movement to end slavery
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This page is about abolishing slavery. For other uses, see Abolition of work

"Am I Not a Man and a Brother?", 1787 medallion designed by Josiah Wedgwood for the British anti-slavery campaign

Abolitionism is a political movement that seeks to abolish the practice of slavery and the worldwide slave trade.


  • The call to defund the police is, I think, an abolitionist demand, but it reflects only one aspect of the process represented by the demand. Defunding the police is not simply about withdrawing funding for law enforcement and doing nothing else. And it appears as if this is the rather superficial understanding that has caused Biden to move in the direction he’s moving in.
    It’s about shifting public funds to new services and new institutions — mental health counselors, who can respond to people who are in crisis without arms. It’s about shifting funding to education, to housing, to recreation. All of these things help to create security and safety. It’s about learning that safety, safeguarded by violence, is not really safety
    And I would say that abolition is not primarily a negative strategy. It’s not primarily about dismantling, getting rid of, but it’s about reenvisioning. It’s about building anew... And one sees in these abolitionist demands that are emerging the pivotal influence of feminist theories and practices... Abolition is really about rethinking the kind of future we want, the social future, the economic future, the political future. It’s about revolution, I would argue.
  • Abolitionism proposes to destroy the right and extinguish the principle of self-government for which our forefathers waged a seven years' bloody war, and upon which our whole system of free government is founded.
    • Stephen Douglas Speech in the US Senate (3 March 1854); Quoted in: James Washington Sheahan (1860) The life of Stephen A. Douglas. p. 258.
  • The Abolitionst... must see that he has neither the right or power of operating except by moral means and suasion.
    • Robert E. Lee Speech in the Senate (3 March 1854); Quoted in: Douglas Southall Freeman (2008) Lee, p. 93.
  • In this study the term "abolitionist" will be applied to those Americans who before the Civil War had agitated for immediate, unconditional, and universal abolition of slavery in the United States. Contemporaries of the antislavery movement and later historians have sometimes mistakenly used the word "abolitionist" to describe adherents of the whole spectrum of antislavery sentiment. Members of the Free Soil and Republican parties have often been called abolitionists, even though these parties were pledged officially before 1861 only to the limitation of slavery, not to its extirpation. It is a moot question whether such radical anti-slavery leaders such as Charles Sumner, John Andrew, George Julian, Thaddeus Stevens, or Owen Lovejoy were genuine "abolitionists". In their hearts they probably desired an immediate end to slavery as fervently as did William Lloyd Garrison. But they were committed publicly by political affiliation and party responsibility to a set of principles that fell short of genuine abolitionism.
  • Meanwhile, a wave of Protestant revivals known as the Second Great Awakening swept the country during the first third of the nineteenth century. In New England, upstate New York, and those portions of the Old Northwest above the 41st parallel populated by the descendants of New England Yankees, this evangelical enthusiasm generated a host of moral and cultural reforms. The most dynamic and divisive of them was abolitionism. Heirs of the Puritan notion of collective accountability that made every man his brother's keeper, these Yankee reformers repudiated Calvinist predestination, preached the availability of redemption to anyone who truly sought it, urged converts to abjure sin, and worked for the elimination of sins from society. The most heinous social sin was slavery. All people were equal in God's sight; the souls of black folks were as valuable as those of whites; for one of God's children to enslave another was a violation of the Higher Law, even if it was sanctioned by the Constitution. By midcentury this antislavery movement had gone into politics and had begun to polarize the country. Slaveholders did not consider themselves egregious sinners. And they managed to convince most non-slaveholding whites in the South (two-thirds of the white population there) that emancipation would produce economic ruin, social chaos, and racial war. Slavery was not the evil that Yankee fanatics portrayed; it was a positive good, the basis of prosperity, peace, and white supremacy, a necessity to prevent blacks from degenerating into barbarism, crime, and poverty.
  • The delegates of the annual conference are decidedly opposed to modern Abolitionism, and wholly disclaim any right, wish, or intention to interfere in the civil and political relation between master and slave as it exists in the slave states of the union.
    • Methodist Episcopal Church. General Conference, Ohio Anti-slavery Society, Debate on "modern abolitionism": in the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, held in Cincinnati, May, 1836. p. 5
    • Methodist Episcopal Church: General Conference, Cincinnati, May, 1836 After they had driven out most of the Abolitionists. Not long after the Church split over slavery.
  • In returning I read a very different book, published by an honest Quaker, on that execrable sum of all villanies, commonly called the Slave-trade.
    • John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church. Quoted in: John Wesley, ‎John Emory (1835) The Works of the Reverend John Wesley, A. M. p. 366.

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