Regulating Slavery in Europe: A Global Problem of the Eighteenth Century

Cairns, J. W. (Speaker)

Activity: Academic talk or presentation typesInvited talk


In the eighteenth century, colonizing European powers were necessarily involved with slavery, sometimes just in their colonies and sometimes, like Britain, also through significant involvement in the international slave trade. This raised interesting questions about the legal status of individuals held enslaved in the colonies who came to the European colonizing country, sometimes with the individual who claimed ownership and sometimes on their own. Differing European countries dealt with this in different ways. France, for example, which had issued its Code Noir in 1685 dealt with it by an edict. In other jurisdictions, such as those of the United Provinces, the issues were ignored, and any problems left to be sorted out by the courts. This was also the case in both jurisdictions in Great Britain. The paper will focus on Scotland, exploring how it was possible to develop an essentially privatized, if limited, regime of slavery, when the law was ambiguous as to its status; one can extrapolate this to other European states.
Period13 Apr 2016
Held atMax Planck Institute for Modern Legal History, Germany


  • slavery eighteenth century Europe