Anti slavery history



The Quakers were the first to agitate the question of slavery from a moral point of view. By the end of the seventeenth century they had begun to instruct the slaves in religion, and to protest against their importation. During the eighteenth century the emancipation of slaves had become an active measure of the Quakers as a society, not of individuals only, as in other sects. The negro, who had long been classed with domestic animals, now began to be looked upon as a man. Yet no attack upon slavery where it existed was thought of. It was supposed that by stopping the importation of slaves the institution would gradually disappear. At the outbreak of the Revolution there were about half a million slaves in the country. (In 1790 there were 697, 897 slaves, of whom 40,370 were held in the Northern States.) The increase of the free population was greater than that of the slave, and it was erroneously argued that the importance of the institution would steadily diminish. Antislavery sentiment was not confined to the North, but even made its appearance in the South, while the political aspect of the question of slavery was confined to importation. The Congress of 1774 adopted resolutions opposed to importation, and in 1776 this prohibition was repeated without opposition. The first step in the opposite direction was made when the passage decrying slave-importation was stricken from the Declaration of Independence.

During the Revolutionary War opinions in favor of emancipation grew in strength in the North, the abolition societies of Pennsylvania became more energetic, and similar societies were founded in the other States. Even in Virginia, in 1788, the importation of slaves was forbidden, and steps were taken in favor of gradual emancipation. But in the proceedings of the Constitutional Convention the Southern delegates showed very clearly that they did not expect or desire any rapid vanishment of the institution. There were two questions to be considered,-the status of the slaves in taxation, and their status in representation. The first of these was decided, by the casting vote of New Jersey, in favor of the exemption of slaves from taxation. The second was decided, in accordance with a compromise measure proposed by Wilson of Pennsylvania, by reckoning five slaves as equal to three freemen in representation. The compromise, as passed, prohibited Congress from forbidding the importation of slaves until 1808. In the debates on these measures a strong division of opinion appeared, but it was based solely on the political and financial interests of the two sections, not on any idea of the morality or immorality of human slavery. In 1787 an act was adopted prohibiting slavery in the territory northwest of the Ohio, but providing for the surrender of fugitive slaves from that territory. The Constitution also contained a provision to the effect that any person lawfully bound to "service or labor" in any State, and fleeing to another State, should be delivered up on demand. However it appeared then, it has since become painfully evident that the slave-holding interest gained decided victories in the formation of the Constitution, and placed the institution of slavery on a solid basis from which it would not easily be overthrown.





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