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Other humanitarian organizations

In its most general form, humanitarianism is an ethic of kindness, benevolence and sympathy extended universally and impartially to all human beings. Humanitarianism has been an evolving concept historically but universality is a common element in its evolution. No distinction is to be made in the face of human suffering or abuse on grounds of gender, sexual orientation, tribal, caste, religious or national divisions.

Humanitarianism can also be described as the acceptance of every human being for plainly just being another human, ignoring and abolishing biased social views, prejudice, and racism in the process, if utilized individually as a practiced viewpoint, or mindset.

Humanitarian beliefsThe idea of social reform

The Enlightenment idea of reform combined with the ethic of active compassion to inspire the social action of the humanitarian movement. Professor G. M. Trevelyan in his Social History of England has explained the humanitarian movement as a product of the influence of rationalism upon puritanism.“The rationalist movement had shaken the persecutor’s sword from the hand of faith and religion had been to school with her rival reason. From Milton to Wilberforce the road lay through Voltaire.”

The reformers diverged widely in their underlying beliefs but were united in their humanitarianism. Thus the Christian individualism of the Quakers, that each person shares the ‘inner light’ and the Arminianism of the Evangelicals were both differently based from the Lockean or Kantian individualism of a Philosophe or a Utilitarian, but all recognized the equal moral significance of the human person and that the disregard of it was wrong. What also united them was the new idea of reform to remove those wrongs. And so in many of the major areas of humanitarian reform, Christians and rationalists worked together: in the case of slavery; William Wilberforce, the Buxtons but also Jeremy Bentham and Condorcet; in the case of working conditions; evangelicals such as Lord Shaftesbury but also Robert Owen and Edwin Chadwick; in the case of punishments Beccaria but also Samuel Romilly; in the case of the mentally ill; Shaftesbury and Pinel and in the case of the treatment of animals, Bentham enlisted the aid of Wilberforce.

The idea that mankind could be improved by deliberate social change as distinct from the conferring of charity and the doing of ‘good works’ was relatively new. For all intents and purposes social and legal reform was a product of the Enlightenment. Its origins lay in the belief in the dominance of reason and that ‘Man’ was perfectible, if only the social conditions in which he or she lived would allow it. Most Enlightenment thinkers believed ‘man’ to be fundamentally good: “he was once free but is now everywhere in chains”. Voltaire in his Portable Dictionary said that “it is want that subjects one man to another.” Mankind would be perfected by knowledge – hence the great Encyclopaedia of Diderot and D’Alembert. Helvetius (1715–1771) made this philosophy very popular. He believed human character to be a product of social environment. The chief instruments enabling this to be done would be education and legislation. There thus grew up the demand for legal reform. If ‘laws are good, morals are good’ said Diderot.

Reform distinguished the humanitarian movement from charity and philanthropy. Speaking of the charitable and philanthropic institutions of the 19th century industrial era, Ernst Troeltsch said, “their aim was a new spirit, not a new society.” Christian philanthropy tended to deprecate reform as political. For the humanitarian movement, however, removal of the abuse causing suffering was the essence. The goal in almost every field of action undertaken by the humanitarian movement required changed social conditions and in many instances this could only be brought about through legislation

Abolition of slavery

The Abolition of the Slave Trade, (The Anti-Slavery Society Convention, 1840), by Benjamin Robert Haydon (died 1846).

In 1503, following the voyage of Columbus, the Spanish Governor in the Indies, Orvando, commenced using Indians in the mines. Las Casas, the Bishop who accompanied him, observed the fearful toll the work took on the Indians. Las Casas suggested they be replaced by Negroes. Thus the fateful beginning of the transatlantic slave trade from Africa. Some 900,000 slaves were landed in the Americas by 1600. From the 17th century demand for African labour expanded greatly with the increased importation of sugar into Europe. It was in that century that slavery became recognized as a lawful status in Massachusetts in 1641; in Connecticut in 1650 and in Virginia in 1661. The 18th century saw England’s rise to dominance in the trade. By 1770 British traders were exporting 40,000 to 60,000 slaves annually. At that time the trade was chiefly carried on from Liverpool and by the end of the 18th century more than half the trade was British.

Once a ship was loaded with its slave cargo it embarked upon the ‘middle passage’ to Brazil or the Caribbean. Ships averaged 150 tonnes. Each ship carried 600 slaves who were chained to shelves below deck during the voyage. “Packed in the holds of the galleys …the slaves were given no more than four to five feet in length and two or three feet in height so that neither could lie down full length nor sit upright.They were chained, right hand to left leg, and attached in rows to long iron bars.” The death rate varied from 19-20%. On arrival the slaves were auctioned. Then followed the ‘seasoning’ which usually lasted 12 months or so. About a third died in the seasoning.

There was a very high death toll. In Jamaica, there were 40,000 slaves in 1690. From then until 1810, 800,000 slaves were imported and yet only 340,000 remained on the island 1958. It is estimated that between 1680 and 1786 the total number of slaves exported into all the British colonies in America was 2,130,000. When the nature of the trade became known it was denounced by a wide range of people. John Wesley published his Thoughts on Slavery in 1774.

The Quakers were among the first to take action largely through the influence of John Woolman and Anthony Benezet. In 1754 John Woolman prepared a Letter which was distributed by the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting expressing concern at Quaker involvement in slavery. In 1758, influenced by Woolman, the Philadelphia Yearly meeting altered its traditional policy so that henceforth all members who bought or sold Negroes were to be excluded from business meetings or from making contributions to the Society. In 1760 the New England Quakers made importation of slaves an offence subject to discip

See also

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia : Other humanitarian organizations
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