The abolition of slavery occurred at different times in different countries, and sometimes occurred sequentially in more than one stage: for example, as abolition of the trade in slaves in a specific country, and then as abolition of slavery throughout empires. Each step was usually the result of a separate law or action. This timeline shows abolition laws or actions listed chronologically.
3rd century BC: Ashoka abolishes slave trade and encourages people to treat slaves well but does not abolish slavery itself in the Maurya Empire, covering the majority of India, which was under his rule.
221-206 BC: The Qin Dynasty’s measures to eliminate the landowning aristocracy include the abolition of slavery and the establishment of a free peasantry who owed taxes and labor to the state. They also abolished primogeniture and discouraged serfdom. The dynasty was overthrown in 206 BC and many of its laws were overturned.
17: Wang Mang, first and only emperor of the Xin Dynasty usurped the Chinese throne and instituted a series of sweeping reforms, including the abolition of slavery and radical land reform. After his assassination in 23 C.E., slavery was reinstituted.
Many of these changes were reversed in practice over the succeeding centuries.
960: Doge of Venice Pietro IV Candiano reconvened the popular assembly and had it approve of a law prohibiting the slave trade
1200: Slavery virtually disappears in Japan; it was never widespread and mostly involved captives taken in civil wars.
1214: The Statute of the Town of Korčula (Croatia) abolishes slavery.
1215: Magna Carta signed. Clause 30, commonly known as Habeas Corpus, would form the basis of a law against slavery in English common law.
~1220: The Sachsenspiegel, the most influential German code of law from the Middle Ages condemns slavery as a violation of God's likeness to man.
1256: The Liber Paradisus is promulgated. The Comune di Bologna abolishes slavery and serfdom and releases all the serfs in its territories.
1274: Landslova (Land's Law) in Norway mentions only former slaves, which indicates that slavery was abolished in Norway
1315: Louis X, king of France, publishes a decree proclaiming that "France signifies freedom" and that any slave setting foot on the French ground should be freed.
1335: Sweden (including Finland at the time) makes slavery illegal. An abolition of slaves setting foot on Swedish ground does not occur until 1813.
1368: China's Hongwu Emperor establishes the Ming dynasty and would abolish all forms of slavery. However, slavery continued in the Ming dynasty. Later Ming rulers, as a way of limiting slavery in the absence of a prohibition, passed a decree that limited the number of slaves that could be held per household and extracted a severe tax from slave owners.
1435: Papal Encyclical – Sicut Dudum – of Pope Eugene IV banning enslavement on pain of excommunication.
1537: Pope Paul III forbids slavery of the indigenous peoples of the Americas as well as of any other new population that would be discovered, indicating their right to freedom and property. However, only Catholic countries apply it, and state that they cannot possibly enforce what happens in the distant colonies (Sublimus Dei).
1723–1730: China's Yongzheng emancipation sought to free all slaves to strengthen the autocratic ruler through a kind of social leveling that created an undifferentiated class of free subjects under the throne. Although these new regulations freed the vast majority of slaves, wealthy families continued to use slave labor into the twentieth century.
1761, 12 February: Portugal abolishes slavery in mainland Portugal and in Portuguese possessions in India through a decree by the Marquis of Pombal.
1772: Somersett's case held that no slave could be forcibly removed from Britain. This case was generally taken at the time to have decided that the condition of slavery did not exist under English law in England and Wales, and emancipated the remaining ten to fourteen thousand slaves or possible slaves in England and Wales, who were mostly domestic servants.
1774 Laws of the Marquis of Pombal, prime minister of King José I. prohibiting the transport of black slaves to Portugal and the liberation of the children of slaves born in Portugal
1775: Pennsylvania Abolition Society formed in Philadelphia, the first abolition society within the territory that is now the United States of America.
1780: Pennsylvania passes An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery, freeing future children of slaves. Those born prior to the Act remain enslaved for life. The Act becomes a model for other Northern states. Last slaves freed 1847.
1802: Ohio writes a state constitution that abolishes slavery.
1803: Denmark-Norway: abolition of transatlantic slave trade takes effect 1 January 1803.
1804: New Jersey begins a gradual abolition of slavery, freeing future children of slaves. Those born prior to the Act remain enslaved for life. The process later becomes complete with the ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865.
1804: Haiti declares independence and abolishes slavery
1806: U.S. President Thomas Jefferson in a message to Congress calls for criminalizing the international slave trade, asking Congress to "withdraw the citizens of the United States from all further participation in those violations of human rights … which the morality, the reputation, and the best of our country have long been eager to proscribe."
