AskDefine | Define abolitionist

Dictionary Definition

abolitionist n : a reformer who favors abolishing slavery [syn: emancipationist]

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  • a UK /ˈæ.bə.lɪʃn̩.ɪst/, 1=/"

Extensive Definition

Abolitionism was a political movement of the 18th and 19th century that sought to make slavery illegal in the United States and British West Indies. Beginning during the Enlightenment in Europe and the United States, the movement attracted many followers and had significant political results. It succeeded in making slavery illegal in the United States, the British Empire and French colonies.
Today child and adult slavery and forced labour are illegal in most countries as well as by international law. But because slavery continues to exist, with an estimated 27 million people enslaved worldwide, a new international abolitionist movement has recently emerged.
After 1880, the movement against prostitution was also called abolitionism, as prostitution was seen as slavery by feminists such as Josephine Butler.

United Kingdom and the British Empire

Slavery in Great Britain

The last form of enforced servitude (villeinage) had disappeared in Britain with the beginning of the seventeenth century. But by the eighteenth century, African and Indian (from East Asia) slaves began to be brought into London and Edinburgh as personal servants. They were not bought or sold, and their legal status was unclear until 1772, when the case of a runaway slave named James Somerset forced a legal decision. The owner, Charles Steuart, had attempted to abduct him and send him to Jamaica to work on the sugar plantations. While in London, Somerset had been baptised and his godparents issued a writ of habeas corpus. As a result Lord Mansfield, Chief Justice of the Court of the King's Bench, had to judge whether the abduction was legal or not under English Common Law as there was no legislation for slavery in England. In his judgment of 22 June 1772 he declared: "Whatever inconveniences, therefore, may follow from a decision, I cannot say this case is allowed or approved by the law of England; and therefore the black must be discharged." It was thus declared that the condition of slavery did not exist under English law. This judgment emancipated the ten to fourteen thousand slaves in England and also laid down that slavery contracted in other jurisdictions (such as the American colonies) could not be enforced in England.
After reading of the Somerset case, an African slave in Scotland, Joseph Knight, left his master, John Wedderburn. A similar case to Steuart's was brought by Wedderburn in 1776, with the same result: that chattel slavery did not exist under the law of Scotland (nevertheless, there were native-born Scottish serfs until 1799, when coal miners previously kept in serfdom gained emancipation).

First steps

Despite the disappearance of slavery in Great Britain, slavery was a way of life in the southern colonies of America and the West Indian colonies of the British Empire.
By 1783, an anti-slavery movement was beginning among the British public. That year the first British abolitionist organization was founded by a group of Quakers. The Quakers continued to be influential throughout the lifetime of the movement, in many ways leading the campaign. On 17 June 1783 the issue was formally brought to government by Sir Cecil Wray (Member of Parliament for Retford), who presented the Quaker petition to parliament. Also in 1783, Dr Beilby Porteus issued a call to the Church of England to cease its involvement in the slave trade and to formulate a workable policy to draw attention to and improve the conditions of Afro-Caribbean slaves. The exploration of the African continent, by such British groups as the African Association (1788), promoted the abolitionists' cause by showing Europeans that the African "savages" were human beings with legitimate, complex cultures. The African Association also had close ties with William Wilberforce, perhaps the most important political figure in the battle for abolition in the British Empire.
Black people played an important part in the movement for abolition. In Britain, Olaudah Equiano, whose autobiography was published in nine editions in his lifetime, campaigned tirelessly against the slave trade.

