Historical Terms: Abolitionists

abolitionists: Party opposed to slavery founded in the northern states of the USA in the late 18th century. In 1774 an Abolitionist Congress was held and in April 1776 legislation against slavery was attempted in the US Congress. Abolitionist sentiment, previously only loosely coordinated, was given a focal point in 1833 when William Lloyd Garrison founded the American Anti-Slavery Society. Originating in Boston, by 1840 the movement had some 200,000 members nationwide. However, in 1839 the national organization had split into a radical wing, led by Garrison, which denounced the US constitution as pro-slavery, and a more conservative wing. In 1840 a splinter group, the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, founded the Liberal Party to represent directly the abolitionist cause in national politics. Greatest activity took place at state and local levels, ensuring that the anti-slavery cause remained an important element in US politics: it was promoted by the Freesoilers and the Republican Party. The victory of the north in the Civil War (1861-65) led to the emancipation of slaves and the American Anti-Slavery Society formally dissolved itself in 1870.

Excerpted from: Cook, Chris. Dictionary of Historical Terms. New York: Gramercy, 1998.

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