The Abolition of Slavery in the 1800s

Frederick Douglass, a former slave, became a powerful voice the American abolitionist movement.
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The abolitionist movement gained traction across the world in the 1800s, ultimately leading to the emancipation of slaves and the end of the African slave trade in the Western world before the end of the century. Great Britain banned slavery across England and Scotland in the 1770s and finally outlawed participation in the international slave trade in 1807. In the United States it would take decades more to eradicate the institution of slavery. While Northern states gradually did away with slavery in the early 1800s, the practice continued in some mid-Atlantic states and across the South. Slavery was not made illegal in the United States until the adoption of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1865.

1 Gradual Emancipation

Pennsylvania became the first state in the nation to pass an emancipation law in 1780 with the adoption of the Gradual Abolition Act. The law mandated that children born to African-American slaves would be considered free men and women. This model of “gradual emancipation,” was adopted by almost every state in the Northeast until 1804, when New Jersey became the final state in the region to pass such a law.

2 Abolitionist Movement

The American abolitionist movement aimed to achieve the end of both slavery and discrimination against African-Americans. The movement – which did not gain prominence until the 1830s – was in part encouraged by the Second Great Awakening of the 1820s, an evangelical religious revival stressing the sinful nature of enslaving human beings. The creation of abolitionist newspapers, such as William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator and Frederick Douglass’ North Star helped encourage anti-slavery sentiments in politics, leading to the creation of the Liberty Party in 1840.

3 The End of American Slavery

Slavery was only abolished on a state-by-state basis until President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. The order actually only applied to states that had seceded from the Union, leaving many southern border-states unreformed. The order also exempted areas of the Confederacy that had already come under the Union Army’s control. The forced enslavement of African-Americans was not officially made illegal across the nation until the adoption of the 13th Amendment in 1865.

4 The Role of Women

Women played an enormous role to abolish slavery in both Great Britain and the United States. By the 1850s there were more women anti-slavery societies than men’s, according to the BBC. Female authors such as Harriet Beecher Stowe (Uncle Tom’s Cabin) and Harriet Martineau (The Martyr Age of the United States) recorded the horrors of slavery in novels that would sell millions of copies across the globe. Several women abolitionist leaders, such as Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, went on to become prominent figures in the women’s right movement, particularly in the campaign for voting rights.

Ashley Portero has been covering state and national politics since 2011. Her work has appeared in "The Boston Globe," "The Boston Business Journal" and the "International Business Times." She received a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism from Emerson College.