Growth of the movement

In May 1787, the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was formed, referring to the Atlantic slave trade, the trafficking in slaves by British merchants who took manufactured goods from ports such as Bristol and Liverpool, sold or exchanged these for slaves in West Africa where the African chieftain hierarchy was tied to slavery, shipped the slaves to British colonies and other Caribbean countries or the American colonies, where they sold or exchanged them mainly to the Planters for rum and sugar, which they took back to British ports. This was the so-called Triangle trade because these mercantile merchants traded in three places each round-trip. Political influence against the inhumanity of the slave trade grew strongly in the late eighteenth century. Many people, some African, some European by descent, influenced abolition. Well known abolitionists in Britain included James Ramsay who had seen the cruelty of the trade at first hand, Granville Sharp, Thomas Clarkson, and other members of the Clapham Sect of evangelical reformers, as well as Quakers who took most of the places on the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, having been the first to present a petition against the slave trade to the British Parliament and who founded the predecessor body to the Committee. As Dissenters, Quakers were not eligible to become British MPs in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, so the Anglican evangelist William Wilberforce was persuaded to become the leader of the parliamentary campaign. Clarkson became the group's most prominent researcher, gathering vast amounts of information about the slave trade, gaining first hand accounts by interviewing sailors and former slaves at British ports such as Bristol, Liverpool and London.
Mainly because of Clarkson's efforts, a network of local abolition groups was established across the country. They campaigned through public meetings and the publication of pamphlets and petitions. One of the earliest books promoted by Clarkson and the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was the autobiography of the freed slave Olaudah Equiano. The movement had support from such freed slaves, from many denominational groups such as Swedenborgians, Quakers, Baptists, Methodists and others, and reached out for support from the new industrial workers of the cities in the midlands and north of England. Even women and children, previously un-politicised groups, became involved in the campaign although at this date women often had to hold separate meetings and were ineligible to be represented in the British Parliament, as indeed were the majority of the men in Britain.
One particular project of the abolitionists was the negotiation with African chieftains for the purchase of land in West African kingdoms for the establishment of 'Freetown' – a settlement for former slaves of the British Empire and the United States, back in west Africa. This privately negotiated settlement, later part of Sierra Leone eventually became protected under a British Act of Parliament in 1807-8, after which British influence in West Africa grew as a series of negotiations with local Chieftains were signed to stamp out trading in slaves. These included agreements to permit British navy ships to intercept Chieftains' ships to ensure their merchants were not carrying slaves.
In 1796, John Gabriel Stedman published the memoirs of his five-year voyage to Surinam as part of a military force sent out to subdue bosnegers, former slaves living in the inlands. The book is critical of the treatment of slaves and contains many images by William Blake and Francesco Bartolozzi depicting the cruel treatment of runaway slaves. It became part of a large body of abolitionist literature.

Slave Trade Act 1807

The Slave Trade Act was passed by the British Parliament on 25 March 1807, making the slave trade illegal throughout the British Empire. The Act imposed a fine of £100 for every slave found aboard a British ship.
Such a law was bound to be eventually passed, given the increasingly powerful abolitionist movement. The timing might have been connected with the Napoleonic Wars raging at the time. At a time when Napoleon took the retrograde decision to revive slavery which was abolished during the French Revolution and to send his troops to re-enslave the black people in the French Caribbean Islands, the British prohibition of the slave trade gave the British Empire the high moral ground.
The act's intention was to entirely outlaw the slave trade within the British Empire, but the trade continued and captains in danger of being caught by the Royal Navy would often throw slaves into the sea to reduce the fine. In 1827, Britain declared that participation in the slave trade was piracy and punishable by death. Between 1808 and 1860, the West Africa Squadron seized approximately 1,600 slave ships and freed 150,000 Africans who were aboard. Action was also taken against African leaders who refused to agree to British treaties to outlaw the trade, for example against "the usurping King of Lagos", deposed in 1851. Anti-slavery treaties were signed with over 50 African rulers.

Slavery Abolition Act 1833

After the 1807 act, slaves were still held, though not sold, within the British Empire. In the 1820s, the abolitionist movement again became active, this time campaigning against the institution of slavery itself. The Anti-Slavery Society was founded in 1823. Many of the campaigners were those who had previously campaigned against the slave trade. Sam Sharpe contributed to the abolition of slavery with his Christmas rebellion in 1831.
On 28 August 1833, the Slavery Abolition Act was given Royal Assent, which paved the way for the abolition of slavery within the British Empire and its colonies. On 1 August 1834, all slaves in the British Empire were emancipated, but they were indentured to their former owners in an apprenticeship system which was abolished in two stages; the first set of apprenticeships came to an end on 1 August 1838, while the final apprenticeships ended two years later on 1 August 1840. The government set aside £20 million to cover compensation of slave owners across the Empire, but the former slaves received no compensation or reparations.

Campaigning after the act

From 1839, the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society worked to outlaw slavery in other countries and to pressure the government to help enforce the suppression of the slave trade by declaring slave traders pirates and pursuing them. This organization continues today as Anti-Slavery International. The importation of slaves into the United States was abolished in 1808.


