Victor Schoelcher (1804-1893) was a French humanitarian, statesman and writer who devoted his life and fortune to the abolition of slavery in the French colonies.
Victor was born in Paris in 1804. He was the son of a wealthy porcelain manufacturer, and after a short period of secondary education, he took over his father’s factory in Paris. However, it soon became clear that his interests lay elsewhere. He was a humanitarian thinker and chose music, reading, writing and politics over business and industry.
In 1829-1831 Schoelcher was sent to the Americas in search of new customers for the business. On his journey in Mexico, Cuba and the southern United States, he discovered the harsh realities of slavery and began his career as an abolitionist writer. His writings centered around the social, economic and political advantages that could be gained from the abolition of slavery, drawn from a comparative analysis of the results of emancipation in the British colonies (1834-1838). Schoelcher believed that the production of sugar should continue in the colonies with the construction of large factories in replacement of slave labor.
When the Revolution of 1848 broke out in France, Schoelcher returned with haste to take up appointment as Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies. He set up and presided over a commission for the abolition of slavery. Under his direction the commission prepared a decree abolishing slavery in all French territories, which the provisional government adopted on 27 April 1848. As a result, more than 260.000 people in the Americas, Africa and the Indian Ocean gained their freedom.
In 1851, Schoelcher opposed the coup d’état of Louis Napoleon and was forced into exile in England and Belgium until Napoleon’s fall in 1870. On his return, Schoelcher regained his place in the National Assembly for Martinique and Guadalupe, sitting on the extreme left. In 1875 he was elected senator for life.
Victor Schoelcher died in 1893. His ashes were transferred to the Pantheon in Paris in 1949.