Texas Wesleyan Law Review


Allen Kamp

Document Type



As we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade, I want to examine some implications of what did not happen: the lack of compensation to the slave traders and the non-response of the law to the stopping of a global enterprise. This Essay will make two points, which are unrelated: first, the lack of any reported cases on claims of excuse for performance of contracts may indicate that we do not need any doctrines of excuse; and second, that the lack of compensation paid to those whose business was outlawed, while 20 million pounds was paid as compensation to the slave owners (because of abolition of slavery in 1832), indicates that there was no recognized property right in an ongoing enterprise. Before entering into the body of my work, I want to discuss the moral problems with writing about slavery. This Essay analyzes the effects (or non-effects) of the abolition of slavery; but such an approach ignores the moral dimension and is, on a fundamental level, wrong. Slavery was a crime against humanity and has to be seen on those terms. The abolition of slavery, however, can be looked at from the stance of the legal academic, and the products of research into abolition and its effects can contribute to our understanding of legal doctrine. There is nothing wrong with such an exercise if the writer and reader realize that the problem with slavery and the slave trade was not a matter of legal doctrine. There is an example of the problematic approach to classifying the slave trade while doing research at the Oak Park Public Library. Books on the slave trade are classified there, by the Dewey Decimal System, under "World Trade." Thus, books on the slave trade were shelved next to those on the World Trade Organization and the North American Free Trade Agreement. So was the slave trade commerce or crime? It was both.



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