern for women in the reaches of the British empire (framed in the troublesome context of imperial ideologies of superiority and obligation) to their domestic feminism and their supposed privileges as women. This included not only antislavery efforts, but also campaigns related to women in India and against the practice of sati.146

Women were also influential in various ways in the abolition movement in Brazil.147 In early-nineteenth-century France, by contrast, there was no large-scale (p. 244) ‘organized mass movement either for the abolition of slavery or for the emancipation of women’, though there was discussion and writing on both topics.148 Women had participated actively in the French Revolution and had made demands for the franchise and other rights, but after the Revolution, the gains women made were quickly rescinded.149 Even when abolitionists in France gathered 21,000 signatures in 1844 and 1847, they fell orders of magnitude short of the millions of signatures gathered in Britain at various times.150 There were not distinct women’s abolitionist societies in France, and women were not central to the small, male-dominated organizations.151 In the late 1840s, the English Quaker and abolitionist Anne Knight ‘participated in the efforts of the Voix des Femmes team to formulate their protests’,152 but overall there were not strong ties, in this time period, between French abolitionists and French women’s groups campaigning for suffrage or other women’s rights.153 There was some participation by women in abolitionist organizations in Spain, and the ‘Spanish Abolition Society published a series of letters in 1865 from British women’s antislavery societies to the “Ladies of Madrid”’, but again it was not as significant as in the Anglo-American countries.154 In Spain, the trafficking of white women for the global sex trade was linked in public argument to the African slave trade. The same person (a man) who founded the Sociedad Abolicionista (Abolitionist Society) in 1865 (concerned with black slavery in the Antilles) later founded the Sociedad para la Abolición de la Prostitución Legal o Tolerada (Society for the Abolition of Legal or Tolerated Prostitution) in 1883 (concerned with prostitution, which was asserted to be a form of slavery).155

In the later part of the nineteenth and the early twentieth century, as the movement for women’s rights advanced, some of the ties that had been forged between British and American abolitionist women were extended. These ties developed mainly around the issue of women’s suffrage. A number of different tactics were shared transatlantically. For example, the British Women’s Social and Political Union influenced more militant suffragettes in the United States.156

The international suffrage campaign was launched in 1904, with the founding of the International Woman Suffrage Association.157 Eleven countries attended its (p. 245) founding conference, a number that almost quadrupled by the time of the 1926 conference.158 Shared tactics resembled those of the earlier abolitionists; ‘[a]‌s with the anti-slavery movement, these ideas spread through travel of key activists, family connections, and exchanges of letters, pamphlets, and newspapers’.159 American suffrage activists played a particularly important role in shaping the demands of their British counterparts. Married women could not own property in Britain, and voting was tied to property ownership.160 Americans such as Stanton pushed them to demand voting rights for married and single women. While only a minority of British activists originally held this position, it eventually became the dominant one in the country.161

Speaking tours played a central role in developing ties between women’s organizations internationally, beyond Britain and the United States. During and in the immediate aftermath of the First World War, the United States, Canada, and many European countries granted women the right to vote. Shortly thereafter, these rights were extended throughout most countries in Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East.

2.4. Development of civil society and emergence of other transnational non-governmental organizations

Many of the organizations that flourished in the new space of civil society were geographically confined, either locally or within the context of the national state. However, as the abolition and women’s suffrage movements demonstrate, there were some very significant ones with transnational reach. Churches and religious organizations, of course, had long had transnational reach. But although many of the new groups had some ties to religious organizations, their missions were in some ways broader than those of churches. For example, some point to the World Alliance of YMCAs, which was founded in 1855 with affiliated associations in eight countries, as another early example of an international non-governmental organization.162 The YMCA was created in London to provide young migrant men refuge from the dangers of the city.163 It gradually expanded to fulfilling its mission ‘to (p. 246) bring social justice and peace to young people and their communities, regardless of religious, race, gender, or culture’, in 125 countries, with over 45 million members.164

Transnational NGOs were also involved in the development of the international law of war. Henry Dunant founded the organization that became the International Committee of the Red Cross after he witnessed the suffering of the wounded at the Battle of Solferino in 1859. Dunant was born in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1828, the son of a well-to-do businessman.165 Motivated in part by religious belief, he was involved in local charitable work from an early age, as were his parents.166 Prior to founding the Red Cross, he participated in the founding of the Geneva chapter of the YMCA in 1852 and in the conference creating the international association of YMCAs in 1855. Relatedly, other NGOs in the early nineteenth century emerged and organized around the pursuit of peace, with over 425 peace societies active by 1900. These societies had important transnational reach. In 1840, the President of the American Peace Society, William Ladd, proposed a plan that would eventually become the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA).167 Today, the PCA is ‘a modern, multi-faceted arbitral institution that is now perfectly situated at the juncture between public and private international law to meet the rapidly evolving dispute resolution needs of the international community’.168

