Abolitionism in the United States was the movement before and during the American Civil War to end slavery in the United States. Historian James M. McPherson defines an abolitionist “…as one who before the Civil War had agitated for the immediate, unconditional and total abolition of slavery in the United States.” He does not include antislavery activists such as Abraham Lincoln or the Republican Party, which called for the gradual ending of slavery. In the Americas and Western Europe, abolitionism was a movement to end the Atlantic slave trade and set slaves free. In the 17th century, English Quakers and evangelical Protestants condemned slavery as un-Christian. By that time, most slaves were Africans, but thousands of Native Americans remained enslaved.

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British leaders also felt the need to tighten control over their empire. To be sure, laws regulating imperial trade and navigation had been on the books for generations, but American colonists were notorious for evading these regulations. They were even known to have traded with the French during the recently ended war. From the British point of view, it was only right that American colonists should pay their fair share of the costs for their own defense. If additional revenue could also be realized through stricter control of navigation and trade, so much the better. Thus the British began their attempts to reform the imperial system.

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The ten sections of the 1807 act were designed to eliminate all American participation in the trade. Section 1 set the tone. After January 1, 1808, it would “not be lawful to import or bring into the United States or the territories thereof from any foreign kingdom, place, or country, any negro, mulatto, or person of colour, with intent to hold, sell, or dispose of such [person] … as a slave, to be held to service or labour.” The act provided an enormous penalty — up to $20,000 — for anyone building a ship for the trade or fitting out an existing ship to be used in the trade.

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Slavery Before the Civil War

On December 5, 2015 By

From about 1619 until 1865, people of African descent were legally enslaved in the United States. The economic prosperity of early America and the accumulation of wealth by some families was made possible in large part by the free labor afforded by slavery. Over a half million Africans were brought over from Africa during the slave trade, but because laws declared the children of slaves to be slaves, the slave population in the United States grew to 4 million by the 1860 Census.

At the Constitutional Convention of 1787, the slave trade emerged as an acrimonious issue. Finally, a compromise was reached with the Southern states that guaranteed the continuance of the slave trade for 20 years after the adoption of the Constitution. That deal set the earliest expiration date as 1808 — which Congress met.

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The small republic founded by George Washington’s generation became the world’s largest democracy. All adult, white males received the right to vote. With wider suffrage, politics became hotly contested. The period also saw the emergence–and demise–of a number of significant political parties, including the Democratic, the Whig, the American, the Free Soil, and the Republican Parties.

Meanwhile, the young republic expanded geographically from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The Stars and Stripes were raised over Texas, Oregon, California, and the Southwest. Expansion, however, proved to be a mixed blessing for Americans. While many white settlers found new opportunities to the West, their settlement displaced other groups including Indian tribes and Mexicans. In addition, territorial expansion gave African-American slavery a new lease on life and led to increasing conflict between North and South.

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The New Nation (1783 – 1815)

On November 30, 2015 By

After winning their independence, Americans continued to experiment with how to govern themselves under the Articles of Confederation. Over time, some influential groups–and these by no means reflected the sentiments of all Americans–found the Confederation government inadequate. Representatives of these groups came together in Philadelphia to explore the creation of yet another, newer form of government. The result was a new constitution. Not all Americans embraced this new Constitution, however, and ratification of the document produced many disagreements. Even so, the Constitution was ratified, and with a new constitution in place, Americans once again turned to George Washington for leadership, this time as President of the new republic.

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Underneath the apparent calm of the early 1770s, many Americans continued to resent Britain’s heavy-handed enforcement of the Navigation Acts and the continued presence of a standing army. Colonists continued to talk among themselves, through newspapers, pamphlets, and broadsides, in colonial assemblies, and in such public places as coffee houses and taverns. In 1773, a new act of Parliament, the Tea Act, ended any semblance of calm.

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When the London Company sent out its first expedition to begin colonizing Virginia on December 20, 1606, it was by no means the first expedition to begin colonizing Virginia. In 1564, for example, French Protestants (Huguenots) built a colony near what is now Jacksonville, Florida. This intrusion did not go unnoticed by the Spanish, who had previously claimed the region. The next year, the Spanish established a military post at St. Augustine; Spanish troops soon wiped out the French interlopers residing but 40 miles away.

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Nanye-hi’s husband, with whom she had two children, was killed in a raid on the Creeks, the Cherokee’s land rivals, during the 1755 Battle of Taliwa. Nanye-hi fought by his side, chewing the lead bullets for his rifle to make them more pointed and deadly. When the enemy killed him, she rallied the Cherokee warriors, leading a charge that brought victory to the Cherokees. Because of her actions, the Cherokee clans chose her as Ghighau, or the “Beloved Woman.” In this powerful position, her opinion was influential in the tribal government because the Cherokees believed that the Great Spirit could speak through the Beloved Woman. As Beloved Woman, Nanye-hi headed the Women’s Council, sat on the Council of Chiefs, and had complete power over prisoners.

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Sampson, Deborah (1760-1827)

On November 19, 2015 By

For over two years, Deborah’s true sex had escaped detection. She had had close calls with both discovery and death: fainting on that first march to West Point, lying that she had had smallpox when the soldiers were culled for vaccination in the winter of 1782, receiving a revealing wound in June of 1781, and nearly drowning in the Croton River in December of that year. In the first half of 1783, she had taken a perilous trip through the snow to the frontiers of upstate New York, had been attacked by robbers, and had avoided bathing in the Hudson River with the rest of the troops. All this and more she had successfully navigated. She knew that unconsciousness was her greatest danger because then she could not rely on quick thinking to get her out of trouble. She also feared being in a hospital where she could be subjected to the unwanted probing of the doctor. Now both things that she had dreaded the most, even more than the prospect of death, had happened. Dr. Benjamin Binney did discover her secret, which he eventually made known in a letter to General Peterson on Deborah’s return to the army.

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