As in other "New World" colonies, the Atlantic slave trade provided the French colonies with manpower for the sugar cane plantations. The French West Indies included Anguilla (briefly), Antigua and Barbuda (briefly), Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Haïti, Montserrat (briefly), Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sint Eustatius (briefly), St Kitts and Nevis (St Kitts, but not Nevis), Trinidad and Tobago (Tobago only), Saint Croix (briefly), and the current French overseas départements of Martinique and Guadeloupe (including Saint-Barthélemy and northern half of Saint Martin) in the Caribbean sea.
The slave trade was regulated by Louis XIV's Code Noir. The institution of slavery was first abolished after the Haïtian Revolution led by Toussaint L'Ouverture, in 1791. The rebels demanded the abolition of slavery from the First Republic (1792-1804) on February 4, 1794. Abbé Grégoire and the Society of the Friends of the Blacks (Société des Amis des Noirs), led by Jacques Pierre Brissot, were part of the abolitionist movement, which had laid important groundwork in building anti-slavery sentiment in the metropole. The first article of the law stated that "Slavery was abolished" in the French colonies, while the second article stated that "slave-owners would be indemnified" with financial compensation for the value of their slaves.
However, Napoleon decided to reestablish slavery after becoming First Consul, and sent military governors and troops to do this. On May 10, 1802, Colonel Delgrès launched a rebellion in Guadeloupe against Napoleon's representative, General Richepanse. The rebellion was repressed, and slavery was reestablished. The news of this event sparked the rebellion that led to Haïti's gaining independence in 1804. Then, on April 27, 1848, under the Second Republic (1848-52), the decree-law Schœlcher again abolished slavery. The state bought the slaves from the colons (white colonists; Békés in Creole), and then freed them.
At about the same time, France started colonizing Africa. Its activities there included transferring the population to mines, forestry, and rubber plantations under isolated, harsh working conditions often compared to slavery.
Debates about the dimensions of colonialism continue. On May 10, 2001, the Taubira law officially acknowledge slavery and the Atlantic Slave Trade as a crime against humanity. May 10 was chosen as the day dedicated to recognition of the crime of slavery. Anti-colonial activists also want the French Republic to recognize African Liberation Day.
Although the crime of slavery was formally recognized, four years later, the conservative Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) voted on February 23, 2005 for a law to require teachers and textbooks to "acknowledge and recognize in particular the positive role of the French presence abroad, especially in North Africa." This resolution was met with public uproar and accusations of historic revisionism, both inside France and abroad. Because of this law, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, president of Algeria, refused to sign the envisioned "friendly treaty" with France. Famous writer Aimé Césaire, leader of the Négritude movement, refused to meet UMP leader Nicolas Sarkozy, who cancelled his planned visit to Martinique. President Jacques Chirac (UMP) repealed the controversial law at the beginning of 2006.

Wallachia and Moldavia

In the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia (now part of Romania), the serfs were freed in the mid-18th century (1746 in Wallachia, and 1749 in Moldavia). Enslavement of the Roma (often referred to as Gypsies) was still legal at the beginning of the 19th century. Abolitionism was associated with the progressive pro-European and anti-Ottoman movement, which gradually gained power in the two principalities. Between 1843 and 1855, all of the 250,000 enslaved Roma slaves were liberated. Many migrated to Western Europe and North America.

United States

Gradual abolition

The Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage was the first American abolition society, formed April 14, 1775, in Philadelphia, primarily by Quakers who had strong religious objections to slavery. Rhode Island Quakers, associated with Moses Brown, co-founder of Brown University, and who also settled at Uxbridge, Massachusetts prior to 1770, were among the first in America to free slaves. The society ceased to operate during the Revolution and the British occupation of Philadelphia. After the Revolution, it was reorganized in 1784, with Benjamin Franklin as its first president. Benjamin Rush was another leader, as were many Quakers. John Woolman gave up most of his business in 1756 to devote himself to campaigning against slavery along with other Quakers. The first article published in what later became the United States advocating the emancipation of slaves and the abolition of slavery was written by Thomas Paine. Titled "African Slavery in America", it appeared on March 8, 1775 in the Postscript to the Pennsylvania Journal and Weekly Advertiser, more popularly known as The Pennsylvania Magazine, or American Museum.

Abolitionist Movement

The Abolitionist Movement set in motion actions in every state to abolish slavery. This succeeded in every northern state by 1804; although the emancipation was so gradual that there were still a dozen "permanent apprentices" in the 1860 census. The principal organized bodies to advocate this reform were the Society of Friends, the Pennsylvania Antislavery Society, and the New York Manumission Society. The latter was headed by powerful Federalist politicians, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and republican Aaron Burr. Thanks to the considerable efforts of the NYMS, New York abolished slavery (gradually) in 1799. In terms of numbers of slaves, this was the largest emancipation in American history (before 1863). New Jersey in 1804 was the last northern state to abolish slavery (again in gradual fashion). At the Constitutional Convention of 1787, agreement was reached that allowed the Federal government to abolish the international slave trade. By that time, all the states had passed individual laws abolishing or severely limiting the trade, all but Georgia by 1798.
After the Revolutionary War, Quaker and Moravian advocates helped persuade slaveholders in the Upper South to free their slaves. Many individual acts of manumission freed thousands of slaves. People were also moved by their own struggles in the Revolution; wills and deeds cited language about the equality of men in decisions to free slaves. Slaveholders were also encouraged to do so because the economics of the area was changing. They were shifting from labor-intensive tobacco culture to mixed crop cultivation and did not need as many slaves. After the Revolution, the percentage of free Negroes in the Upper South increased sharply from one to ten percent, with most of that increase in Virginia, Maryland and Delaware. By 1810 three-quarters of blacks in Delaware were free. By 1860 91.7 percent of Delaware's blacks were free, and 49.7 percent of those in Maryland.
The importation of slaves into the United States was officially banned on January 1, 1808.
Beginning in the 1830s, the U.S. Postmaster General refused to allow the mails to carry abolition pamphlets to the South. Northern teachers suspected of any tinge of abolitionism were expelled from the South, and abolitionist literature was banned. Southerners rejected the denials of Republicans that they were abolitionists, and pointed to John Brown's attempt in 1859 to start a slave uprising as proof that multiple Northern conspiracies were afoot to ignite bloody slave rebellions. Although some abolitionists did call for slave revolts, no evidence of any other Brown-like conspiracy has been discovered. The North felt threatened as well, for as Eric Foner concludes, "Northerners came to view slavery as the very antithesis of the good society, as well as a threat to their own fundamental values and interests". However, many conservative Northerners were uneasy at the prospect of the sudden addition to the labor pool of a huge number of freed laborers who were used to working for very little, and thus seen as being willing to undercut prevailing wages.. The famous, "fiery" Abolitionist, Abby Kelley Foster, from Massachusetts, was considered an "ultra" abolitionist who believed in full civil rights for all black people. She held to the views that the freed slaves would colonize Liberia. Parts of the anti-slavery movement became known as "Abby Kellyism". She recruited Susan B Anthony to the movement.

