The movement which opposed slavery and the slave trade in North America prior to the American Civil War (1861-65). Although the practice of slavery was criticized by a few Christians, notably Quakers and other radical sectarians, the importation of Negro slaves from Africa into the American colonies was supported by the vast majority of the churches and churchmen up to the end of the first decade of the nineteenth century, on the basis of Scripture, tradition, and economic necessity. The beginning of the nineteenth century saw the growth of public opinion against slavery, especially in the Northern States, though it was an uphill struggle; at the same time the position in the Southern States was hardened in the defense of slavery, adding to the traditional arguments the theory of the racial inferiority of the Negro. This difference of white opinion on both sides eventually led to the war between the states. Notable centers of abolitionism were the religion-oriented colleges of the North and Midwest, such as Knox, Oberlin, Western Reserve, and Wheaton. The movement was spread by a host of newspaper editors (some of whom were killed), lecturers, clergymen, and authors, including William Lloyd Garrison, C.G. Finney,* T.D. Weld,* Horace Greeley, and Wendell Phillips. Garrison's Liberator (founded in 1831) early gave teeth to the movement so effectively advanced two decades later by Harriet Beecher Stowe's* Uncle Tom's Cabin.
See also American Anti-Slavery Society.