The destruction, annihilation, abrogation, or extinguishment of anything, but especially things of a permanent nature?such as institutions, usages, or customs, as in the abolition of SLAVERY.
In U.S. LEGAL HISTORY, the concept of abolition generally refers to the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century movement to abolish the slavery of African Americans. As a significant political force in the pre-Civil War United States, the abolitionists had significant effect on the U.S. legal and political landscape. Their consistent efforts to end the institution of slavery culminated in 1865 with the ratification of the Constitution's THIRTEENTH AMENDMENT, which outlawed slavery. The abolitionist ranks encompassed many different factions and people of different backgrounds and viewpoints, including European and African Americans, radicals and moderates. The motives of the abolitionists spanned a broad spectrum, from those who opposed slavery as unjust and inhumane to those whose objections were purely economic and focused on the effects that an unpaid Southern workforce had on wages and prices in the North.
Efforts to abolish slavery in America began well before the Revolutionary War and were influenced by similar movements in Great Britain and France. By the 1770s and 1780s, many antislavery societies, largely dominated by Quakers, had sprung up in the North. Early American leaders such as BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, ALEXANDER HAMILTON, JOHN JAY, and THOMAS PAINE made known their opposition to slavery.
The early abolitionists played an important role in outlawing slavery in Northern states by the early nineteenth century. Vermont outlawed slavery in 1777, and Massachusetts declared it inconsistent with its new state constitution, ratified in 1780. Over the next three decades, other Northern states, including Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey, passed gradual emancipation laws that freed all future children of slaves. By 1804, every Northern state had enacted some form of emancipation law.
In the South, where slavery played a far greater role in the economy, emancipation moved at a much slower pace. By 1800, all Southern states except Georgia and South Carolina had passed laws that eased the practice of private manumission?or the freeing of slaves by individual slaveholders. Abolitionists won a further victory in the early 1800s when the
Members of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society (seated, far right, William Lloyd Garrison, founder of The Liberator, an abolitionist newspaper).
United States outlawed international trade in slaves. However, widespread SMUGGLING of slaves continued.
During the first three decades of the 1800s, abolitionists continued to focus largely on gradual emancipation. As the nation expanded westward, they also opposed the introduction of slavery into the western territories. Although abolitionists had won an early victory on...