NGOs also expanded their transnational reach in other areas. These include worker solidarity, where ‘[t]‌ransnational worker activity increased in the 1870s’.169 Groups focused on international labour issues and founded in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the International Federation of Tobacco Workers, the International Federation for the Observation of Sunday, the Permanent International Committee on Social Insurance, the International Federation of Trade Unions, and the International Congress on Occupational Diseases.170 Other organizations that emerged throughout the nineteenth century focused on issues of free trade, including the International Association for Customs Reform, founded in 1856.171(p. 247)

2.5. Connections between early NGOs and those active today

Not only did a number of the early NGOs develop organizing tactics and strategies still used by transnational NGOs today, some of these organizations have had a more or less continuous organizational life, even as their agendas have developed and changed with the times. A number of major human rights organizations, active in the post-Second World War period, can trace their genealogy to the nineteenth-century abolition campaigns and women’s movement. For example, the organization currently called Anti-Slavery International has been called ‘the world’s oldest and most enduring nongovernmental organization monitoring human rights’.172 The current entity is the organizational successor of early organizations that grew out of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society that was formed in 1839 by British abolitionist Thomas Clarkson and others, and had ties to the 1823 Anti-Slavery Society. Its members played a crucial role in the 1840 London conference and the subsequent sugar boycott. It was also involved in the 1890 Brussels Act, an early anti-slavery treaty. In the early twentieth century, it campaigned against King Leopold’s slavery practices in the Congo, and participated in the movement against indentured labour in British colonies. Since the end of the twentieth century, it has worked on anti-trafficking and slavery activities throughout the world, including Western Europe, Nepal, Niger, Brazil, and the Gulf States.173

Some of the founding members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909, such as Mary White Ovington and Oswald Garrison Villard, were descendants of individuals actively involved in the anti-slavery and women’s movements.174 In addition, WEB DuBois wrote his doctoral dissertation on the suppression of the slave trade,175 and through his attendance at several Pan-African Congresses in the early decades of the twentieth century, he coupled his work on behalf of African Americans with broader international efforts to promote human rights. DuBois attended the founding convention of the United Nations as a representative of the NAACP.176

Other prominent twenty-first century organizations also had links to the nineteenth-century abolition and women’s movements. Carrie Chapman Catt, who (p. 248) founded the League of Women Voters in 1920, was a key player in the American suffrage movement. She had previously been head of the National American Woman Suffrage Organization, which was in turn a product of the merger of earlier women’s suffrage organizations that had close ties to abolitionist organizations.177 Crystal Eastman, who with Roger Baldwin founded the organization that would eventually become the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), came from a family actively involved in abolition and women’s rights movements.178 Interestingly, the history of the ACLU shows how even an institution that is today largely viewed as a domestic civil rights organization had important transnational ties. As one scholar has noted, the domestic American civil liberties movement, including the ACLU, ‘arose out of a pre-World War I transatlantic internationalism that transcended the national boundaries of the United States’.179

This chapter underscores how the contemporary dialogue around international human rights law has roots in nineteenth-century activism that emerged first around the issues of the slave trade and slavery, and shortly after around the women’s rights movement. As demonstrated here, one key similarity between these historical antecedents and modern human rights activism is the importance of transnational ties to successful mobilization. In addition, there also exist concrete links between contemporary human rights organizations and the abolitionist and women’s rights organizations of the nineteenth century. In underscoring these shared tactics and ties, this chapter shows the benefits of considering specific issue areas across history in order to make convincing claims about the emergence of today’s human rights movement. Such a case study approach to the question of when international human rights law emerged makes it difficult to deny the deep historical roots of contemporary law and practice.

Further Reading

  • Charnovitz S, ‘Two Centuries of Participation: NGOs and International Governance’ (1997) 18 Mich J Int’l L 183
  • Clapp EJ and Jeffrey JR (eds), Women, Dissent and Anti-Slavery in Britain and America, 1790–1865 (OUP 2011)
  • Davis DB, The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (OUP 1966)(p. 249)
  • Hochschild A, Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves (Mariner Books 2005)
  • Keck ME and Sikkink K, Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics (Cornell UP 1998)
  • Martinez JS, The Slave Trade and the Origins of International Human Rights Law (OUP 2012)
  • Midgley C, Women Against Slavery: The British Campaigns: 1780–1870 (Routledge 1992)
  • Sklar KK and Stewart JB (eds), Women’s Rights and Transatlantic Antislavery in the Era of Emancipation (Yale UP 2007)
  • Zaeske S, Signatures of Citizenship: Petitioning, Antislavery, and Women’s Political Identity (University of North Carolina Press 2003)

Footnotes:

1  United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, NGO Branch, ‘Consultative Status with ECOSOC and Other Accreditations’ <http://esango.un.org/civilsociety/displayConsultative StatusSearch.do?method=search&sessionCheck=false> accessed 13 August 2012.

