La loi d’indemnisation des colons du 30 avril 1849 : aspects juridiques (The law concerning compensation granted to settlers on 30th April 1849: legal issues)
by Laurent Blériot

During the period before the abolition of slavery in France, the issue of compensation to be granted was a topic of hot debate. Since the application of the Black Code, slaves, considered as being mobile goods, had become an important source of wealth for the landowners, who demanded reparation for their loss.
The decree of 27th April 1848 proclaimed the abolition of slavery in the French colonies (article 1), but also declared that compensation should be paid out to all the landowners (article 5).
On 30th April 1849, one year after the emancipation decree, the French parliament passed a law defining the amount to be paid in compensation.

La Lanterne Magique n° 2. En France, Ile de La Réunion. 1848. [une discussion entre trois hommes]. Adolphe Potémont. 1848. Lithograph.
Coll. Departmental Archives of Reunion, 2FI50.1

The compensation took the form of an annual allowance of 5 % for a capital of 120,000,000 francs. Reunion island received a total of 41,104,000 francs: the greatest proportion of this amount. To this was added a sum of 2,055,200 25 francs, granted immediately by the government. In accordance with article 7 of the law dated 1849, 1/8 of the annual allowance was siphoned off to create a lending and discount bank in each colony. However, only estate owners receiving compensation of over 1,000 francs were to pay this amount. As compensation, they became shareholders of the newly-created bank.

Should the settlers have been granted compensation following the abolition of slavery? On what basis? At the time, these questions were the object of debate. On 30th April 1849, the French parliament passed a law, more than one year after the act of emancipation.

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