People living in France or its colonies during the Enlightenment and French Revolution debated that they needed slavery in order for France to remain economically buoyant, slaves needed rights and slavery should end, and slaves were better off being slaves (as a rational for their greed.)
Some people argued that slavery was needed in order for France to prosper. A delegate from Bordeaux once said during a speech to the National Assembly that “the abolition of slavery and the slave trade would mean the loss of our colonies” and later says that “the colonies bring in an annual income of more than 200 million livres.” Being a delegate, he would of course do the best to persuade the National Assembly for the people he is representing. Likewise Antoine Barnave reports to the National Assembly’s Committee on the Colonies that “[France has] reached this level of prosperity thanks to our colonies.” He also comments that if the colonies do gain independence, France would have to prepare in advance to “lose them without an economic shock and without a disturbance to our political existence.” A bar graph of slaves delivered by French ships shows that during times of war, the number of slaves delivered by French ships goes up dramatically, going up by eight times as much in about eighty years.
Others debated that slaves deserved rights like every other man and that slavery should not even exist. Louis de Jaucourt, being a philosophe takes the view of many philosophes that slaves should be treated like people. He says that “we can not take away from a person that natural dignity which is liberty.” Jean-Jacques Rousseau, another philosophe, is strongly against slavery, commenting that “seeing one-fourth of my fellow humans changed into beasts for the service of others, I have grieved to be a human.” Jacques Necker likewise says slaves “have been made a barbaric object of trade.” Count Mirabeau also believes slaves need rights, commenting during a speech, “I demand to know how the twenty White people here from the colonies can be said to represent the people of color from whom they have received no authority.” Maximilien Robespierre is a little more radical, and thinks that the slaves should be freed no matter what and he has really no care for the colonies, whether they produce for France or not. Voltaire comments that the slaves are working to get the common folk things besides the necessities, “things unknown to our ancestors.” Lastly, Olympe de Gouges says that it makes no difference the color of a person’s skin. “Why destroy nature’s work?”
The rest of people basically made the point that slaves should be happier being slaves. A delegate of the Owners of Property in the French Colonies of America Residing in Bordeaux says that they have taken the slaves out of cruel slavery, but have put them “under a kind of humane government“ where “they live without fear for tomorrow.” I’m not sure if a slave would agree with this. Guillaume Raynal concurs with this statement, saying that the colonies the slaves work on have “a milder climate for the slaves than the hot climate from which they have been transplanted.” In reality, the slaves are just tools for the government to produce. These people are just rationalizing their greed. Louis de Jaucourt, a philosophe, says that “Masters who acquired new slaves were obligated by law to have them instructed in the Catholic faith. This motivated Louis XIII to authorize this horrid commerce in human flesh.” This shows how they were just being used to boost the number of Catholics in the world. “Why did the Christian powers not consider that their religion, independent of natural law, was fundamentally opposed to Black slavery?” asks Denis Diderot, another philosophe. “The answer is that those nations needed slaves for their colonies, their plantations, and their mines.”
French citizens living during the times of the Enlightenment and French Revolution argued that slavery was needed in order for France to economically prosper, slaves needed rights and slavery should end, and slaves were happier being slaves (as an excuse to cover up their hunger or wealth.)