2  Dorothy B Robins, Experiment in the Democracy: The Story of U.S. Citizen Organizations in Forging the Charter of the United Nations (Parkside Press 1971) 129–32; Clark M Eichelberger, Organizing for Peace: A Personal History of the United Nations (Harper and Row 1977) 268–72; Lynn Hunt, Inventing Human Rights: A History (WW Norton, New York 2007) 203 (citing Jan Herman Burgers, ‘The Road to San Francisco: The Revival of the Human Rights Idea in the Twentieth Century’ (1992) 14 Hum Rts Q 447).

3  United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, ‘NGO Branch’ <http://esa.un.org/coordination/ngo/new/index.asp?page=table2007> accessed 13 August 2012 (noting that forty NGOs had consultative status before the UN Economic and Social Council by 1948 and 180 in 1968). See also eg United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, ‘Civil Society Participation’ <http://esango.un.org/civilsociety/displayConsultativeStatusSearch.do> accessed 13 August 2012 (International League for Human Rights accredited in 1946; Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom accredited in 1948; Anti-Slavery International accredited in 1950; Amnesty International accredited in 1964). Until 1996, only international NGOs were allowed consultative status, but a resolution in that year allowed regional and national NGOs to apply as well. See ECOSOC ‘Consultative Relationship between the United Nations and Non-Governmental Organizations’ Res 1996/31 (25 July 1996).

4  Google, ‘Ngram Viewer’ <http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=nongovernmental +organization&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=0&smoothing=0> accessed 13 August 2012 (histogram on usage of term ‘nongovernmental organization’ in books, showing a slow increase in usage from 1940 through the 1960s, and a sharp increase in the 1980s to the present); Google, ‘Ngram Viewer’ <http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=NGO&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=0&smoothing=3> accessed 13 August 2012 (similar for term ‘NGO’).

5  Google, ‘NGram Viewer’ <http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=human+rights&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=0&smoothing=3> accessed 13 August 2012 (histogram on usage of term ‘human rights’ in books).

6  Samuel Moyn, The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History (Harvard UP 2010) 7.

7  Belinda Cooper, ‘New Birth of Freedom’ The New York Times (New York, 24 September 2010) BR16.

8  Michael Ignatieff, ‘Is the Human Rights Era Ending?’ The New York Times (New York, 5 February 2002) <http://www.nytimes.com/2002/02/05/opinion/is-the-human-rights-era-ending.html> accessed 13 August 2012; Jordan Michael Smith, ‘The Birth and Death of Human Rights Doctrine: The Last Utopia Traces the History of Human Rights Policy’ (Slate, 3 January 2010) <http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2011/01/the_birth_and_death_of_human_rights_doctrine.html> accessed 13 August 2012.

9  Paul Gordon Lauren, Evolution of International Human Rights: Visions Seen (University of Pennsylvania Press 2003).

10  Philippe Sands (ed), From Nuremberg to the Hague: The Future of International Criminal Justice (CUP 2003).

11  Mary Ann Glendon, A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Random House 2001).

12  Samantha Power, ‘A Problem From Hell’: American in the Age of Genocide (3rd edn, Harper Perennial 2003).

13  Kenneth J Cmiel, ‘The Recent History of Human Rights’ in Akike Iriye, Petra Goedde, and William I Hitchcock, The Human Rights Revolution: An International History (OUP 2012) 37.

14  Judith Resnik, ‘Sisterhood, Slavery, and Sovereignty: Transnational Antislavery Work and Women’s Rights Movements in the United States During the Twentieth Century’ in Kathryn Kish Sklar and James Brewer Stewart (eds), Women’s Rights and Transatlantic Antislavery in the Era of Emancipation (Yale UP 2007) 23.

15  Save Darfur Coalition, ‘Save Darfur’ <http://www.savedarfur.org> accessed 13 August 2012.

16  Coalition of the International Criminal Court, ‘Together for Justice’ <http://www.iccnow.org> accessed 13 August 2012.

