Abolitionist Movement Essay, Research Paper
ABOLITIONIST MOVEMENT. Beginning in the 1780s during the time of the American Revolution there arose in Western Europe and the United States a movement to abolish the institution of slavery and the slave trade that supported it. Advocates of this movement were called abolitionists.
From the 16th to the 19th century some 15 million Africans were kidnapped and shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas. They were sold as laborers on the sugar and cotton plantations of South and North America and the islands of the Caribbean Sea (see Slavery and Serfdom). In the late 1600s Quaker and Mennonite Christians in the British colonies of North America were protesting slavery on religious grounds. Nevertheless, the institution of slavery continued to expand in North America. This was especially true in the Southern colonies.
By the late 1700s ideas on slavery were changing. An intellectual movement in Europe, the Enlightenment, had made strong arguments in favor of the rights of man. The leaders of the American Revolution had issued a Declaration of Independence in 1776. This document also enunciated a belief in the equality of all human beings. In 1789 the French Revolution began, and its basic document was the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. There was a gradual but steady increase in opposition to keeping human beings as private property.
The first formal organization to emerge in the abolitionist movement was the Abolition Society, founded in 1787 in England. Its leaders were Thomas Clarkson and William Wilberforce. The society’s first success came in 1807 when Britain abolished the slave trade with its colonies. When slavery itself showed no signs of disappearing, the Anti-Slavery Society was founded in Britain in 1823 under the leadership of Thomas Fowell Buxton, a member of Parliament. In 1833 Parliament finally passed a law abolishing slavery in all British colonies.
Slavery had been written into the United States Constitution in 1787, but a provision had also been made to abolish the slave trade. This was done in 1807. Unfortunately it coincided with a reinvigorated cotton economy in the South. From that time on, the North and South grew more and more different, both economically and in social attitudes.
Between 1800 and 1830 the antislavery movement in the North looked for ways to eventually eliminate slavery from the United States. One popular plan was to colonize Liberia, in Africa, as a refuge for former slaves. This experiment was a failure.
While advocates of the movement never gave up hope of gradually doing away with slavery, there emerged suddenly in 1831 a much more strident form of abolitionism. It called for the immediate outlawing of slavery. The most notable leader of this movement was William Lloyd Garrison, the founder, in 1833, of the American Anti-Slavery Society. On Jan. 1, 1831, Garrison had published the first issue of his newspaper, the Liberator, calling for immediate emancipation of all slaves in the United States. This was the most extreme of abolitionist positions and it never gained a large following in the North. But the zeal with which Garrison and his associates pursued their cause gave them a great deal of both influence and notoriety.
Abolitionists under Garrison’s leadership spoke out against slavery throughout the North. They urged the secession of the North from the Union, arranged boycotts of goods shipped from the South, and established an Underground Railroad to help slaves escape to the North and to Canada.
For 30 years the American Anti-Slavery Society was a powerful but divisive influence in the United States. It never had the support of a majority of Northerners. Most did not like its extremism; they were aware that the Constitution left it to the states to decide about slavery, and they did not want to see the Union divided. And even though the Northern states had abolished slavery between 1777 and 1804, Northern whites did not want a large black population living in their midst.
One thing the North would not permit was the extension of slavery into new states and territories. It was this issue that eventually led to the election of Abraham Lincoln as president, the secession of the South from the Union, and the Civil War. After the war slavery was abolished by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution (see United States Constitution, “Amendments After the Civil War”).
Although the institution of slavery did not exist in the nations of western Europe, it did exist in their colonies. The French were the first to outlaw slavery in all their territories. In 1794 the revolutionary government freed all French slaves. Bloody uprisings in Haiti a few years later led Napoleon I, the emperor of France, to reestablish slavery there in 1802. By 1819 the French slave trade was outlawed, and in 1848 slavery was banned for good in all French colonies.
In Latin America slavery was abolished gradually, on a country-by-country basis. In Chile the first antislavery law was passed as early as 1811. The slave trade was abolished and children born of slaves were freed. However, adult slaves were not emancipated until 1823. In Venezuela abolition was also gradual, primarily because the government did not want to pay slaveholders all at once for the loss of their human property. Freed slaves were forced, as compensation, to work for former owners for a number of years. Slavery finally ended in South America in 1888 with the passage of an antislavery law in Brazil.
The removal of slavery from the entire Western Hemisphere could not occur until all trading in slaves was abolished. With this in mind, the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society was founded in England in 1839. By 1862 international treaties allowing the right to search ocean vessels had been signed by most Western nations, including the United States. Within a few years the slave trade was destroyed.