Fighting Slavery: Worldviews & Abolitionist Champions

Bill Federer

Slavery existed from the beginning of recorded history.

The movement to abolish slavery developed largely in western Judeo-Christian civilization.

In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:12), Jesus taught:

"Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets."

As the Roman Empire became Christianized, slavery diminished.

In the 5th century, invading hoards overran the Roman Empire, but they were eventually converted and ceased enslaving captives.

Saint Patrick's Letter To King Coroticus, condemning his enslavement of Irish in the 5th century was one of the first anti-slavery documents.

"Thy sheep around me are tom to pieces and driven away, and that by those robbers, by the orders of the hostile-minded Coroticus ... a man who hands over Christians to the Picts and Scots.

Ravening wolves have devoured the flock of the Lord ... You ... sell them to a foreign nation that has no knowledge of God. You betray the members of Christ as it were into a brothel ...

People who were freeborn have been sold, Christians made slaves, and that, too, in the service of the abominable, wicked, and apostate Picts!"

In the 7th century, Islam spread rapidly with conquered infidels being made chattel slaves, military slaves, domestic slaves, and concubine slaves.

Slavery was practiced by Caliphs and Sultans through the next 1,400 years.

Twice as many women were sold in the Arab Muslim slave trade than men.

"Prophet, We have made lawful to you ... the slave girls whom Allah has given you as booty." (Qur'an 33:50)

Women were put in harems, which were kept by eunuchs, both white and black male slaves who were castrated.

Black male slaves suffered more cut "level with the abdomen," resulting in high mortality rates.

The Arabic word "Abd" or "Abeed" is the name used for both "African" and "slave."

There never was a successful abolitionist movement to end slavery in the sharia Islamic world, as Mohammed owned slaves and it is forbidden to criticize him.

Vikings attacked across Europe, killing men and carrying away thousands of Christian women as captives.

These women raised their Viking children to be Christians, and eventually, the Norse kingdoms discontinued slavery.

Medieval Catholic Orders of Mathurins and Trinitarians collected alms and ransomed captives from North Africa Muslim slavery.

In the 16th century, Spanish and Portuguese Empires participated in the slave trade of indigenous populations, often purchasing them from Muslim slave markets in Africa, the Far East and the New World

When Spanish enslaved Indians in the New World, the priest Bartolomé de las Casas, motivated by the Gospel, championed the ending the enslavement of native Americans.

Sadly, once the enslavement of native Americans was outlawed by Spain, greed motivated merchants begin importing slaves from Africa.

In the 17th century, English sold thousands of Irish into slavery, and some Dutch, French and English merchants began to engage in the African slave trade.

The first African slaves were brought to the colony of Virginia on a Dutch ship in 1619.

Slavery expanded significantly after Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1794, which turned cotton into the main crop in America's South.

In the early 18th century, Quakers, led by abolitionist Anthony Benezet, consistently lobbied to end slavery.

French officer Marquis de Lafayette had joined the American Revolutionary, being considered almost as an adopted son of General George Washington.

After the war, Lafayette returned to France and joined the French abolitionist Society of the Friends of the Blacks, which advocated the end of the slave trade and equal rights for blacks.

The French Revolution ended slavery in France, but not in French colonial holdings, such as Louisiana and Haiti.

Washington encouraged Lafayette, April 5, 1783:

"The scheme ... which you propose as a precedent, to encourage the emancipation of the black people of this Country from that state of Bondage in which. they are held, is a striking evidence of the benevolence of your Heart.

I shall be happy to join you in so laudable a work; but will defer going into a detail of the business, 'till I have the pleasure of seeing you."

Lafayette's plan to emancipate all slaves was thought impossible by some, to which he replied:

"If it be a wild scheme, I had rather be mad in this way, than to be thought wise in the other task."

In the last 6 years of Washington's life, he attempted to take four of the farms on his plantation and make them into rental properties, thus transitioning away from slavery.

On May 10, 1786, George Washington wrote from Mount Vernon to Marquis de Lafayette:

"Your late purchase of an estate in the colony of Cayenne, with a view of emancipating the slaves on it, is a generous and noble proof of your humanity. Would to God a like spirit would diffuse itself generally into the minds of the people of this country."