Colonization and the founding of Liberia

In the early part of the 19th century, a variety of organizations were established advocating the movement of black people from the United States to locations where they would enjoy greater freedom; some endorsed colonization, while others advocated emigration. During the 1820s and 1830s the American Colonization Society (A.C.S.) was the primary vehicle for proposals to return black Americans to freedom in Africa. It had broad support nationwide among white people, including prominent leaders such as Abraham Lincoln, Henry Clay and James Monroe, who saw this as preferable to emancipation. There was, however, considerable opposition among African Americans, many of whom did not see colonization as a viable or acceptable solution to their daunting problems in the United States. One notable opponent of such plans was the wealthy free black abolitionist James Forten of Philadelphia.
After a series of attempts to plant small settlements on the coast of West Africa, the A.C.S. established the colony of Liberia in 1821-22. Over the next four decades, it assisted thousands of former slaves and free black people to move there from the United States. The disease environment they encountered was extreme, and most of the migrants died fairly quickly. Enough survived to declare independence in 1847. American support for colonization waned gradually through the 1840s and 1850s, largely because of the efforts of abolitionists to promote emancipation of slaves and granting of American citizenship. Americo-Liberians ruled Liberia continuously until the military coup of 1980.


The emigrationist tradition dated back to the Revolutionary War era. Initially, the thought was that free African Americans would want to emigrate to Africa, but over time other ideas became popular. After Haiti became independent, it tried to recruit African Americans to migrate there after it re-established trade relations with the United States. The Haytian Union was the name of a group formed to promote relations between the countries.
Cincinnati's Black community sponsored founding the Wilberforce Colony, an initially successful settlement of African American immigrants to Canada. The colony was one of the first such independent political entities. It lasted for a number of decades and provided a destination for black Americans emigrating from a number of locations in the United States.