1807: The British begin patrols of African coast to arrest slaving vessels. The West Africa Squadron (Royal Navy) is established to suppress slave trading; by 1865, nearly 150,000 people freed by anti-slavery operations
1807: In the U.S. Northwest Territory (present-day Michigan), Territorial Justice Augustus Woodward denies the return of two slaves owned by a man in Windsor, Upper Canada (present day Ontario). Woodward declares that any man “coming into this Territory is by law of the land a freeman.”
1811: The First National Congress of Chile approves a proposal drafted by Manuel de Salas that declares the Freedom of wombs, which sets free the sons of slaves born on Chilean territory, no matter the conditions of the parents; it prohibited the slave trade and recognized as freedmen those who, passing in transit through Chilean territory, stayed there for six months.
1813: In Argentina, the Law of Wombs was passed on 2 February, by the Assembly of Year XIII. The law stated that those born after 31 January 1813 would be granted freedom when contracting matrimony, or on their 16th birthday for women and 20th for men, and upon their manumission would be given land and tools to work it.
1814: Uruguay, before its independence, declares all those born of slaves in their territories are free from that day forward.
1830: Mexican president Anastasio Bustamante orders the abolition of slavery to be implemented also in Mexican Texas. To circumvent the law, many Anglo colonists convert their slaves into "indentured servants for life".
1830: The first Constitution of Uruguay declares the abolition of slavery.
1831: Brazil adopts the Law of 7 November 1831, declaring the maritime slave trade abolished, prohibiting any form of importation of slaves, and granting freedom to slaves should they be illegally imported into Brazil. In spite of its adoption, the law was seldom enforced prior to 1850, when Brazil, under British pressure, adopted additional legislation to criminalize the importation of slaves.
1834: The British Slavery Abolition Act comes into force, abolishing slavery throughout most of the British Empire. Legally frees 700,000 in West Indies, 20,000 in Mauritius, 40,000 in South Africa. The exceptions, territories controlled by the East India Company and Ceylon, were liberated in 1843 when they became part of the British Empire.
1835: Serbia abolishes slavery Although formally outlawed in 1835, slavery never existed in Serbia. During its occupation by the Ottoman Empire, however, male Serbian children were regularly taken to be trained as janissaries.
1835: Treaty between Britain and France to abolish slave trade
1835: Treaty between Britain and Denmark to abolish slave trade
1836: Portugal abolishes transatlantic slave trade
1850: Brazil, under British pressure, adopts the Eusébio de Queiróz Act (Law 581 of 4 September 1850), criminalizing the maritime slave trade as piracy, and imposing other criminal sanctions on the importation of slaves (already prohibited in law since 1831).
1869 (February, 27th) – Portugal: King Louis I signs a decree of the government, chaired by the Marquis Sá da Bandeira, abolishing slavery in all Portuguese territories. Accordingly, all slaves in the Portuguese colonies in Africa were set free, resulting in the total termination of slavery across the Portuguese Empire.
1871: Brazil: Rio Branco Law (Law of Free Birth) declares free the sons and daughters born to slave mothers after 28 September 1871.
1885: Brazil passes Sexagenarians Law (Saraiva-Cotegipe Act) freeing all slaves over the age of 60, and creating other measures for the gradual abolition of slavery, such as a Manumissions Fund administered by the State.
1888: (May, 13th) Brazil enacts the Golden Law, decreeing the total abolition of slavery with immediate effect, without indemnities to slaveowners, but also without providing for any aid to newly freed former slaves.
1890: Brussels Conference Act – a collection of anti-slavery measures to put an end to the slave trade on land and sea especially in the Congo Basin, the Ottoman Empire and the East African coast
1894: Korea officially abolishes slavery, but it survives in practice until 1930.
1896: France abolishes slavery in its then colony of Madagascar
1897: Zanzibar abolishes slavery following its becoming a British protectorate
1928: Domestic slavery practised by local African elites abolished in Sierra Leone. Though established as a place for freed slaves, a study found practices of domestic slavery still widespread in rural areas in the 1970s.
^ abcHobhouse, Henry. Seeds of Change: Six Plants That Transformed Mankind, 2005. Page 111.
^Heward, Edmund (1979). Lord Mansfield: A Biography of William Murray 1st Earl of Mansfield 1705–1793 Lord Chief Justice for 32 years. p.141. Chichester: Barry Rose (publishers) Ltd. ISBN 0-85992-163-8
^ abcdefghijklmRobert William Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman. Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery, 1995. Pages 33–34.