Some well-known American founders advocated abolishing slavery:

  • Abigail Adams

  • John Quincy Adams

  • Richard Allen

  • Benjamin Franklin

  • Benjamin Rush

  • Daniel Webster

Richard Bassett, a signer of the Constitution, became an enthusiastic Methodist Christian and freed all his slaves, paying them as hired labor.

John Jay helped draft New York's first Constitution. He proposed it abolish slavery, writing to Robert Livingston and Gouverneur Morris, April 29, 1777, that there should be:

"... a clause against the continuation of domestic slavery."

Jay helped found the New York State Society for Promoting the Manumission (Freeing) of Slaves in 1785, filing lawsuits on behalf of slaves.

He wrote to Benjamin Rush, March 24, 1785:

"I wish to see all ... discriminations everywhere abolished, and that the time may soon come when all our inhabitants of every color and denomination shall be free and equal partakers of our political liberty."

Jay helped found New York's African Free School in 1787 and supported it financially.

He even bought slaves in order to immediately free them, writing:

"I purchase slaves and manumit them."

Jay was appointed by George Washington to be the first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, serving from 1789 to 1795.

As second Governor of New York, John Jay signed an Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery in 1799, prohibiting the exportation of slaves and making a path for children of slaves to attain freedom.

Jay was also president of the American Bible Society, 1821-1828.

Newspaper editor Horace Greeley wrote in 1854:

"To Chief Justice Jay may be attributed, more than to any other man, the abolition of Negro bondage in this State."

In the late 18th and early 19th century, John Newton and William Wilberforce, motivated by the Gospel, led the anti-slavery movement in England.

William Wilberforce stated:

"You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know."

Once Britain ended slavery, they worked to abolish it in their colonies.

Due in large part to the Second Great Awakening Revival, the missionary and abolitionist movements grew in America in the early 19th century.

Some well-known Americans who advocated abolishing slavery were:

  • Louisa May Alcott

  • Susan B. Anthony

  • Henry Ward Beecher

  • John Bingham

  • John Brown

  • Salmon P. Chase

  • Cassius Marcellus Clay

  • Frederick Douglass

  • Ralph Waldo Emerson

  • Charles Finney

  • John C. Freemont

  • William Lloyd Garrison

  • Ulysses S. Grant

  • Horace Greeley

  • Hannibal Hamlin

  • Julia Ward Howe

  • Abraham Lincoln

  • Elijah P. Lovejoy

  • Dred Scott

  • Elizabeth Stanton

  • Thaddeus Stevens

  • Harriet Beecher Stowe

  • Charles Sumner

  • Henry David Thoreau

  • Sojourner Truth

  • Harriet Tubman

  • Theodore Dwight Weld

  • Walt Whitman

  • John Greenleaf Whittier

William Lloyd Garrison wrote, December 14, 1833:

"The right to enjoy liberty is inalienable. To invade it, is to usurp the prerogative of Jehovah.

Every man has a right to his own body — to the products of his own labor— to the protection of law — and to the common advantages of society.

It is piracy to buy or steal a native African, and subject him to servitude. Surely the sin is as great to enslave an American as an African."

John Jay's son, William Jay (1789-1858), founded New York City's Anti-Slavery Society in 1833.

William Jay drafted the constitution for the American Anti-Slavery Society and served as its corresponding foreign secretary, 1835-1837.

William Jay was the first judge of New York's Westchester County from 1820 to 1842, but was removed on account of his strong anti-slavery views.

William Jay helped to found the American Bible Society in 1818.

William Jay's son, John Jay II (1817-1894), was manager of the New York Young Men's Anti-Slavery Society in 1834.

John Jay II was a prominent member of the anti-slavery Free Soil Party.

John Jay II later helped found in New York a branch of the new political party dedicated to the social issue of ending slavery -- the Republican Party.

Francis Scott Key labored for seven years before the Supreme Court to free 300 African slaves from the ship Antelope captured off the coast of Florida in 1820.