Garrison and immediate emancipation

A radical shift came in the 1830s, led by William Lloyd Garrison, who demanded "immediate emancipation, gradually achieved." That is, he demanded that slave-owners repent immediately, and set up a system of emancipation. Theodore Weld, an evangelical minister, and Robert Purvis, a free African American, joined Garrison in 1833 to form the Anti-Slavery Society (Faragher 381). The following year Weld encouraged a group of students at Lane Theological Seminary to form an anti-slavery society. After the president, Lyman Beecher, attempted to suppress it, the students moved to Oberlin College. Due to the students' antislavery position, Oberlin soon became one of the most liberal colleges and accepted African American students.
After 1840 "abolition" usually referred to positions like Garrison's; it was largely an ideological movement led by about 3000 people, including free blacks and people of color, many of whom, such as Frederick Douglass, and Robert Purvis and James Forten in Philadelphia, played prominent leadership roles. Abolitionism had a strong religious base including Quakers, and people converted by the revivalist fervor of the Second Great Awakening, led by Charles Finney in the North in the 1830s. Belief in abolition contributed to the breaking away of some small denominations, such as the Free Methodist Church.
Evangelical abolitionists founded some colleges, most notably Bates College in Maine and Oberlin College in Ohio. The well-established colleges, such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton, generally opposed abolition, although the movement did attract such figures as Yale president Noah Porter and Harvard president Thomas Hill.
In the North most opponents of slavery supported other modernizing reform movements such as the temperance movement, public schooling, and prison- and asylum-building. They split bitterly on the role of women's activism.
Daniel O'Connell, the Roman Catholic leader of the Irish in Ireland, supported the abolition of slavery in the British Empire and in America. O'Connell had played a leading role in securing Catholic Emancipation (the removal of the civil and political disabilities of Roman Catholics in Great Britain and Ireland) and he was one of William Lloyd Garrison's models. Garrison recruited him to the cause of American abolitionism. O'Connell, the black abolitionist Charles Lenox Remond, and the temperance priest Theobold Mayhew organized a petition with 60,000 signatures urging the Irish of the United States to support abolition. O'Connell also spoke in the United States for abolition.
The Repeal Associations in the United States mostly took a pro-slavery position. Several reasons have been suggested for this: that Irish immigrants were competing with free blacks for jobs, and disliked having the same arguments used for Irish and for black freedom; that they were loyal to the United States Constitution, which defended their liberties, and disliked the fundamentally extra-constitutional position of the Abolitionists; and that they perceived abolitionism as Protestant and were therefore suspicious of them. In addition, slaveholders had no hesitation in voicing support for the freedom of Ireland, a white nation outside the United States.
Radical Irish nationalists - those who broke with O'Connell over his refusal to contemplate the violent overthrow of British rule in Ireland - had a diversity of views about slavery. John Mitchel, who spent the years 1853 to 1875 in America, was a passionate propagandist in favor of slavery; three of his sons fought in the Confederate Army. On the other hand, his former close associate Thomas Francis Meagher served as a Brigadier General in the United States Army during the American Civil War.
The Catholic Church in America had long ties in slaveholding Maryland and Louisiana. Despite a firm stand for the spiritual equality of black people, and the resounding condemnation of slavery by Pope Gregory XVI in his bull In Supremo Apostolatus issued in 1839, the American church continued in deeds, if not in public discourse, to support slaveholding interests. The Bishop of New York denounced O'Connell's petition as a forgery, and if genuine, an unwarranted foreign interference. The Bishop of Charleston declared that, while Catholic tradition opposed slave trading, it had nothing against slavery. No American bishop supported abolition before the Civil War. While the war went on, they continued to allow slave-owners to take communion.
One historian observed that ritualist churches separated themselves from heretics rather than sinners; he observed that Episcopalians and Lutherans also accommodated themselves to slavery. (Indeed, one southern Episcopal bishop was a Confederate general.) There were more reasons than religious tradition, however, as the Anglican Church had been the established church in the South during the colonial period. It was linked to the traditions of landed gentry and the wealthier and educated planter classes, and the Southern traditions longer than any other church. In addition, while the Protestant missionaries of the Great Awakening initially opposed slavery in the South, by the early decades of the 19th century, Baptist and Methodist preachers in the South had come to an accommodation with it in order to evangelize with farmers and artisans. By the Civil War, the Baptist and Methodist churches split into regional associations because of slavery.
After O'Connell's failure, the American Repeal Associations broke up; but the Garrisonians rarely relapsed into the "bitter hostility" of American Protestants towards the Roman Church. Some antislavery men joined the Know Nothings in the collapse of the parties; but Edmund Quincy ridiculed it as a mushroom growth, a distraction from the real issues. Although the Know-Nothing legislature of Massachusetts honored Garrison, he continued to oppose them as violators of fundamental rights to freedom of worship.
The evangelical Protestants William Lloyd Garrison and John Brown, however, regarded the United States Declaration of Independence as being as important as the Bible. In 1854, Garrison wrote: I am a believer in that portion of the Declaration of American Independence in which it is set forth, as among self-evident truths, "that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Hence, I am an abolitionist. Hence, I cannot but regard oppression in every form – and most of all, that which turns a man into a thing – with indignation and abhorrence. Not to cherish these feelings would be recreancy to principle. They who desire me to be dumb on the subject of slavery, unless I will open my mouth in its defense, ask me to give the lie to my professions, to degrade my manhood, and to stain my soul. I will not be a liar, a poltroon, or a hypocrite, to accommodate any party, to gratify any sect, to escape any odium or peril, to save any interest, to preserve any institution, or to promote any object. Convince me that one man may rightfully make another man his slave, and I will no longer subscribe to the Declaration of Independence. Convince me that liberty is not the inalienable birthright of every human being, of whatever complexion or clime, and I will give that instrument to the consuming fire. I do not know how to espouse freedom and slavery together.

