Abolitionism in the United States


May 28, 2022

Abolitionism (or anti-slavery movement) in the United States was the movement that sought to end slavery in the United States immediately, active before and during the American Civil War. In the Americas and Western Europe, abolitionism was a movement that sought to end the Atlantic slave trade and free slaves. In the 17th century, Enlightenment thinkers condemned slavery on humanistic grounds, and English Quakers and some evangelical denominations condemned slavery as unchristian. At that time, most slaves were Africans, but thousands of Native Americans were also enslaved. In the 18th century, six million Africans were transported to the Americas as slaves, at least a third of them on British ships to North America. The colony of Georgia originally prohibited slavery on its territory, and from then on, abolition was part of the message of the First Great Awakening of the 1730s and 1740s in the Thirteen Colonies. During the Age of Enlightenment, rationalist thinkers criticized slavery for violating people's natural rights. A member of the British parliament, James Edward Oglethorpe, was one of the first to articulate the Enlightenment case against slavery. Oglethorpe, founder of the province of Georgia, outlawed slavery on humanistic grounds. He argued against her in Parliament and ended up encouraging his friends Granville Sharp and Hannah More to vigorously pursue the cause. Shortly after his death in 1785, Sharp and More joined William Wilberforce and others in forming the Clapham Sect. Although anti-slavery sentiments spread in the late 18th century, many colonies, churches, and emerging nations (mostly in the southern United States) continued to use and defend slavery traditions. The ban on slavery in Georgia was lifted in 1751. During and immediately after the American Revolution, Northern states, beginning with Pennsylvania's An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery in 1780, passed legislation over the next two decades abolishing slavery, sometimes by gradual emancipation. Massachusetts ratified a constitution that declared all men equal; freedom actions challenging slavery based on this principle led to the end of slavery in the state. In other states, such as Virginia, similar declarations of rights have been interpreted by the courts as not applicable to Africans or African-Americans. Almost all states banned the international slave trade during the Revolution. In the following decades, the abolitionist movement grew in the Northern states, and Congress regulated the expansion of slavery as new states were admitted to the Union. The United States federal government criminalized the international slave trade in 1808 and made slavery unconstitutional in 1865 as a result of the American Civil War, except as punishment for crimes for which the person was "duly convicted". Historian James M. McPherson defines an abolitionist "as someone who prior to the Civil War had agitated for the immediate, unconditional, and total abolition of slavery in the United States." It does not include anti-slavery activists such as Abraham Lincoln, US president during the Civil War, or the Republican Party, which called for a gradual end to slavery. Abolitionism in the United States was an expression of moralism, and often had a religious component: slavery was incompatible with Christianity, according to many religious abolitionists. It often operated in conjunction with another social reform effort, the temperance movement.

Definitions of Abolitionism

Under the general heading of abolitionism, there were several sub-movements