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Abolition Movement

Get sources on the American abolition movement.

Abolition Movement

What Was the Abolition Movement?

A major reform movement during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, abolitionism sought to end slavery and free millions of black people held as slaves. Some of slavery's opponents advocated gradual abolition and others immediate abolition. By the 1830s the term abolitionism applied only to the latter.

The first white abolitionists in America were members of the Society of Friends (Quakers), who held slavery to be sinful and physically dangerous to slave and master alike. With the American Revolution (1775–83), abolitionism spread beyond African Americans and Quakers. Natural rights doctrines rooted in the European Enlightenment and endorsed by the Declaration of Independence, black service in Patriot armies, black petitions for emancipation, evangelical Christianity, and the activities of the earliest white abolition societies encouraged the American North to lead the world in political abolitionism.

Three factors led to the emergence, during the late 1820s and early 1830s, of a more radical form of abolitionism dedicated to immediate emancipation and equal rights for African Americans in the United States. First, black abolitionists convinced a small minority of white Northerners that the ACS was a proslavery fraud. Second, signs of black unrest inspired urgency among white abolitionists who wished to avoid a race war in the South. Third, the convergence of northern economic modernization with a massive religious revival known as the Second Great Awakening encouraged increasing numbers of white people to regard slavery as a barbaric, outmoded, and sinful practice. They believed it had to be ended if the country were to prosper and avoid God's wrath.

Brown's raid and the victory of Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln in the presidential election of 1860 precipitated the secession movement among white Southerners, which led to the Civil War in 1861. As the war began, Lincoln, who advocated the “ultimate extinction” of human bondage, believed former slaves should be colonized outside the United States and promised not to interfere with slavery in the South. In 1863,  Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring slaves in areas under Confederate control to be free. in 1865 the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution legally ended slavery in the United States. 

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Reforms & Movements in American History