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What Is the Anti-Slavery Movement?

The anti-slavery movement was a crusade for human dignity that sought to end the inhumane practice of slavery. It united activists who believed in freedom and equality, leading to monumental societal shifts. This movement's legacy continues to inspire justice efforts worldwide. How does its influence still resonate in today's fight for human rights? Join us to explore its enduring impact.
Andy Josiah
Andy Josiah

An anti-slavery movement is a movement for the abolition of slavery. In United States history, it was called abolitionism, or the abolition movement. The anti-slavery movement is most commonly associated with the transatlantic slave trade, which involved the transportation of millions of Africans across the Atlantic Ocean to the Western world as slaves. It is considered one of the great social movements of the 19th century, when it exhibited its greatest influence due to the slave trade and slavery hitting its peak during that period.

The origin of the anti-slavery movement can be traced as far back as the mid-16th century, when the African slave trade was in its beginning stages. In 1542, Charles I, the King of Spain, established the Leyes Nuevas, or New Laws, which abolished slavery of the original inhabitants of the lands in newly discovered America under his domain. Charles I was greatly influenced by friar Bartolome de las Casa, who deplored the forced Indian labor in the colonies.

The anti-slavery movement in the U.S. was known as abolitionism.
The anti-slavery movement in the U.S. was known as abolitionism.

By the late 18th century, when the African slave trade was in full swing, the anti-slavery movement had begun to take form. England led the charge, drawing inspiration from cases in Scotland that challenged the legality of slavery. A judge of Scottish origin, Lord Mansfield, was responsible for declaring slavery in England unlawful in 1772. The Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, spearheaded by abolitionists such as William Wilberforce, campaigned for the abolition of the slave trade and slavery in the British Empire, which was achieved with the Slave Trade Act 1807 and Slave Abolition Act 1833, respectively. Black people themselves, which included Olaudah Equiano, were prominent in Britain’s anti-slavery movement.

The abolitionist movement included an abundance of written materials.
The abolitionist movement included an abundance of written materials.

In the United States, members of the anti-slavery movement included William Lloyd Garrison, who co-founded the American Anti-Slavery Society; Frederick Douglass, a former slave who became one of the abolitionist group’s greatest members; John Brown, who preferred violent to pacifist techniques; and Harriet Beecher Stowe, best known for the slavery-era novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Although the U.S. had abolished slave trading in 1808, slavery still existed in the country. It was particularly entrenched in the economic and social system of the South.

Frederick Douglass was a prominent member of the anti-slavery movement in the United States.
Frederick Douglass was a prominent member of the anti-slavery movement in the United States.

By 1860, the number of slaves in the South had climbed to four million. A secession of Southern states, collectively called the Confederate States of America, in response to their slavery system being threatened, led to the American Civil War. By the end of 1865, the Confederacy had been defeated, and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution had been ratified, thus abolishing slavery in the U.S. The anti-slavery movement began to subside afterward, as one country after the other adopted anti-slavery legislation. Abolitionist groups, however, still exist in modern day to combat slavery practiced illegally in several parts of the world.

Frequently Asked Questions

What was the main goal of the anti-slavery movement?

The primary goal of the anti-slavery movement, also known as abolitionism, was to end the practice of slavery and the slave trade. Abolitionists sought to achieve this through various means, including moral persuasion, political action, and legal reform. They believed that slavery was a moral abomination and a violation of the principles of democracy and human rights.

When did the anti-slavery movement begin?

The anti-slavery movement began in earnest during the late 18th century. One of the earliest organized efforts was the establishment of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1787 in Britain. In the United States, the movement gained momentum in the early 19th century, with the American Anti-Slavery Society being founded in 1833.

Who were some key figures in the anti-slavery movement?

Key figures in the anti-slavery movement included William Wilberforce, who was instrumental in the British abolition of the slave trade in 1807. In the United States, prominent abolitionists included Frederick Douglass, a former slave who became a leading voice for abolition, and Harriet Tubman, who escaped slavery and helped others to freedom via the Underground Railroad. Other notable figures were William Lloyd Garrison, founder of the American Anti-Slavery Society, and Sojourner Truth, an African American abolitionist and women's rights activist.

How did the anti-slavery movement impact society?

The anti-slavery movement had a profound impact on society, leading to significant legal and social changes. In Britain, the movement resulted in the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, which abolished slavery throughout the British Empire. In the United States, the movement contributed to the outbreak of the Civil War and the eventual passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865, which formally abolished slavery. The movement also laid the groundwork for subsequent civil rights struggles and continues to influence discussions on racial equality and human rights.

What were some strategies and tactics used by the anti-slavery movement?

The anti-slavery movement employed a variety of strategies and tactics to achieve its goals. These included the publication of anti-slavery literature, such as pamphlets and newspapers, to raise awareness and sway public opinion. Abolitionists also organized petitions, boycotts of goods produced by slave labor, and legal challenges against the institution of slavery. Additionally, they held public meetings, lectures, and debates to spread their message and garner support for the cause. The Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes and safe houses, was also a significant tactic used to help enslaved people escape to free states and Canada.

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Discussion Comments

Talentryto

@rundocuri- I use to live in a town that had several homes along a river that were part of the Underground Railroad. I toured several of them, and was in awe at the history in them. Several of them had hidden rooms where many slaves lived for weeks and months at a time as they made their way to freedom. I recommend that anyone who has the chance to visit such historical buildings to take advantage of such opportunities.

Rundocuri

I find the history of the Underground Railroad that helped free many slaves to be very interesting. This is part of the anti-slavery movement that gave many former slaves new lives.

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    • The anti-slavery movement in the U.S. was known as abolitionism.
      By: iMAGINE
      The anti-slavery movement in the U.S. was known as abolitionism.
    • The abolitionist movement included an abundance of written materials.
      By: villorejo
      The abolitionist movement included an abundance of written materials.
    • Frederick Douglass was a prominent member of the anti-slavery movement in the United States.
      By: AndreasJ
      Frederick Douglass was a prominent member of the anti-slavery movement in the United States.