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Facts about Abolitionism For Kids


A term associated with protest on grounds of inhumanity and call for the abolition of: first, slavery and, more recently, prisons and imprisonment. The latter stance developed within Scandinavian criminology but has since been taken up within wider critical criminology. Abolitionists argue that prisons are ineffective, their justification untenable, and their violations of human rights widespread. The abolitionist stance rejects reformism on the grounds that this perpetuates and legitimizes the existing system. Abolitionism proposes new responses to crime, offending, and disputes—for example community-based alternatives to incarceration—and argues that the urge to punish and inflict pain must be challenged.

Facts about Abolitionism

  • In western Europe and the Americas, abolitionism was a historical movement to end the African slave trade and set slaves free.
  • Although European colonists, beginning with the Spanish, initially enslaved natives, the Dominican priest Bartolomé de las Casas helped convince the Spanish government to enact the first European law abolishing colonial slavery in 1542; Spain weakened these laws by 1545.
  • In the 17th century English Quakers and evangelical religious groups condemned slavery (by then applied mostly to Africans) as un-Christian; in the 18th century, abolition was part of the message of the First Great Awakening in the Thirteen Colonies; and in the same period, rationalist thinkers of the Enlightenment criticized it for violating the rights of man.
  • The Somersett’s case in 1772, which emancipated a slave in England, helped launch the British movement to abolish slavery.
  • Though anti-slavery sentiments were widespread by the late 18th century, the colonies and emerging nations that used slave labor continued to do so: French and English territories in the West IndiesSouth America, and the South of the United States.
  • After the American Revolutionary War established the United States, northern states, beginning with Pennsylvania in 1780, passed legislation during the next two decades to abolish slavery, sometimes by gradual emancipation.
  • Massachusetts ratified a constitution that declared all men equal; freedom suits challenging slavery based on this principle brought an end to slavery in the state.
  • Revolutionary France abolished slavery in 1789, but it was restored by Napoleon in the French colonies more than a decade later after his subversion of the French Revolution.
  • Today, child and adult slavery and forced labour are illegal in most countries, as well as being against international law, but a high rate of human trafficking for labor and for sexual bondage continues, believed to affect millions of adults and children.
  • Despite the ending of slavery in Great Britain, the United States continued to rely on it as an institution in the South, and the West Indian colonies of the British Empire also kept slavery.
  • The Atlantic slave trade, also called Triangle trade, encompassed the trafficking in slaves by British merchants who exported manufactured goods from ports such as Bristol and Liverpool, sold or exchanged these for slaves in West Africa, and shipped the slaves to British colonies and other Caribbean countries or the American colonies.
  • The government set aside £20 million for compensation of slave owners for their “property” across the Empire, but it did not offer the former slaves compensation or reparations.
  • In 1839, the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society was founded to outlaw slavery in other countries and also to pressure the government to help enforce the suppression of the slave trade by declaring slave traders pirates and pursuing them.
  • Abbé Grégoire and the Society of the Friends of the Blacks were part of the abolitionist movement, which had laid important groundwork in building anti-slavery sentiment in the metropole.
  • The white abolitionist movement in the North was led by social reformers, especially William Lloyd Garrison, founder of the American Anti-Slavery Society; writers such as John Greenleaf Whittier and Harriet Beecher Stowe.