17  Human Rights First, ‘Human Rights First’ <http://www.humanrightsfirst.org> accessed 18 August 2012.

18  Jenny S Martinez, The Slave Trade and the Origins of International Human Rights Law (OUP 2012) 138.

19  Martinez (n 18) 149.

20  Martinez (n 18) 138.

21  Margaret Keck and Kathryn Sikkink, ‘Historical Precursors to Modern Transnational Social Movements and Networks’ in John A Guidrie, Michael D Kennedy, and Mayer N Zald (eds), Globalizations and Social Movements: Culture, Power, and the Transnational Public Sphere (University of Michigan Press 2000) 37–38.

22  Bill Seary, ‘The Early History: From the Congress of Vienna to the San Francisco Conference’ in Peter Willetts (ed), ‘The Conscience of the World’: The Influence of Non-Governmental Organisations in the U.N. System (Brookings 1996) 16 (‘These new organisations covered a wide range of topics, such as the treatment of offenders, the slave trade, the traffic in women and children, organised labour, the opium trade, peace and humanitarian assistance’).

23  Portions of this chapter draw on my earlier work, including Martinez (n 18) and ‘Antislavery Courts and the Dawn of International Human Rights Law’ (2008) 117 Yale LJ 550.

24  The last New World countries to abolish slavery were Brazil and Cuba, which did so after the United States. See generally Christopher Schmidt-Nowara, Slavery, Freedom, and Abolition in Latin America and the Atlantic World (University of New Mexico Press 2011).

25  William Edward and Hartpole Lecky, History of European Morals: From Augustus to Charlemagne (vol 1, 3rd edn, D Appleton and Company 1897) 153, quoted in Christoph Lloyd, The Navy and the Slave Trade: The Suppression of the African Slave Trade in the Nineteenth Century (2nd edn, Routledge 1968) xiii (‘[t]‌he unweary, unostentatious and inglorious crusade of England against slavery may probably be regarded as among the three or four perfectly virtuous pages comprised in the history of nations’).

26  See eg Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery (Russell & Russell 1944) (arguing that anti-slavery efforts resulted not from humanitarian and religious impulses, but because of relations among different social classes and components of the British empire). For a discussion of the historiography, see eg David Turley, ‘Complicating the Story: Religion and Gender in the Historical Representation of British and American Anti-Slavery’ in Elizabeth J Clapp and Julie Roy Jeffrey (eds), Women, Dissent and Anti-Slavery in Britain and America, 1790–1865 (OUP 2011) 25–27.

27  Laurie Benton, ‘Legal Spaces of Empire: Piracy and the Origins of Ocean Regionalism’ (2005) 47 Comp Stud Soc’y & Hist 700.

28  For the evolution of views on the causes of abolitionism over time, see eg WE Burghardt DuBois, The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America: 1638–1870 (Longmans, Green, and Co 1896); David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (OUP 1966); Roger Anstey, The Atlantic Slave Trade and British Abolition 1760–1810 (Humanities Press 1975); Seymour Drescher, Econocide: British Slavery in the Era of Abolition (University of Pittsburgh Press 1977); Seymour Drescher, Capitalism and Antislavery: British Mobilization in Comparative Perspective (OUP 1986); David Eltis, Economic Growth and the Ending of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (OUP 1987); Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery (University of North Carolina Press 1994); Seymour Drescher, From Slavery to Freedom: Comparative Studies in the Rise and Fall of Atlantic Slavery (NYU Press 1999); David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, 1770–1823 (OUP 1999); Christopher Leslie Brown, Moral Capital: Foundations of British Abolitionism (2006); Robin Blackburn, The American Crucible: Slavery, Emancipation and Human Rights (2011).

29  Thomas L Haskell, ‘Capitalism and Origins of the Humanitarian Sensibility, Part 1’ in Thomas Bender (ed), The Antislavery Debate: Capitalism and Abolitionism as a Problem in Historical Interpretation (University of California Press 1992).

30  Keck and Sikkink, ‘Historical Precursors to Modern Transnational Social Movements and Networks’ (n 21) 37 (quoting Sidney G Tarrow, Power in Movement: Social Movements and Contentious Politics (CUP 1994) 48).

31  Thomas W Laqueur, ‘Bodies, Details, and the Humanitarian Narrative’ in Lynn Hunt (ed), The New Cultural History (University of California Press 1987) 176.

32  Hunt, Inventing Human Rights (n 2) 38–67; Laqueur (n 31) 176.

33  Seymour Drescher, ‘Whose Abolition? Popular Pressure and the Ending of the British Slave Trade’ (1994) 143 Past and Present 136. For an account of British abolitionism written for a general audience, see Adam Hochschild, Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves (Mariner Books 2005).

34  Eric Foner, Politics and Ideology in the Age of the Civil War (OUP 1980) 76.

35  Seymour Drescher, ‘Women’s Mobilization in the Era of Slave Emancipation: Some Anglo-French Comparisons’ in Sklar and Stewart, Women’s Rights and Transatlantic Antislavery (n 14) 112.

