Admin moved page What are the Origins of the Abolitionist Movement? to What are the Origins of the Abolitionist Movement
[[File:AmINotAMan.jpg|left|thumbnail|250px|Am I Not a Man and a Brother? (1837)]]__NOTOC__
The movement toward the abolition of the system of enslavement has been remembered as one of the great humanitarian initiatives in modern history. Occurring as it did in a world that was rent by the slaveholding republics and empires of America and Western Europe, abolition was in some ways “anti-modern” in that
in sprung from those intellectuals and moralists who denied that progress benefits us all if it comes at a human cost. Therein lies the paradox. How could a system so responsible for the modern world’s economic progress, like enslavement, be ended by those who enjoyed its benefits?
There are a few factors to consider here. There first is a moral claim. If we are to take the theorists of natural rights at their word, then it was immoral to reduce human beings to chattel. Much of this claim was buttressed by an incipient radical Christianity that emerged within dissident factions of the Protestant movement. Out of those movements came many of the first abolitionist organizations in history. The second factor has to do with political economy. Slaveholding republics like the United States and slaveholding empires like those of Great Britain, France, and Spain, among others, faced a dynamic economic situation at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
== What was the Moral Argument against Slavery? ==
[[File:Slaveshipposter.jpg|thumbnail|left|Stowage of the British slave ship Brookes under the regulated slave trade act of 1788]]
The evolution of the moral argument dates back to the long conversation around the question of human nature. What Sylvia Wynter and others frame as the “genre of the human” provides a roadmap to the nature of the conceptual arguments advanced by Western philosophers. Clearly, who gets constituted as a human determines who is offered the protections offered by a social contract that confers rights upon those humans that belong to a particular society.
They began to see the question less as a concern of the future of America and more of an identification with the prospects of Black freedom—regardless of what happens in and to America. They built an alternative convention movement that raised these concerns and supported various initiatives that were the harbingers of Pan Africanism and Black Nationalism.
==The Question of Political Economy====[[File:Cotton_gin_harpers.jpg|thumbnail|left| 300px|Slaves using the first cotton gin - Drawn by William Sheppard in 1869]]
One does not need to be a historical materialist to recognize the ways that economics shapes decision-making. Such was especially the case in the modern world. The argument advanced by many was that the Age of Europe created rationales for exploration that were lodged in the acquisition of land and thus of wealth. The enslavement of Africans was part of this matrix, and it is crucial to make those connections. While moral arguments about abolition were critical, it is unlikely, as Eric Williams argued, that enslavement would have been abolished without the shift in the industrial and imperial ambitions of one of the major powers: Great Britain.
Things were slightly different, however, in the United States. With the advent of King Cotton in the nineteenth century, the American level of productivity and profit increased, leading directly to the sectional conflict that would result in the Civil War. The dispute was economic and was based on the questions of efficiency and commercial relationships with the larger world. Many abolitionists joined those who believed that wage labor was a more efficient form of accumulation.
==The Threat of Violence====[[File:Gordon,_scourged_back,_colored_slide_2.png|thumbnail|left| 300px|Colored glass slide from the medical examination by Union doctor in 1863 of Gordon, a slave, in Baton Rouge]]
There were numerous uprisings of the enslaved in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries across the landscape of the New World. Enslaved Africans never accepted the fact of their enslavement. Neither did they accept the fact that they were chattel. The maintenance of the slave economies that produced the rice, sugar, coffee, tobacco, and cotton so necessary to Western Europe, was a violent affair.
Much of the violence was exerted upon the enslaved, but not all of it. Gerald Horne argues that the founding of the United States had much to do with the untenable situation that had emerged for enslavers in the British Caribbean, which was rent by revolt. They found solace on the mainland, and eventually they revolted against British rule, themselves. Their rebellion, according to Horne, however, was about their fears that the moral argument against enslavement would be victorious. Thus, in some ways, and quite ironically, many who contributed to the founding of the United States, were only there because of the revolutionary resistance of the enslaved. The same could be said about the expansion of the United States.
One of the most significant single expansions came in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase, the unloading of a broad swath of the French Empire. This liquidation came in the face of the defeat of the French by what would
be come to the first Black republic: Haiti. Haiti was, of course, a symbol for those Black abolitionists who saw it as both proof of the capacity for Black self-government and a beacon for how enslaved Africans in the United States might resist. Enslavers, however, saw it as a warning.
Haiti actively supported and encouraged rebellion beyond its borders, inspiring the anti-slavery efforts of Simon Bolivar among others. Haiti was thus a threat to both the British Empire and the United States, which did not recognize its existence until the American Civil War. It also caused turmoil in France, which had undergone its revolution, but famously could not conceive of the enslaved as revolutionaries as well. The abolitionist movement in France, the Amis des Noirs, placed pressure upon the French revolutionaries to extend the “rights of man” to mixed-race citizens of Saint Domingue, but it was inconsistent and uneven. By 1804, the founding of Haiti would write Black citizenship into the very meaning of the term, “citizen.”
The United States responded to the threat of violence by exerting greater control over the enslaved population. Nat Turner’s rebellion was one of many that roused the fear of violence. Rebellions in Virginia and South Carolina led to the abolition of private meetings of the enslaved and the prohibition of reading, writing, and preaching. There were other conflicts—both violent and political—in the tumultuous two decades after Turner’s rebellion that led directly to abolitionist and quasi-abolitionist political parties. One of them, the Republican Party, would elect Abraham Lincoln to the office, a year after John Brown and other abolitionists had decided that electoral means would not suffice. They were proven right.
Enslavement ended in the United States in 1865, following Britain and France, but preceding Brazil and Cuba. The record of abolitionism was crucial to these outcomes. But it also took a paradoxical and sometimes moderate route to its desired goal. In some ways, it was a product of modern liberalism that has been extended to the current political environment.
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====Related DailyHistory.org Articles====
*[[Thomas Jefferson, the Founding Fathers and Christianity: Interview with Sam Haselby]]
Harding, Vincent. ''There is a River: The Black Struggle for Freedom in America.'' Orlando: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981.
Horne, Gerald. ''The
Counterreovlution of 1776: Slave Resistance the Origins of the United States.'' New York: New York University Press, 2014.
Robinson, Cedric. ''Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition''. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.