Challenges in Commemorating the Abolition of the Slave Trade in the Académie d’Amiens Poetry Contest of 1819 and 1820

This article considers the timing of the Académie d’Amiens poetry contest on “L’Abolition de la traite des Nègres” (1819–20), the little-known predecessor to the Académie française prix de poésie on “L’Abolition de la traite des Noirs” (1823). The Amiens concours attempted to offer a timely commemoration of the slave trade’s abolition. Close readings of the competition’s archival records, including twelve submitted poems and two reports, suggest reasons why a winner was never chosen. The persistence of the clandestine slave trade and pro-slavery arguments blaming abolitionism for the recent events of the Haitian Revolution challenged the possibility and value of the proposed commemoration. The Amiens contest ultimately bears witness to a shift in contemporary perceptions of the slave trade’s abolition during the Bourbon Restoration: from the celebration of an event to the realization that its history was far from over.

Kylie Sago
San Diego State University