Impact Of Aquinas On Slavery

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Aquinas’s probable view on the slave trade in 19th Century
Looking at Aquinas viewpoint on slavery and his theory of just law and unjust law, it’s quite likely that he would have abhorred the African slave trade in the nineteenth century. It certainly cannot be considered as the form of natural slavery as they did not need to be enslaved for the sake of their own benefit. The forcible removal of Africans form their native land and being transported to southern United States was clearly not beneficial for them but was perhaps only beneficial for the slave traders and rich farmers who needed them for slave labour. They also did not have any debts to repay as form of justifying their slavery to the Southerners. It was a practice clearly financially
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Aquinas recognizes the legitimacy of slavery when there is a common interest between the slave and the master:
“It is advantageous for slave and master, fit to be such by nature, that one be the master, and the other the slave. And so there can be friendship between them, since the association of both in what is advantageous for each in the essence of friendship.”
As mentioned earlier, the trading of slave from their homeland Africa to the United States was not of the mutual benefit between the slave and the master in the 19th century. Aquinas’s just law is "to bind a man in conscience" and this is the power of law to impose a moral obligation of obedience upon those to whom the law applies. Aquinas holds the view that though it is justifiable and acceptable for a master to hit his slave, he still takes a softer view that it should be done with mercy.
Therefore, we are of the view that Aquinas would have said that the fugitive law in 19th century is an unjust law because the slave was abused and unprotected from the threat of violence, sexual abuse and separation from their loved ones by their masters. These have against the people’s legal rights and created disturbance to the
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As such, it may be considered as part of natural law. He further opined that slavery may be consistent with natural law. This is so where it is imposed as punishment for crimes by positive law on the condition that certain rights of the slave is not violated by such slavery. These rights are the slave’s rights to food, sleep, marriage (or celibacy), raising of their children, and religious worship. Aquinas was also of the opinion that the children of a slave mother could themselves be enslaved notwithstanding that they had not committed any personal sin themselves. According to Aquinas, theft is committed by anyone who persuades a slave to escape on the basis that the slave’s master has a right to that slave’s labor even though the salve himself is not a

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