History of abolition in the United States

In The Struggle for Equality, historian James M. McPherson defines an abolitionist "as one who before the Civil War in the United States had agitated for the immediate, unconditional, and total abolition of slavery in the United States."
Although there were several groups that opposed slavery (such as the Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage), at the time of the founding of the Republic, there were few states which prohibited slavery outright. The Constitution had several provisions which accommodated slavery, although none used the word. Passed unanimously by the Congress of the Confederation in 1787, the Northwest Ordinance forbade slavery in the Northwest Territory, a vast area which had previously belonged to individual states in which slavery was legal.
American abolitionism began very early, well before the United States were formed as a nation. An early law abolishing slavery (but not temporary indentured servitude) in Rhode Island in 1652 foundered within 50 years. Samuel Sewall, a prominent Bostonian and one of the judges at the Salem Witch Trials, wrote The Selling of Joseph in protest of the widening practice of outright slavery as opposed to indentured servitude in the colonies. This is the earliest-recorded anti-slavery tract published in the future United States.
Abolitionists included those who joined the American Anti-Slavery Society or its auxiliary groups in the 1830s and 1840s as the movement fragmented. The fragmented anti-slavery movement included groups such as the Libery party; the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society; the American Missionary Association; and the Church Anti-Slavery Society. McPherson describes three types of abolitionists prior to the Civil War:
On the ideological spectrum, from immediate abolition on the Left to conservative antislavery on the Right, it is often hard to tell where "abolition" (which demanded unconditional emancipation and usually envisaged civil equality for the free slaves.) ended and "antislavery" or "free soil" (which desired only the containment of slavery and was ambivalent on the question of equality) began. In New England particularly, many free soilers were abolitionists at heart; in the mid-Atlantic states and even more in the old Northwest, political abolitionists tended to submerge their abolitionist identity in the broader but shallower stream of free soil.
Vermont was the first territory (not a state at the time) in North America to abolish slavery outright in 1777. The first state to abolish slavery outright was Pennsylvania in 1780. All of the other states north of Maryland began to gradually abolish slavery between 1781 and 1804. Rhode Island had limited slave trading in 1774 (Virginia had also attempted to do so before the Revolution, but the Privy Council had vetoed the act), all the other northern states also limited the slave trade by 1786, and Georgia in 1798. These northern emancipation acts typically provided that slaves born before the law was passed would be freed at a certain age, and so remnants of slavery lingered; in New Jersey, a dozen "permanent apprentices" were recorded in the 1860 census.
The institution remained solid in the South, however and that region's customs and social beliefs evolved into a strident defense of slavery in response to the rise of a stronger anti-slavery stance in the North. In 1835 alone abolitionists mailed over a million pieces of anti-slavery literature to the south. In response southern legislators banned abolitionist literature and encouraged harassment of anyone distributing it. The anti-slavery sentiment, which existed before 1830 among many people in the North, was joined after 1840 by the vocal few of the abolitionist movement. The majority of Northerners rejected the extreme positions of the abolitionists; Abraham Lincoln, for example. Indeed many northern leaders including Lincoln, Stephen Douglas (the Democratic nominee in 1860), John C. Fremont (the Republican nominee in 1856), and Ulysses S. Grant married into slave owning southern families without any moral qualms.
Abolitionism as a principle was far more than just the wish to limit the extent of slavery. Most Northerners recognized that slavery existed in the South and the Constitution did not allow the federal government to intervene there. Most Northerners favored a policy of gradual and compensated emancipation. After 1849 abolitionists rejected this and demanded it end immediately and everywhere. John Brown was the only abolitionist known to have actually planned a violent insurrection, though David Walker promoted the idea. The abolitionist movement was strengthened by the activities of free African-Americans, especially in the black church, who argued that the old Biblical justifications for slavery contradicted the New Testament. African-American activists and their writings were rarely heard outside the black community; however, they were tremendously influential to some sympathetic white people, most prominently the first white activist to reach prominence, William Lloyd Garrison, who was its most effective propagandist. Garrison's efforts to recruit eloquent spokesmen led to the discovery of ex-slave Frederick Douglass, who eventually became a prominent activist in his own right. Eventually, Douglass would publish his own, widely distributed abolitionist newspaper, the North Star.
In the early 1850s, the American abolitionist movement split into two camps over the issue of the United States Constitution. This issue arose in the late 1840s after the publication of The Unconstitutionality of Slavery by Lysander Spooner. The Garrisonians, led by Garrison and Wendell Phillips, publicly burned copies of the Constitution, called it a pact with slavery, and demanded its abolition and replacement. Another camp, led by Lysander Spooner, Gerrit Smith, and eventually Douglass, considered the Constitution to be an antislavery document. Using an argument based upon Natural Law and a form of social contract theory, they said that slavery existed outside of the Constitution's scope of legitimate authority and therefore should be abolished.
Another split in the abolitionist movement was along class lines. The artisan republicanism of Robert Dale Owen and Frances Wright stood in stark contrast to the politics of prominent elite abolitionists such as industrialist Arthur Tappan and his evangelist brother Lewis. While the former pair opposed slavery on a basis of solidarity of "wage slaves" with "chattel slaves", the Whiggish Tappans strongly rejected this view, opposing the characterization of Northern workers as "slaves" in any sense. (Lott, 129-130)
Many American abolitionists took an active role in opposing slavery by supporting the Underground Railroad. This was made illegal by the federal Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. Nevertheless, participants like Harriet Tubman, Henry Highland Garnet, Alexander Crummell, Amos Noë Freeman and others continued with their work. Two significant events in the struggle to destroy slavery were the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue and John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry. In the South, members of the abolitionist movement or other people opposing slavery were often targets of lynch mob violence before the American Civil War.
Numerous known abolitionists lived, worked, and worshipped in Downtown Brooklyn, from Henry Ward Beecher, who auctioned slaves into freedom from the pulpit of Plymouth Church, to Nathan Egelston, a leader of the African and Foreign Antislavery Society, who also preached at Bridge Street AME and lived on Duffield Street. His fellow Duffield Street residents, Thomas and Harriet Truesdell were leading members of the Abolitionist movement. Mr. Truesdell was a founding member of the Providence Anti-slavery Society before moving to Brooklyn in 1851. Harriet Truesdell was also very active in the movement, organizing an antislavery convention in Pennsylvania Hall in Philadelphia. The Tuesdell's lived at 227 Duffield Street. Another prominent Brooklyn-based abolitionist was Rev. Joshua Leavitt, trained as a lawyer at Yale who gave up the law to attend Yale Divinity School, and subsequently edited the abolitionist newspaper The Emancipator and campaigned against slavery, as well as advocating other social reforms. In 1841 Leavitt published his "Financial Power of Slavery," which argued that the South was draining the national economy by its reliance on slavery.
After the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, abolitionists continued to pursue the freedom of slaves in the remaining slave states, and to better the conditions of black Americans generally. The passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865 officially ended slavery in the United States.

