Highlights from the Gates Collection of African American History and Culture

Slavery and Abolitionism

The institution of slavery was intimately bound with the development of the United States.  As practiced, chattel slavery legally defined slaves and their children as personal property that could be bought, sold or transferred.  To varying degrees state laws and individual owners also denied slaves marriage, education, organized religion, and property ownership, among other basic rights.

Abolitionism, the movement to abolish slavery for moral and religious reasons, gained momentum following the revolutionary war. Over time, the movement drew diverse groups of people of all races.  Abolitionists pursued a variety of strategies to end slavery; while some worked through the political system, others sought to influence public opinion with speeches and publications.  Although opposed to slavery, many abolitionists also believed in the superiority of the white race.  Many fell short of supporting full citizenship and equal rights for emancipated slaves, and some further expressed strong reservations about the integration of free African Americans into American society.

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