36  Elizabeth J Clapp, ‘Introduction’ in Clapp and Jeffrey (n 26) 16–17.

37  Kathryn Kish Sklar and James Brewer Stewart, ‘Introduction’ in Sklar and Stewart, Women’s Rights and Transatlantic Antislavery (n 14) xii.

38  Sklar and Stewart, ‘Introduction’ (n 37) xii.

39  Clapp, ‘Introduction’ (n 36) 17. See Drescher, ‘Women’s Mobilization in the Era of Slave Emancipation’ (n 35) 112–13.

40  Drescher, ‘Women’s Mobilization in the Era of Slave Emancipation’ (n 35) 112; Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (Harvey C Mansfield and Delba Winthrop trs, University of Chicago Press 2000) 184, 489, 492.

41  Drescher, ‘Women’s Mobilization in the Era of Slave Emancipation’ (n 35) 112.

42  Thomas Clarkson, The History of the Rise, Progress, and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave Trade by the British Parliament (vol 1, Longman, Hurst, Reed, and Orme 1808) 84 (quoting David Hartley).

43  Substance of the Debates on a Resolution for Abolishing the Slave Trade (Philips and Fardon 1806) 99 (statement of Lord Grenville).

44  Thomas Jefferson, Statement to Congress, 2 December 1806, in James D Richardson (ed), A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, (vol 1, Bureau of National Literature and Art 1908) 408. See also DuBois (n 28) 80 (quoting petitions for the abolition of the slave trade to the United States that describe the trade as ‘an outrageous violation of one of the most essential rights of human nature’ and ‘degrading to the rights of man’); Executive Committee of the American Antislavery Society, Slavery and the Internal Slave Trade in the United States of North America (photo repr, Thomas Ward and Co 1841) 162 (referring to ‘the cause of human rights’). This view of the slave trade as a human rights issue was carried on through the later part of the nineteenth century, as when Yale college president Theodore Dwight Woolsey’s 1860 edition of Introduction to the Study of International Law explained that under the ‘correct views of human rights’, slavery was a status unprotected by the law of nations and that ‘new views of men’s rights’ had led to the prohibition of the slave trade in international law. Theodore D Woolsey, Introduction to the Study of International Law (James Munroe 1860) 316–17.

45  Davis, The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (n 28) 83.

46  See eg Hugo Grotius, The Rights of War and Peace (AC Campbell tr, M Walter Dunne 1901) 346–47.

47  John Locke, Two Treatises of Government: A Critical Edition with an Introduction and Apparatus Criticus (2nd edn, CUP 1967) 159; Davis, The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (n 28) 119–20.

48  Alan Ritter and Julia Conaway Bondanella (eds), Rousseau’s Political Writings (Julia Conaway Bondanella tr, WW Norton 1988) 88–91.

49  Davis, The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (n 28) 308–309.

50  Davis, The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (n 28) 334–36.

51  Davis, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution (n 28) 485 (quoting Blackstone).

52  Sue Peabody, ‘There are No Slaves in France’: The Political Culture of Race and Slavery in the Ancien Régime (OUP 1996) 23–40, 88–93.

53  For a discussion of similar cases in French courts, see Peabody (n 52).

54  Hochschild (n 33) 48–51 (describing the role of abolitionists in bringing Somerset’s case).

55  Somerset v Stewart 502.

56  Somerset (n 55) 510. For a discussion of the natural law underpinnings of Somerset and other anti-slavery cases, see Robert M Cover, Justice Accused: Antislavery and the Judicial Process (Yale UP 1984) 8–30. Positive law generally refers to man-made laws promulgated by a particular sovereign or authority and specific to a certain time or place, rather than to inherent rights of natural law.

57  Somerset (n 55) 509.

58  Charles Tilly, Popular Contention in Great Britain: 1758–1834 (Harvard UP 1995) 142.

59  Margaret E Keck and Kathryn Sikkink, Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics (Cornell UP 1998) 44; Hochschild (n 33) 137, 230.

60  Drescher, ‘Women’s Mobilization in the Era of Slave Emancipation’ (n 35) 106.

61  On petitions in the US, see S Higginson, ‘A Short History of the Right to Petition Government for the Redress of Grievances’ (1986) 96 Yale LJ 142, 158 (discussing ‘crisis’ over how Congress should respond to abolitionist petitions in the 1830s). On the much smaller scale of petitioning in France, see Drescher, ‘Women’s Mobilization in the Era of Slave Emancipation’ (n 35) 106.

