Abolition of Slavery

About this Collection

The anti-slavery movement emerged in the late 18th century as part of the more general movement of reform known as the Enlightenment. As major colonial powers with extensive slave colonies France and Britain both had a significant anti-slavery movement. The effort to abolish slavery began with a campaign to end the traffic in slaves from Africa across the Atlantic, and then to abolish slavery within the colonies. The arguments used against slavery and the slave trade were a mixture of religious, moral, political, and economic arguments.

Key People

Titles & Essays

THE READING ROOM

Benjamin Franklin and Slavery, Part One

By: Steve Ealy

As was the case with many in colonial America, Benjamin Franklin’s life intersected with the issue of slavery in many, and at times contradictory, ways. Franklin was a slave-owner beginning around 1735 until 1781, when George, whom…

THE READING ROOM

Benjamin Franklin and Slavery, Part One

By: Steve Ealy

As was the case with many in colonial America, Benjamin Franklin’s life intersected with the issue of slavery in many, and at times contradictory, ways. Franklin was a slave-owner beginning around 1735 until 1781, when George, whom…

THE READING ROOM

Benjamin Franklin and Slavery, Part Two

By: Steve Ealy

In 1757, the Pennsylvania Assembly selected Benjamin Franklin to serve as the colony’s agent in London to moderate the Penn Proprietor’s harsh treatment of the colony. While there, he helped the Associates of Dr. Bray, a charity…

THE READING ROOM

Considering The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

By: Renee Wilmeth

“It was a beautiful place – wild, untouched, above all untouched, with an alien disturbing, secret loveliness. And it kept its secret. I’d find myself thinking, ‘What I see is nothing – I want what it hides – that is not nothing.”…

LIBERTY MATTERS

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THE READING ROOM

John Stuart Mill, Private Property, and Slavery

By: Rosolino A. Candela

In recent years, there has been a growing literature among historians regarding the relationship between slavery and capitalism, known as the “New History of Capitalism,” which postulates that slavery was the institutional basis for…

LIBERTY MATTERS

THE READING ROOM

Phillis Wheatley: A First

By: Susan Love Brown

Being first holds a significant place in American culture, for Americans love being Number One, being winners, being the First. For African Americans, being a first has a somewhat different meaning – it signifies another barrier…

LIBERTY MATTERS

LIBERTY MATTERS

THE READING ROOM

The Slave Bible

By: Steve Ealy

Many enslaved people who learned to read were actually taught or encouraged by their masters or owners for religious reasons. Janet Cornelius found that “the majority of owners who taught slaves were concerned with Bible literacy,…

LIBERTY MATTERS

Understanding Jefferson: Slavery, Race, and the Declaration of Independence (July 2021)

By: Hans Eicholz

Welcome to the July 2021 edition of Liberty Matters. This month we convene a panel of distinguished scholars to ask, "Who was Thomas Jefferson, and how did his views--particularly those on race, slavery, and freedom--inform his…
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Quotes

Colonies, Slavery & Abolition

Adam Smith on Slavery

Adam Smith

Colonies, Slavery & Abolition

Benjamin Franklin on making the transition from slavery to civil liberty (1789)

Benjamin Franklin

Colonies, Slavery & Abolition

Emerson on the right of self-ownership of slaves to themselves and to their labor (1863)

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Colonies, Slavery & Abolition

Frederick Douglass and his Desire to be Free

Frederick Douglass

Education

Frederick Douglass and His Secret Education

Frederick Douglass

Colonies, Slavery & Abolition

Frederick Douglass makes a New Year’s resolution to gain his freedom from slavery (1836)

Frederick Douglass

Colonies, Slavery & Abolition

Frederick Douglass on Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation

Frederick Douglass

Quote

Frederick Douglass on Religion and Slavery

Frederick Douglass

Colonies, Slavery & Abolition

Frederick Douglass on the Ballot Box, the Jury Box, and the Cartridge Box

Frederick Douglass

Colonies, Slavery & Abolition

Harriet Martineau on the institution of slavery, “restless slaves”, and the Bill of Rights (1838)

Harriet Martineau

Colonies, Slavery & Abolition

J.B. Say argues that colonial slave labor is really quite profitable for the slave owners at the expense of the slaves and the home consumers (1817)

Jean-Baptiste Say

Colonies, Slavery & Abolition

John Calhoun on Slavery as a Positive Good

John C. Calhoun

Colonies, Slavery & Abolition

John Millar argues that as a society becomes wealthier domestic freedom increases, even to the point where slavery is thought to be pernicious and economically inefficient (1771)

John Millar

Colonies, Slavery & Abolition

John Stuart Mill on “the sacred right of insurrection” (1862)

John Stuart Mill

Colonies, Slavery & Abolition

John Stuart Mill on the “atrocities” committed by Governor Eyre and his troops in putting down the Jamaica rebellion (1866)

John Stuart Mill

Colonies, Slavery & Abolition

Sir William Blackstone declares unequivocally that slavery is “repugnant to reason, and the principles of natural law” and that it has no place in English law (1753)

Sir William Blackstone

Education

The ex-slave Frederick Douglass reveals that reading speeches by English politicians produced in him a deep love of liberty and hatred of oppression (1882)

Frederick Douglass

Colonies, Slavery & Abolition

Thomas Clarkson on the “glorious” victory of the abolition of the slave trade in England (1808)

Thomas Clarkson

Colonies, Slavery & Abolition

Thomas Jefferson on Slavery and Liberty

Thomas Jefferson

Colonies, Slavery & Abolition

Thomas Jefferson on Slavery and the Wrath of God

Thomas Jefferson

Colonies, Slavery & Abolition

Thomas Jefferson’s First Draft of the Declaration of Independence denounced the slave trade as an “execrable Commerce” and slavery itself as a “cruel war against nature itself” (1776)

Thomas Jefferson

Notes About This Collection

For more information see:

  • David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970).
  • David Brion David, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revoltuion, 1770-1823 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977).
  • Roger Anstey, The Atlantic Slave Trade and British Abolition, 1760-1810 (Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1975).
  • William M. Wiecek, The Sources of Antislavery Constitutionalism in America, 1760-1848 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977).
  • Robin Blackburn, The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, 1776-1848 (London: Verso, 1988).