Jonathan M. Bryant wrote in Dark Places of the Earth: The Voyage of the Slave Ship Antelope (2015):

"Most startling of all, Key argued ... that all men were created equal ... If the United States had captured a ship full of white captives,

Key asked, would not our courts assume them to be free? How could it be any different simply because the captives were black?"

In 1841, two years before his death, Francis Scott Key helped former President John Quincy Adams free 53 African slaves in the Amistad case.

In his 1844 decision, Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story helped establish the illegality of the slave trade, as portrayed in Steven Spielberg's 1997 movie Amistad.

Salmon P. Chase coined the slogan of the Free Soil Party:

"Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men."

A member of the newly created Republican Party, Salmon P. Chase defended so many escaped slaves that he was nicknamed "Attorney-General of Fugitive Slaves."

Salmon P. Chase was appointed by President Abraham Lincoln as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court where he admitted John Rock as the first African-American attorney to argue cases before the Supreme Court.

Lincoln's Secretary of State was William Seward.

A life-long abolitionist, Seward and his wife helped with the Underground Railroad, lent money to Frederick Douglass for his North Star Newspaper, and helped Harriet Tubman purchase property in their hometown of Auburn, New York.

An attempt was made on Seward's life the same night Lincoln was assassinated.

Seward arranged the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867.

The U.S. Minister to Russia who helped negotiate the purchase of Alaska was Cassius Marcellus Clay.

Cassius Clay heard William Lloyd Garrison speak while a student at Yale and became an abolitionist.

Clay helped to found the Republican Party and served three terms as a Kentucky Representative till he lost his seat due to his strong anti-slavery views.

In 1843, pro-slavery Democrats attacked Cassius Clay and shot him in the chest, but he was able to fight them off with his Bowie knife.

In 1845, Clay began publishing the anti-slavery newspaper The True American.

He received death threats and had to barricade his newspaper office doors. A pro-slavery Democrat mob broke in and stole his printing equipment.

In 1849, while making an anti-slavery speech, Clay was attacked, beaten, stabbed, and almost shot, till he fought off his attackers.

Cassius Marcellus Clay helped pressure Republican President Abraham Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.

Another anti-slavery leader was Rufus King, was born March 24, 1755.

Rufus King was a Harvard graduate who was an aide to General Sullivan during the Revolutionary War.

At 32 years old, Rufus King was one of the youngest signers of the U.S. Constitution.

Rufus King later served as U.S. Minister to England, U.S. Senator from New York, and was a candidate for U.S. President.

In a speech made before the Senate at the time Missouri was petitioning for statehood, Rufus King stated:

"I hold that all laws or compacts imposing any such condition as slavery upon any human being are absolutely void because they are contrary to the law of nature, which is the law of God."

Slavery was ended in the United States after the Civil War and the ratifying of the 13th Amendment.

By the late 1800s, slavery ended in Caribbean, Central and South America.

In India, generational indebtedness sees rural peasants born in debt, live in debt and die in debt.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has worked to free some of the thousands in southern Singh held in leg-irons due to unpaid debt and forced to harvest cane.

The U.S. State Department in 1993 estimated 90,000 Southern Sudanese were captured and taken into slavery by North African Arabs.

Yazidi, Christian, and other non-Muslim women have been forced into sex slavery by the Islamic State.

UNICEF estimated 200,000 children a year are sold from West and Central Africa to be domestic, agricultural, and sex slaves in neighboring countries.

The International Labor Rights and Education Fund works to rescue some of the hundreds of thousands of kidnapped children in India locked rooms forced to weave carpets.

Accounts persist of young girls in Thailand and other Asian countries sold into lives of prostitution.

Georgetown University Professor Jonathan Brown, holder of the Al-Waleed bin Talal Chair in Islamic Civilization, delivered a lecture, February 7, 2017, explaining how slavery and non-consensual sex (rape) are acceptable practices under Islamic sharia law.

The Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy heard accounts of the thousands held in North Korean slave labor camps.

While efforts to end slavery continue, it is important to remember what motivated the abolition movement in Western Civilization, as Rufus King told the Senate:

"All laws ... imposing any such condition as slavery upon any human being are absolutely void because they are contrary to the law of nature, which is the law of God."


World History