62  Drescher, ‘Women’s Mobilization in the Era of Slave Emancipation’ (n 35) 112.

63  Clare Midgley, Women Against Slavery: The British Campaigns: 1780–1870 (Routledge 1992); Clare Midgley ‘Slave Sugar Boycotts, Female Activism and the Domestic Base of British Anti-Slavery Culture’ (1996) 17 Slavery and Abolition 137.

64  Drescher, ‘Women’s Mobilization in the Era of Slave Emancipation’ (n 35) 101.

65  Midgley, Women Against Slavery (n 63) 35–50; Midgley, ‘Slave Sugar Boycotts, Female Activism and the Domestic Base of British Anti-Slavery Culture’ (n 63).

66  Drescher, ‘Women’s Mobilization in the Era of Slave Emancipation’ (n 35) 99.

67  Midgley, Women Against Slavery (n 63) 35–37.

68  Hochschild (n 33) 233–34.

69  Hochschild (n 33) 241–55.

70  See Act to Prevent the Importation of Slaves 1806 (46 Geo 3 c 52).

71  Drescher, ‘Whose Abolition?’ (n 33) 141, 142; Hochschild (n 33) 302–303.

72  Drescher, ‘Whose Abolition?’ (n 33) 142.

73  Drescher, ‘Whose Abolition?’ (n 33) 142–44.

74  Drescher, ‘Whose Abolition?’ (n 33) 145–48.

75  Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade 1807 (47 Geo 3 c 36) (repealed 1824).

76  David Eltis, ‘The Nineteenth-Century Transatlantic Slave Trade: An Annual Time Series of Imports into the Americas Broken down by Region’ (1987) 67 Hispanic American Historical Review 109, 136 table V.

77  Keith L Doughtery and Jac C Heckelman, ‘Voting on Slavery at the Constitutional Convention’ (2008) 136 Public Choice 293, 294–95; Martinez (n 18) 40.

78  Martinez (n 18) 39.

79  Act of 22 March 1794, ch 11, 1 Stat 347, 349. See Martinez (n 18) 41.

80  Act of 10 May 1800, ch 51, 2 Stat 70, 70–71. See Martinez (n 18) 42.

81  Martinez (n 18) 42.

82  Clapp, ‘Introduction’ (n 36) 5.

83  David Brion Davis, ‘The Quaker Ethic and the Antislavery International’ in Bender (n 29) 29; S Drescher, ‘Women’s Mobilization in the Era of Slave Emancipation’ (n 35) 112; Sally G McMillen, Seneca Falls and the Origins of the Women’s Rights Movement (OUP 2008) 56.

84  Clapp, ‘Introduction’ (n 36) 6.

85  Herbert Aptheker, Abolitionism: A Revolutionary Movement (Twayne Publishers 1989) 56 (cited in Keck and Sikkink, Activists Beyond Borders (n 59) 44).

86  Keck and Sikkink, Activists Beyond Borders (n 59) 44.

87  Keck and Sikkink, Activists Beyond Borders (n 59) 44 (citing Alison Gilbert Olson, Making the Empire Work: London and American Interest Groups: 1690–1790 (Harvard UP 1992).

88  Midgley, Women Against Slavery (n 63) 127.

89  Keck and Sikkink, Activists Beyond Borders (n 59) 45.

90  Midgley, Women Against Slavery (n 63) 127.

91  Midgley, Women Against Slavery (n 63) 126.

92  Midgley, Women Against Slavery (n 63) 128.

93  Keck and Sikkink, Activists Beyond Borders (n 59) 46.

94  Resnik (n 14) 22.

95  Douglas H Maynard, ‘The World’s Anti-Slavery Convention of 1840’ (1960) 47 Mississippi Valley Historical Review 452.

96  Vienna Congress Treaty, Act XV, Declaration Relative to the Universal Abolition of the Slave Trade.

97  Treaty of Amity Commerce and Navigation, between His Britannic Majesty; and The United States of America.

98  Treaty of Paris.

99  Martinez (n 18) 35–36.

100  Martinez (n 18) 69.

101  Martinez (n 18) 78–79.

102  Martinez (n 18) 68–69.

103  Martinez (n 18) 79.

104  Martinez (n 18) 114–39.

105  Martinez (n 18) 144–47.;

106  Martinez (n 18) 101.

107  Clapp, ‘Introduction’ (n 36) 2–3.

108  Drescher, ‘Women’s Mobilization in the Era of Slave Emancipation’ (n 35) 113–14.

109  Clapp, ‘Introduction’ (n 36) 15.

110  Clapp, ‘Introduction’ (n 36) 15.

111  Sklar and Stewart, ‘Introduction’ (n 37) xii.

112  Drescher, ‘Women’s Mobilization in the Era of Slave Emancipation’ (n 35) 110.

113  Drescher, ‘Women’s Mobilization in the Era of Slave Emancipation’ (n 35) 110.

114  Clapp, ‘Introduction’ (n 36) 17.

115  Sklar and Stewart, ‘Introduction’ (n 37) xii; K Offen, ‘Feminist Campaign in “Public Space”: Civil Society, Gender Justice, and the History of European Feminisms’ in Gunilla Budde, Karen Hagemann, and Sonya Michel (eds), Civil Society, Public Space, and Gender Justice (Berghahn 2008).

