centuries, sizeable help for the poor from any source was a twentieth-century creation.

The greatest effect Christianity had on labour markets, however, came from the role it played in the abolition of slavery and the slave trade. Although abolition was a nineteenth-century achievement, its roots go back to this period, to Enlightenment attacks on slavery and even more so to the campaign against slavery mounted by English evangelicals such as William Wilberforce (1759-1833). Wilberforce and his fellow evangelicals fought for a wide variety of social reforms, but their greatest achievement was the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire in 1807. Their campaign helped end slavery itself within the Empire by 1840, and it led the British government to press other European powers to withdraw from the slave trade in the years after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. This was the first major step against slavery, for it had a far greater impact than the anti-slavery measures adopted during the French Revolution, which were reversed by Napoleon. It was no doubt one of Christianity's finest moments, for as recent research has shown, slavery was in fact profitable and would not have disappeared on its own. Thanks in large part to the evangelicals, the traffic that had hauled some eleven million human beings out of Africa in chains finally came to an end, and by 1888 slavery itself would disappear from the western world.

Christianity's economic influence certainly extended beyond the labour market. Usury legislation immediately comes to mind, and so too do church teachings on marriage and the family, for in early modern Europe the decision to wed and have children was in large part an economic one. Marriages were often arranged by parents eager to secure their children's fortunes or their own. As a result, a young man and woman, even if they were peasants, did not usually wed until they possessed enough (either through their own savings or gifts and inheritances from their families) to support one another. There were still a number of bans on marrying relatives in Catholicism (some survived in Protestantism too), and these barriers limited the number of eligible marriage partners available for a prospective bride or groom.

There is also a possible connection between Christianity and the early use of birth control, at least in France, where the practice of coitus interruptus began to spread in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, particularly in areas where the clergy supported the Revolution. The likely reason, according to Donald Sutherland, is that the Revolutionary regime eventually drove away most of these priests, even though they had supported the Revolution, at least in its early stages. Many regions ended up with no one who could denounce birth control from the pulpit, and their anticlerical

0 0

Post a comment