An abolitionist is a person who fights against something that they deem as being unethical or unfit. In addition, the term is used to denote a person who fights against a law or practice that is regarded as being harmful to a society. The term was very much used during the period of the slave trade. It was used to refer to the people who were advocating for the abolishment of the slave trade. In The Struggle for Equality text, historian James M. McPherson states that an abolitionist is a person who is agitated by the immediate situation and seeks the unconditional eradication of slavery in the United States (McPherson 4).
The ‘abolitionist’ concept can be subdivided into different categories. The first category is derived from a Great Britain movement that was formed by those who were against capital punishment, that is, Capital Abolitionists. They devised slogans which were against the malevolent practice (Kroenwetter 20). Capital Abolitionists were thus despised by the government because they were fighting against its constitution. Many of the reformers were put behind bars but they were never discouraged. They fought until the law was changed and up to when capital punishment was abolished.
Another category is the Slave Trade Abolitionists. It was another movement that was started by many European countries and NGO’s that were fighting against slave trade. By trying to wipe out slavery in Western Europe and America, they criticized it for violating human rights. The Slave Trade Abolitionists authored many letters against the trade. Very many people in many parts could not access the Slave Trade Abolitionists because many of the channels that the abolitionists followed were banned. This is because the existing national constitutions had no room for the Abolitionists’ message.
Evangelical Abolitionists were mostly headed by the Roman Catholic priests who were against slave trade. They established colleges although they were not highly supported. Afterwards, they split due to women activists’ interference. The Catholic leaders advocated for equality for all persons because of their firm stand on spiritual equality for all men.
American Constitutional Abolitionists split, claiming that the constitution enslaved the citizens. Consequently, the abolitionists burned copies of the constitution publicly (Tsesis 15). They claimed that slavery existed in the scope of legitimate authority of the constitution using the natural law and social contract theory (Graber 209).
Another category of abolitionist is the one which fights against class distinctions in society. It was evident when a group of artisans stood in contrast with the political elite; who viewed slaves as objects which could be moved from one place to another.
Another group of revolutionists were fighting for the auction of slaves in church pulpits. They published papers that were against slavery and advocated for other social activities. Moreover, they claimed that the southern part of America was draining the US economy due to its overreliance upon slavery.
The major characteristics of abolitionists are depicted to be diverse. For instance, the abolitionists were courageous. Those who were against slave trade could dare face the consequences. For example, abolitionists who were found distributing the anti-slavery papers were harassed while others were murdered. Those who were against the American constitution however burned it in the public without fear of the government.
Many of the abolitionists were challenging. They could challenge the ruling government if they found something that was advocated for was not in line with their demands (McPherson 6). Further, they went against the political elite when they agitated for chattel slavery instead of wage slavery. Additionally, they challenged the American government when it produced a constitution that would enslave its citizens.
Graber, Mark A. Dred Scott and the Problem of Constitutional Evil. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
Kroenwetter, Michael. Capital Punishment: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2001.
McPherson, James M. The Abolitionist Legacy: From Reconstruction to the NAACP. NJ, USA: Princeton University Press, 1995.
Tsesis, Alexander. “Antislavery Constitutionalism.” Encyclopedia of the Supreme Court of the United States 3. 7 (2008): 13-26.