116  Sklar and Stewart, ‘Introduction’ (n 37) xii; Alison Twells, ‘“We Ought to Obey God Rather than Man”: Women, Anti-Slavery, and Nonconformist Religious Cultures’ in Clapp and Jeffrey (n 26) 67–68; Judie Newman, ‘Writing Against Slavery: Harriet Beecher Stowe’ in Clapp and Jeffrey (n 26) 176.

117  Carol Lasser, ‘Immediatism, Dissent, and Gender: Women and the Sentimentalization of Transatlantic Anti-Slavery Appeals’ in Clapp and Jeffrey (n 26) 111.

118  Lasser (n 117) 111, 113, 117, 130.

119  Lasser (n 117) 130–31.

120  Stacey Robertson, ‘“On the Side of Righteousness”: Women, The Church, and Abolition’ in Clapp and Jeffrey (n 26) 158, 165.

121  Drescher, ‘Women’s Mobilization in the Era of Slave Emancipation’ (n 35) 105.

122  Drescher, ‘Women’s Mobilization in the Era of Slave Emancipation’ (n 35) 106.

123  Susan Zaeske, Signatures of Citizenship: Petitioning, Antislavery, and Women’s Political Identity (University of North Carolina Press 2003) 2.

124  Drescher, ‘Women’s Mobilization in the Era of Slave Emancipation’ (n 35) 109–10.

125  Bonnie S Anderson, Joyous Greetings: The First International Women’s Movement: 1830–1860 (OUP 2000). See also Margaret H McFadden, Golden Cables of Sympathy: The Transatlantic Sources of Nineteenth-Century Feminism (UP of Kentucky 1999).

126  David Brion Davis, ‘Declaring Equality: Sisterhood and Slavery’ in Sklar and Stewart, Women’s Rights and Transatlantic Antislavery (n 14) 11 (citing Anderson, Joyous Greetings (n 125) 122).

127  Davis, ‘Declaring Equality’ (n 126) 11.

128  Karen Offen, ‘How (and Why) the Analogy of Marriage with Slavery Provided the Springboard for Women’s Rights Demands in France, 1640–1848’ in Sklar and Stewart, Women’s Rights and Transatlantic Antislavery (n 14) 59; Bonnie S Anderson, ‘Frauenemancipation and Beyond: The Use of the Concept of Emancipation by Early European Feminists’ in Sklar and Stewart, Women’s Rights and Transatlantic Antislavery (n 14) 82.

129  Offen, ‘How (and Why) the Analogy of Marriage with Slavery’ (n 128) 72–73.

130  McMillen (n 83) 72.

131  Kathryn Kish Sklar, ‘“Women Who Speak for an Entire Nation”: American and British Women Compared at the World Anti-Slavery Convention, London, 1840’ (1990) 59 Pacific Historical Review 453, 464.

132  Sklar, ‘Women Who Speak for an Entire Nation’ (n 131) 462.

133  McMillen (n 83) 72.

134  McMillen (n 83) 75.

135  McMillen (n 83) 76.

136  Midgley, Women Against Slavery (n 63) 160 (quoting Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Eighty Years and More: Reminiscences 1815–1897 (T Fisher Unwim 1898) 82).

137  Sklar, ‘Women Who Speak for an Entire Nation’ (n 131) 455 (quoting Stanton).

138  Sklar, ‘Women Who Speak for an Entire Nation’ (n 131) 455.

139  Keck and Sikkink, Activists Beyond Borders (n 59) 52; McMillen (n 83) 71.

140  Kathryn Kish Sklar, ‘“The Throne of My Heart”: Religion, Oratory, and Transatlantic Community in Angelina Grimke’s Launching of Women’s Rights, 1828–1838’ in Sklar and Stewart, Women’s Rights and Transatlantic Antislavery (n 14).

141  Drescher, ‘Women’s Mobilization in the Era of Slave Emancipation’ (n 35) 110.

142  Drescher, ‘Women’s Mobilization in the Era of Slave Emancipation’ (n 35) 114.

143  Drescher, ‘Women’s Mobilization in the Era of Slave Emancipation’ (n 35) 114.

144  Clare Midgley, ‘British Abolition and Feminism in Transatlantic Perspective’ in Sklar and Stewart, Women’s Rights and Transatlantic Antislavery (n 14) 125.

