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What led to the abolitionist movement?

-Cesar Caudillo




Dear Mr. Caudillo,

The first written denunciation of slavery widely known to mankind is the Book of Exodus in the Old Testament, but in the centuries since, the principle of human freedom coexisted uneasily with the racist rationalization that some were more human than others. France abolished slavery in 1315, but in the succeeding centuries made it clear that that only applied to subjects living in France.

Abolition generally originated among the clergy, as with Bartholomé de las Casas, a Dominican priest who was bishop of Chiapas in the New World, who witnessed the cruel treatment of Indian salves and appealed to Charles V. king of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor, who responded with the New Laws of 1542. These abolished slavery within his empire, but they were neither universally accepted nor enforced in Spain’s American colonies.

Abolitionism grew after 1772, when an escaped slave named James Somersett took his would-be owner, Charles Steuart, to court and the judge, William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, judged in Somersett’s favor on the grounds that slavery was alien to British common law. In 1807 the Slave Trade Act abolished the transport of slaves from Africa and the work of religiously inspired abolitionists such as the Quakers and Baptist parliamentarian William Wilberforce led to the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire in 1833.

During his reign King Louis XIV of France issued a Code Noir that listed rights as well as obligations for black slaves within his empire. The Enlightenment brought the evils of slavery to the fore in France, and in 1788 Jacques Pierre Brisot formed the Society of the Friends of the Blacks. In 1794 the First Republic banned slavery, but First Consul Napoléon Bonaparte reinstated it in 1802, leading to the revolt and the creation of the New World’s second republic in Saint Domingue (Haiti). The French Second Republic restored the abolition of slavery there on April 27, 1848.

The abolitionist movement grew similarly in the British colonies, with Benjamin Franklin being among the earliest major public figures to denounce slavery outright. Pennsylvania banned slavery outright in 1780, and Vermont already had in 1777, although it was still not recognized as a state. New York abolished it in 1828, but the first major abolitionist statement came from a North Carolinian slave named David Walker, who published a pamphlet, Appeal…to the Colored Citizens of the World, which was viewed by some as a call for violent insurrection and by others as a call for equality. The abolitionist movement in the United States gathered momentum in 1831 when William Lloyd Garrison published the first edition of The Liberator, and in 1833 the American Anti-Slave Society was formed.


Jon Guttman

Research Director

World History

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