Stand up for the facts!

Our only agenda is to publish the truth so you can be an informed participant in democracy.
We need your help.

More Info

I would like to contribute

Joshua Gillin
By Joshua Gillin August 17, 2017

Tucker Carlson wrongly says United States 'ended slavery around the world'

Fox News Channel’s Tucker Carlson said on his primetime talk show that while many are arguing for the removal of Confederate monuments because they legitimize slavery, America should get some recognition for stopping the practice globally.

On the Aug. 15, 2017, episode of Tucker Carlson Tonight, the host was discussing with political commentator Jasmyne Cannick whether former U.S. Sen Robert Byrd’s name should be removed from a building because Byrd was once a recruiter for the Ku Klux Klan.

Cannick said that offensive or racially insensitive monuments or dedications may be reviewed in time, but Americans should still remember to mark its history properly. Carlson affirmed her answer with a remark about the result of the Civil War.

"The United States ended slavery around the world, and maybe we should get some credit for that, too," he said.

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, and the 13th Amendment formally abolished slavery in the United States after it was ratified following the end of the Civil War in 1865. But did that stop slavery across the planet? Experts told us there was no way that was true.


Beyond the Civil War

We don’t know exactly how Carlson was defining slavery, whether as a government-sanctioned practice or criminal enterprise. We reached out to the show and to Fox News Channel but did not get a response.

But he’s not right in any case, historians told us.

Slavery has been instituted by myriad cultures, empires and nations around the globe for centuries, they said. There have been patterns of abolishing slave trades and then the practice of slavery, before later reinstating them.

In the modern context, the roots of the abolitionist movement really began in Great Britain in 1787. The Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade set the stage for organized, widespread protests against slavery.

"If anyone could lay claim to leading anti-slavery forces in the world it was Britain, which after it abolished the slave trade and slavery made anti-slavery a leading aspect of its foreign policy and policed the Atlantic to end the slave trade," University of Connecticut history professor Manisha Sinha said.

The British stopped its own trans-Atlantic slave trade in 1807, and America did the same a year later.

Featured Fact-check

Vermont did become the first state to ban slaves in 1777, but it remained in practice among wealthy landowners into the 19th century. Other northern states also began to ban slavery, but the practice in the United States and abroad continued for far longer, eventually becoming the flashpoint of the Civil War.

Several Western nations ended slavery before the United States did. Spain abolished it in 1811, although Cuba refused the royal decree. Sweden, the Netherlands, France and Portugal all banned the slave trade — but not the owning of slaves — shortly thereafter.

The British didn’t officially abolish slavery until 1833. Then other European powers began to follow suit.

Several Latin American countries and a handful of other places like the principality of Moldovia banned slavery through the 1850s.

Fast forward to the 1860s, when the Confederate States of America’s surrender to Union forces dovetailed with the official end of slavery here. But that wasn’t the last word on slavery.

"The 13th Amendment abolished chattel slavery in the United States, but slavery continued in Cuba and Brazil until the 1880s, and in other places in the world well into the 20th century," Georgetown University history professor Adam Rothman said.

Slavery and indentured servitude in Cuba finally ended in 1886, while Brazil stopped the official practice of slavery two years later. That’s still not the end of the story, however.

"Slavery still exists in most every corner of the world," Siddharth Kara, director of the Program on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery at Harvard, told us. "When people speak about the abolition of slavery, what they mean is the abolition of the legally sanctioned institution of buying and selling other people like property."

But forced labor continued, perpetrated by the likes of Nazis and the Soviet Union. Child labor and bonded labor, in which people must work to pay off debts, remains a problem, particularly in the Third World. The Associated Press won a Pulitzer Prize in 2016 for documenting cases of slavery in the seafood industry in Southeast Asia.

"The global campaign against modern slavery has been going on for a long time under the auspices of international anti-slavery NGOs and organizations like the U.N., which the U.S. participates in," Rothman said. "But at the same time, it's likely that forms of unfree labor akin to slavery lurk in the dark shadows at the end of the global supply chains of American businesses."

Our ruling

Carlson said, "The United States ended slavery around the world, and maybe we should get some credit for that, too."

The practice of treating other human beings as property that can be forced into labor continued as official policy for more than decades in Cuba and Brazil after the Civil War. Historians said slavery continued to exist across the world into the 20th century, and conditions comparable to slavery still exist.

Any credit for originating the ideals leading to the end of slavery as most people would define it should go to the British, historians said, who formally organized abolitionist thought long before the United States adopted any official policy.

We rate Carlson’s statement Pants On Fire!

Share the Facts
PolitiFact rating logo PolitiFact Rating:
Pants on Fire
"The United States ended slavery around the world, and maybe we should get some credit for that, too."
in comments on 'Tucker Carlson Tonight'
Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Our Sources

Tucker Carlson, comments on Tucker Carlson Tonight, Aug. 15, 2017

Los Angeles Times, "Slavery, 20th-Century Style: In the Third World, bonded labor and child exploitation are widespread. Debt and greed set the trap; family burdens often perpetuate it.," Aug. 6, 1991

Reuters, "CHRONOLOGY-Who banned slavery when?," March 22, 2007

BBC, "British Anti-slavery," Feb. 17, 2011

NPR, "Photos Reveal Harsh Detail Of Brazil's History With Slavery," Nov. 12, 2013

USA Today, "Vermont's 1777 slavery ban had a complicated reality," April 2, 2014, "Our forgotten slavery horror: The shameful, untold history of America and the Cuban slave trade," Sept. 27, 2015

Library of Congress, "13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution," accessed Aug. 17, 2017

Interview with Manisha Sinha, University of Connecticut history professor, Aug. 16-17, 2017

Interview with Siddharth Kara, Harvard University Program on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery director, Aug. 16-17, 2017

Interview with Adam Rothman, Georgetown University history professor, Aug. 16-17, 2017

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Joshua Gillin

Tucker Carlson wrongly says United States 'ended slavery around the world'

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up