Letter: America’s role in ending slavery … Facts or fabrications?

Posted 6/11/21

I find it difficult to understand why some Americans are reluctant to give credit to America for taking a lead in ending slavery in North America. We will concede ending slavery was not a unique …

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Letter: America’s role in ending slavery … Facts or fabrications?

Posted

I find it difficult to understand why some Americans are reluctant to give credit to America for taking a lead in ending slavery in North America. We will concede ending slavery was not a unique American idea, but that Americans were in the forefront of the effort to do so. Ending slavery was far from easy. It clearly took time and a disastrous war to accomplish.

For those who think that my recent letter was based on fabrications and doubt the American role in leading the fight for the end of slavery, I commend “No property in man: Slavery and anti-slavery at the nation’s founding,” by Sean Wilentz, Harvard University Press 2018. Wilentz, a Princeton historian, contends the Constitution was an anti-slavery document in its design and the vehicle for eventual abolition and emancipation.

This is remarkably similar to the argument which Frederick Douglass made as he matured in his thinking about the role of the Constitution as an anti-slavery document.

Wilentz provides the following chronology of the initial moves by the various states and organizations to promote abolition and eventual emancipation.

1774: Connecticut and Rhode Island forbid the importation of slaves into the colonies, p.28;

• 1775: Ten Philadelphians founded the first anti-slavery society in world history, the Society for the Relief of Free Negros Unlawfully Held in Bondage. Disbanded during the War, p.25;

• 1777: The rebels in Vermont declared that “all men are born free and independent,” approved the first written constitution in history to ban adult slavery, p.31;

• 1784: The Society for the Relief of Free Negros Unlawfully Held in Bondage was reorganized as the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, also called the Pennsylvania Abolition Society (PAS), p. 25;

• 1787: Five northern states and the republic of Vermont had either effectively banned slavery outright or passed gradual emancipation laws, commencing the largest emancipation of its kind to that point in modern history, p. 25;

• 1790: Seven more statewide anti-slavery societies were established from Rhode Island to Virginia, p.25.

These initiatives all occurred prior to Denmark’s banning of the importation of slaves in 1792. No matter how limited their victories, the northern anti-slavery advocates initiated the destruction of human bondage – an essential break from the past and a momentous turn in the history of slavery and anti-slavery. In this connection, one puzzles to understand why DeWolf Fulton’s statement that “slavery flourished for centuries … until America's bold example” is a false statement.

Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but not his facts.

Michael T. Byrnes
Bristol

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