The abolition of human slavery, mostly in the
United States: Years 1800 to 1850.
From the first half of the 19th century:
1800 +: The Roman Catholic church's Sacred Congregation of the
Index continued to place many anti-slavery tracts on their Index of Forbidden
Books in order to prevent the public from reading them.
Also in the early 19th century, Methodists in the state of Georgia followed John Wesley's lead and condemned
"... learned to subdue
their critique, in order to grow in membership...Unlike Calvinist intellectuals
such as Charles Colcock Jones, Methodists rarely used the Old Testament
patriarchs and their hierarchical values to buttress the pro-slavery case.
Relying mainly on the letters attributed to Paul, Georgia Wesleyans argued that
slavery was scripturally allowable, but not necessarily ideal. In the
ante-bellum era their theoretical position was neither proslavery nor
antislavery, but neutrality. Christians lived in an imperfect world where
slavery was sanctioned by law; therefore, the church should coexist with
slavery, just as it did in Paul's day." 1
1803: Cotton became the main U.S. export crop. This required a source of low-cost labor to maximize profit.
1807: The first black Methodist church, the African Union
Church, was incorporated in Wilmington DE.
1808: Import of slaves into the U.S. was criminalized. Some
slaves were imported illegally up to 1860. Estimates of their number range from
250,000 to 1 million.
1816: The African Methodist Episcopal Church is
founded in Philadelphia PA.
1818: The Chief Justice in Upper Canada (now Ontario)
ruled that a runaway slave should not be returned to the U.S. This made the "Underground Railway" possible. It was a series of safe houses leading to individuals' end to human slavery in Canada.
1821: Benjamin Lunday, a Quaker from Ohio, started an
anti-slavery newspaper "The Genius of Universal Emancipation."
1821: The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church is
1825: Fanny Wright (1795-1852), organized Nashoba. This was a training
school to help slaves handle liberation from slavery. She was a religious free-thinker
(secularist), and was the first American woman to personally speak out against
slavery in public.
1829's: Congregationalists, Quakers, Mennonites, Methodists and
Unitarians organized the "underground railway" to help slaves escape northward
towards Canada and southward into Spanish held territories.2
1829: David Walker, a free-born African-American published the first major
U.S. anti-slavery publication: "The David Walker's Appeal in Four Articles
Together With A Preamble, To The Coloured Citizens of The World, But In Particular, And
Very Expressly, To Those of The United States of America." Walker died in 1830.
Some suspect that a group of slave-owning Southern governors took a contract out on his
life. He criticized Christian denominations for their relative silence about slavery and
racism; he condemned those among the white clergy who supported slavery.3
1830: The Plantation Mission Movement began. Methodist
chapels were constructed on many plantations.
1831: Nat Turner, a Baptist slave pastor, led a major
sustained slave revolt in Virginia. He was inspired by the messages of
the Old Testament prophets and their calls for justice.
"...the notion that slavery was God's will gained
momentum after the Nat Turner slave rebellion of 1831. In hundreds of
pamphlets, written from 1836 to 1866, Southern slaveholders were
provided a host of religious reasons to justify the social caste system
they had created."4
1833: Over 1,000 regional, state and city groups joined together to
found the American Anti-Slavery Society.
1833: The British Parliament passed a law which
quickly phased out slavery in Britain and its colonies, including
Canada. Slave trading
by other countries was gradually snuffed out during the following 3 decades, by a series
of treaties and the capture of over 1,000 slave ships by the British.
1833: The Anti-Slavery Convention of 1833 was held.
One of the vice-presidents was Dr. Lord, who later reversed his
stance. He became an "advocate of slavery as a divine
institution, and denounced woe upon the abolitionists for interfering
with the will and purpose of the Creator." 4
1838: The Presbyterian church split over slavery into separate North and South denominations.
1839: Pope Gregory XVI wrote in Supremo Apostolatus that he
admonishes and adjures "in the Lord all believers in Christ, of whatsoever
condition, that no one hereafter may dare unjustly to molest Indians, Negroes, or other
men of this sort;...or to reduce them to slavery..." The operative word is
The Pope did not condemn slavery if the slaves had been captured
justly -- that is, they were either criminals or prisoners of
Roman Catholic Bishops in the Southern U.S. determined that this prohibition did not apply
to slavery in the U.S. To their credit, various other popes did order or otherwise influence the
emancipation of slaves that they considered to be unjustly enslaved.
1840: By this time, the United States had developed an obvious
north/south split over slavery. The cotton-based economy of the Southern states depended largely on the
low cost labor provided by the slave population. In the industrialized North, slavery had
become only marginally economic. This split was reflected in the views of the various
Christian denominations with respect to abolition. Many Christians in the Southern states
saw abolition as a massive threat to their culture and economy. They did not view slavery
as a sin; their leaders were able to quote many Biblical passages in support of slavery.
Many Christians in the northern states had gradually built up a revulsion towards the
"peculiar institution." In opposition to slavery, they frequently quoted Jesus'
statements about treating others with respect, love and justice.
1841 to 1844: The Baptist movement in the U.S. had maintained a
strained peace by carefully avoiding discussion of the topic. The American Baptist
Foreign Mission Board took neither a pro nor anti-slavery position. An American
Baptist Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840 brought the issue into the open.
Southern delegates to the 1841 Triennial Convention of the Board "protested
the abolitionist agitation and argued that, while slavery was a calamity and a great evil,
it was not a sin according to the Bible." 5The Board
later denied a request by the Alabama Convention that slave owners be eligible to
become missionaries. In a test case, the Georgia Baptist nominated a slave owner as a
missionary and asked asked the Home Missions Society to approve their choice. No
decision was made. Finally, a Baptist Free Mission Society was formed; "it
refused 'tainted' Southern money." The Southern members withdrew and formed the Southern
Baptist Convention (SBC), which eventually grew to become the largest Protestant
denomination in the U.S. They no longer support slavery, although they continue to oppress women, lesbians, gays, transgender persons and transsexuals.
1843: Clergy and laity of the Methodist Episcopal Churchleft to form the Wesleyan Methodist Church in America. The split was
caused primarily by the slavery issue. The church had reneged on an earlier decision to
forbid members to own slaves. Church teaching and practices were two additional points of
friction. The Wesleyan Methodist Church continues today as the Wesleyan
1843: "In 1843, 1,200 Methodist ministers owned
1,500 slaves, and 25,000 members owned 208,000 slaves...the Methodist
Church as a whole remained silent and neutral on the issue of
1844: The General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church
split into two conferences because of tensions over slavery and the power of bishops in
the denomination. The two General Conferences, the Methodist Episcopal Church (North)
and Methodist Episcopal church, South remained separate until a merger in 1939
created the Methodist Church. The latter became the present United Methodist
Church as a result of subsequent mergers. 6
1851: J.F. Brennan published "Bible defense of
slavery." He claimed that Cain's parents were Eve and the