145  Midgley, ‘British Abolition and Feminism in Transatlantic Perspective’ (n 144) 125.

146  Antoinette Burton, Burdens of History: British Feminists, Indian Women, and Imperial Culture, 1865–1915 (University of North Carolina Press 1994); Midgley, ‘British Abolition and Feminism in Transatlantic Perspective’ (n 144) 128. Sati is the practice of a widow self-immolating on her husband’s funeral pyre.

147  June E Hahner, ‘Feminism, Women’s Rights and the Suffrage Movement in Brazil, 1850–1932’ (1980) 15 Lat Am Res Rev 65; Roger A Kittleson, ‘“Campaign All of Peace and Charity”: Gender and the Politics of Abolitionism in Porto Alegre, Brazil, 1879–88’ (2001) 22 Slavery and Abolition 83; Drescher, ‘Women’s Mobilization in the Era of Slave Emancipation’ (n 35) 119 fn 48.

148  Offen, ‘How (and Why) the Analogy of Marriage with Slavery’ (n 128) 70. See also Drescher, ‘Women’s Mobilization in the Era of Slave Emancipation’ (n 35) 102.

149  Offen, ‘How (and Why) the Analogy of Marriage with Slavery’ (n 128) 69; Drescher, ‘Women’s Mobilization in the Era of Slave Emancipation’ (n 35) 104.

150  Drescher, ‘Women’s Mobilization in the Era of Slave Emancipation’ (n 35) 106.

151  Drescher, ‘Women’s Mobilization in the Era of Slave Emancipation’ (n 35).

152  Offen, ‘How (and Why) the Analogy of Marriage with Slavery’ (n 128) 70–71.

153  Drescher, ‘Women’s Mobilization in the Era of Slave Emancipation’ (n 35) 108.

154  Drescher, ‘Women’s Mobilization in the Era of Slave Emancipation’ (n 35) 113.

155  Pura Fernández, Mujer Pública y Vida Privada: Del Arte Eunuco y la Novela Lupanaria (Tamesis Books 2008) 233.

156  Keck and Sikkink, Activists Beyond Borders (n 59) 55.

157  Keck and Sikkink, Activists Beyond Borders (n 59) 53.

158  Keck and Sikkink, Activists Beyond Borders (n 59) 56.

159  Keck and Sikkink, Activists Beyond Borders (n 59) 56.

160  Keck and Sikkink, Activists Beyond Borders (n 59) 57.

161  Keck and Sikkink, Activists Beyond Borders (n 59) 57.

162  Seary (n 22) 15.

163  YMCA, ‘The Story of Our Founding’ <http://www.ymca.net/history/founding.html> accessed 27 August 2012.

164  YMCA, ‘Who We Are’ <http://www.ymca.int/who-we-are> accessed 27 August 2012.

165  Pierre Boissier, History of the International Committee of the Red Cross: from Solferino to Tsushima (Henry Dunant Institute 1978) 9.

166  Boissier (n 166) 11.

167  Steve Charnovitz, ‘Two Centuries of Participation: NGOs and International Governance’ (1997) 18 Mich J Int’l L 183, 193.

168  Permanent Court of Arbitration, ‘About Us’ <http://www.pca-cpa.org/showpage.asp?pag_id=1027> accessed 27 August 2012.

169  Charnovitz (n 168) 193.

170  Charnovitz (n 168) 193–94.

171  Charnovitz (n 168) 194.

172  Drescher, ‘Women’s Mobilization in the Era of Slave Emancipation’ (n 35) 105.

173  Anti-Slavery International, ‘History of Anti-Slavery International’ <http://www.antislavery.org/english/what_we_do/our_history.aspx> accessed 27 August 2012.

174  NAACP, ‘NAACP: 100 Years of History’ <http://www.naacp.org/pages/naacp-history> accessed 27 August 2012.

175  DuBois (n 28).

176  C Anderson, Eyes Off the Prize: The United Nations and the African American Struggle for Human Rights, 1944–1955 (CUP 2003) 38–43.

177  Resnik (n 14) 19–22; The National League of Women Voters was the offspring of the National American Woman Suffrage Organization. See League of Women Voters, ‘About Us: Our History’ <http://www.lwv.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Our_History&Template=/TaggedPage/TaggedPageDisplay.cfm&TPLID=36&ContentID=1501> accessed February 28, 2011.

178  John Fabian Witt, ‘Crystal Eastman and the Internationalist Beginnings of American Civil Liberties’ (2004) 54 Duke LJ 705, 709, 712.

179  Witt (n 179) 709.