Notable opponents of slavery

National abolition dates

Slavery was abolished in these nations in these years:


The abolitionist movements and the abolition of slavery has been commemorated in different ways around the world in modern times. The United Nations General Assembly declared 2004 the International Year to Commemorate the Struggle against Slavery and its Abolition. This proclamation marked the bicentenary of the birth of the first black state, Haiti. Numerous exhibitions, events and research programmes were connected to the initiative.
2007 witnessed major exhibitions in British museums and galleries to mark the anniversary of the 1807 abolition act - 1807 Commemorated 2008 marks the 201st anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade in the British Empire. See Slave Trade Act 1807 UK It also marks the 175th anniversary of the Abolition of Slavery in the British Empire. See Slavery Abolition Act 1833 UK
The Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa is holding a major international conference entitled, "Routes to Freedom: Reflections on the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade," from March 14-16, 2008. See Celebrated actor and human rights activist, Danny Glover, will deliver the keynote speech announcing the creation of two major scholarships intended for University of Ottawa law students specializing in international law and social justice at the conference's gala dinner on March 15, 2008.
Brooklyn, New York has begun work on commemorating the abolitionist movement in New York.

Slavery today

Although outlawed in most countries today slavery is, nonetheless, practiced in secret in many parts of the world, with outright enslavement still taking place in parts of Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. There are an estimated 27 million victims of slavery worldwide. In Mauritania alone it is estimated that up to 600,000 men, women and children, or 20% of the population, are enslaved, many of them used as bonded labour.

Contemporary abolitionism

Slavery still exists today. Groups such as Anti-Slavery International, the American Anti-Slavery Group and Free the Slaves continue to campaign to rid the world of slavery.
On December 10, 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 4 states:
No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.
Since 1997, the United States Department of Justice has, through work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, prosecuted six individuals on charges of slavery in the agricultural industry. These prosecutions have led to freedom for over 1000 slaves in the tomato and orange fields of South Florida.
This is only one example of the contemporary fight against slavery worldwide, which is especially pervasive in the agriculture, apparel, and sex industries.


Britain and World

  • Brown, Christopher Leslie. Moral Capital: Foundations of British Abolitionism (2006)
  • Davis, David Brion, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, 1770-1823 (1999); The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (1988)
  • Gould, Philip. Barbaric Traffic: Commerce and Antislavery in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World (Harvard: University Press, 2003)
  • Hochschild, Adam. Bury the Chains, Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves (Basingstoke: Pan Macmillan, 2005)
  • Hellie, Richard. Slavery in Russia: 1450-1725 (1982)
  • Kolchin, Peter. Unfree Labor; American Slavery and Russian Serfdom (1987)
  • Rodriguez, Junius P., ed. "Encyclopedia of Emancipation and Abolition in the Transatlantic World" (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2007)
  • Thistlethwaite, Frank. Anglo-American Connection in the Early Nineteenth Century. 1971. ISBN 0-8462-1540-3
  • Thomas, Hugh. The Slave Trade: The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade: 1440 – 1870 (London: Phoenix Press, 2006)


