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Abolitionist Movement - U.
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Abolitionist Movement - U.S. History.
I

INTRODUCTION

Abolitionist Movement, reform movement during the 18th and 19th centuries. Often called the antislavery movement, it sought to end the enslavement of Africans and
people of African descent in Europe, the Americas, and Africa itself (see Slavery in Africa). It also aimed to end the Atlantic slave trade carried out in the Atlantic Ocean
between Africa, Europe, and the Americas.
The historical roots of abolitionism lay in black resistance to slavery. Such resistance began during the 15th century as Africans enslaved by Europeans often sought to
kill their captors or themselves. By the late 1700s Christian morality, new ideas about liberty and human rights that came about as a result of the American and French
revolutions, and economic changes led to an effort among blacks and whites to end human bondage.
Those who employed slave labor in the Americas resisted abolitionist efforts. First, slaveholders believed that their economic prosperity demanded the continuation of
slavery. In order to work the large plantations in the Americas, huge amounts of labor were required. African slaves were cheaper and more readily available than white
indentured laborers from Europe, and because they already had some immunity to European diseases, Africans were less likely to die from those diseases than were
Native Americans. Second, employers of slave labor feared for their own safety if the slaves were freed. Due to the large number of slaves brought to the Americas,
several regions had slave majorities. Slave owners worried that if slaves were suddenly freed, they might take over or exact revenge on their former masters. Although
abolitionism existed in Europe and in the American colonies of several European nations, the struggle between antislavery and proslavery forces was most protracted,
bitter, and bloody in the United States.
As a result of the abolitionist movement, the institution of slavery ceased to exist in Europe and the Americas by 1888, although it was not completely legally abolished
in Africa until the first quarter of the 20th century. While the abolitionist movement's greatest achievement was certainly the liberation of millions of black people from
servitude, it also reflected the triumph of modern ideas of freedom and human rights over older social forms based on privileged elites and social stratification.

II

BACKGROUND

The Atlantic slave trade began in Africa in the mid-1400s and lasted into the 19th century. Initially, Portuguese traders purchased small numbers of slaves from
kingdoms on the western coast of Africa and transported them for sale in Portugal and Spain. The Atlantic slave trade did not become a huge enterprise until after
European nations began colonizing the Americas during the 1500s. During the 1600s the Dutch pushed the Portuguese out of the trade and then contested the British
and French for control of it. By 1713 Britain had emerged as the dominant slave-trading nation. In all, the trade brought more than 10 million Africans to America, and
at least another 1 million Africans died in passage.
The brutality of the Atlantic slave trade and of slavery itself played an important role in the origins of the abolitionist movement. Those subjected to the trade suffered
horribly: They were chained, branded, crowded onto disease-ridden slave ships, and abused by ship's crews. Many Africans died on the ships well before they arrived in
the Americas. Once in the colonies, slaves were deprived of their human rights, made to endure dreadful conditions, and forced to perform backbreaking labor. Despite
the horrors of the slave trade and slavery, white opposition to the institution developed slowly. The economies of many of the colonies were based on huge plantations
that required large labor forces in order to be profitable. Also, views of society at the time were very hierarchical, and many people simply accepted the fact that classes
of people they considered lower than themselves should be enslaved. In addition, the widespread perception that blacks were culturally, morally, and intellectually
inferior to whites contributed to the longevity of the system. It was not until the early 18th century that attitudes began to change.

III

EARLY INFLUENCES ON ABOLITIONISM

Black resistance to enslavement, Christian humanitarianism, economic change, and intellectual developments all contributed to the rise of abolitionist movements in
European countries--most notably Great Britain--and in the colonial Americas. Black resistance was the most important of these factors. Since the 1500s Africans and
persons of African descent had attempted to free themselves from slavery by force. Revolts were most common in the West Indies and Brazil, where the majority of the
population was black. But there were also uprisings in Mexico, Venezuela, and the British colonies in North America.

A

Maroonage

Until the end of the 18th century, rebellious slaves did not really challenge the institution of slavery itself. Instead, they simply sought to free themselves from it. While
this rebellion occasionally took the form of slave revolts or uprisings, more frequently slaves tried to free themselves by escape. Sometimes, especially in the West
Indies and Latin America, escaped slaves formed maroon communities. These settlements were located in inaccessible areas, to prevent recapture by the authorities,
and were usually heavily fortified. Maroon communities, many of which endured for years or decades, became havens for escaped slaves and bases for attacks on
plantations and passersby. In a way, these communities encouraged antislavery sentiment among whites: The inability of local authorities to recapture escaped slaves
and the periodic violent raids by members of maroon communities made some whites disturbingly aware of their vulnerability in a slave society. In addition, whites
became more aware of the inherent cruelty of slavery because slaves were willing to risk severe punishment and even death to escape from their masters or to rise up
against them. If slaves had submitted meekly to their masters, slavery would not have been perceived to be oppressive and sinful.

B

The Quakers

The first whites to denounce slavery in Europe and the European colonies were members of the Society of Friends--commonly known as Quakers. Unlike the prevailing
idea of the time that blacks were inferior to whites, Quakers believed that all people, regardless of race, had a divine spark inside them and were equal in the eyes of
God. These beliefs led them in the mid-18th century to take steps against slavery in Great Britain and the British colonies in North America. The first goal of the Quaker
abolitionists was to end slave trading among fellow Quakers because the barbarity of the buying and selling of slaves was more obvious than that of the institution of
slavery as a whole. It was also generally assumed that if the slave trade was abolished slavery itself would soon cease to exist. After slave trading among Friends had
been stopped, during the 1760s Quaker congregations began expelling slaveholders. Under the influence of Quakers in the American colonies, British Quakers
established Britain's first antislavery society, the London Committee to Abolish the Slave Trade, in 1783.

C

Revolutionary Ideas

In the late 18th century an age of revolution began to bring ideas about equal rights to the forefront, ideas that became a powerful force against slavery in the Atlantic
world. In the past, servitude and slavery had been taken for granted as part of a class system where the rich dominated the poor and those of the lower classes were
prevented from social advancement. But the Industrial Revolution, which brought increased economic opportunity and power to the lower and middle classes, began to
undermine this system. Also, an 18th-century European intellectual movement known as the Age of Enlightenment asserted that all human beings had natural rights.

The American Revolution (1775-1783) and the French Revolution (1789-1799), widely seen as revolutions by citizens against oppressive rulers, transformed this
Enlightenment assertion into a call for universal liberty and freedom.
The successful slave revolt that began in the French colony of Saint-Domingue in 1791 was part of this revolutionary age. Led by François Dominique Toussaint
Louverture, black rebels overthrew the colonial government, ended slavery in the colony, and in 1804 established the republic of Haiti, the first independent black
republic in the world (see Haitian Slave Revolt). The revolt frightened slaveholders everywhere, inspired other slaves and free blacks to action, and convinced religiously
motivated whites that only peaceful emancipation could prevent more bloodshed.

IV ABOLITIONISM IN EUROPE AND THE EUROPEAN COLONIES
A Eighteenth Century
In Europe, Great Britain had the strongest abolitionist movement. The major turning point in its development came in 1787 when Evangelical Christians (see
Evangelicalism) joined Quakers in establishing the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Led by William Wilberforce, an Evangelical member of the British
Parliament, and Thomas Clarkson, a Quaker skilled in mass organization, the society initiated petition drives, mass propaganda efforts, and lobbying in an attempt to
end British involvement in slave trafficking. Although opposed by English merchants, West Indian planters, and King George III--who equated abolitionism with po...


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