  • Abzug, Robert H. Cosmos Crumbling: American Reform and the Religious Imagination. Oxford, 1994. ISBN 0-19-503752-9.
  • Bacon, Jacqueline. The Humblest May Stand Forth: Rhetoric, Empowerment, and Abolition. Univ of South Carolina Press, 2002. ISBN 1-57003-434-6.
  • Barnes, Gilbert H. The Anti-Slavery Impulse 1830-1844. Reprint, 1964. ISBN 0-7812-5307-1.
  • Berlin, Ira and Leslie Harris. Slavery in New York. New Press, 2005. ISBN 1-56584-997-3.
  • Blue, Frederick J. No Taint of Compromise: Crusaders in Antislavery Politics. Louisiana State Univ Press, 2004. ISBN 0-8071-2976-3.
  • Bordewich, Fergus M. Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America. HarperCollins, 2005. ISBN 0-06-052430-8.
  • Davis, David Brion, Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World Oxford, 2006. ISBN 0-19-514073-7.
  • Filler, Louis. The Crusade Against Slavery 1830-1860. 1960. ISBN 0-917256-29-8.
  • David Nathaniel Gellman. Emancipating New York: The Politics of Slavery And Freedom, 1777-1827 Louisiana State Univ Press, 2006. ISBN 0-8071-3174-1.
  • Griffin, Clifford S. Their Brothers' Keepers: Moral Stewardship in the United States 1800-1865. Rutgers Univ Press, 1967. ISBN 0-313-24059-0.
  • Harrold, Stanley. The Abolitionists and the South, 1831-1861. Univ Press of Kentucky, 1995. ISBN 0-8131-0968-X.
  • Harrold, Stanley. The American Abolitionists. Longman, 2000. ISBN 0-582-35738-1.
  • Harrold, Stanley. The Rise of Aggressive Abolitionism: Addresses to the Slaves. Univ Press of Kentucky, 2004. ISBN 0-8131-2290-2.
  • Horton, James Oliver. "Alexander Hamilton: Slavery and Race in a Revolutionary Generation" New-York Journal of American History 2004 65(3): 16-24. ISSN 1551-5486
  • Huston, James L. "The Experiential Basis of the Northern Antislavery Impulse." Journal of Southern History 56:4 (November 1990): 609-640.
  • Mayer, Henry All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery St. Martin's Press, 1998. ISBN 0-312-18740-8.
  • McKivigan, John R. The War Against Proslavery Religion: Abolitionism and the Northern Churches, 1830-1865 Cornell Univ Press, 1984. ISBN 0-8014-1589-6.
  • McPherson, James M. The Abolitionist Legacy: From Reconstruction to the NAACP Princeton Univ Press, 1975. ISBN 0-691-04637-9.
  • Osofsky, Gilbert. "Abolitionists, Irish Immigrants, and the Dilemmas of Romantic Nationalism" American Historical Review 1975 80(4): 889-912. ISSN 0002-8762 in JSTOR
  • Perry, Lewis and Michael Fellman, eds. Antislavery Reconsidered: New Perspectives on the Abolitionists. Louisiana State Univ Press, 1979. ISBN 0-8071-0889-8.
  • Peterson, Merrill D. John Brown: The Legend Revisited. Univ Press of Virginia, 2002. ISBN 0-8139-2132-5.
  • Pierson, Michael D. Free Hearts and Free Homes: Gender and American Antislavery Politics. Univ of North Carolina Press, 2003. ISBN 0-8078-2782-7.
  • Schafer, Judith Kelleher. Becoming Free, Remaining Free: Manumission and Enslavement in New Orleans, 1846-1862. Louisiana State Univ Press, 2003. ISBN 0-8071-2862-7.
  • Salerno, Beth A. Sister Societies: Women's Antislavery Organizations in Antebellum America. Northern Illinois Univ Press, 2005. ISBN 0-87580-338-5.
  • Speicher, Anna M. The Religious World of Antislavery Women: Spirituality in the Lives of Five Abolitionist Lecturers. Syracuse Univ Press, 2000. ISBN 0-8156-2850-1.
  • Stauffer, John. The Black Hearts of Men: Radical Abolitionists and the Transformation of Race. Harvard Univ Press, 2002. ISBN 0-674-00645-3.
  • Vorenberg, Michael. Final Freedom: The Civil War, the Abolition of Slavery, and the Thirteenth Amendment. Cambridge Univ Press, 2001. ISBN 0-521-65267-7.
  • Zilversmit, Arthur. The First Emancipation: The Abolition of Slavery in the North. University of Chicago Press, 1967. ISBN 0-226-98332-3.
abolitionist in Arabic: التحرير من العبودية
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