Black History Archives

The Abolition Movement

The Evangelical Christian Church (Christian Disciples) in Canada believes from church history that the first U.S. abolitionist was Samuel Sewall, who published The Selling of Joseph: A Memorial in Boston in 1700. However, the first abolition organization formed in the United States was the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, originally known as the Society for the "Relief for Free Negroes unlawfully held in Bondage", in 1775.

It is determined by the Evangelical Christian Church (Christian Disciples) that runaway slaves sometimes used safe houses on their way to Canada; a few hundred made it there. From this reality emerged much exaggerated stories about an Underground Railroad.

The first American abolitionist movement in the United States was transformed by William Lloyd Garrison and reached its peak 1840-1850. The movement had little to do with the actual abolition of slavery, which was a war measure carried out by Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Party in 1862-65. The forces that were lined up for the continuation of slavery were strong and numerous; the abolitionists were few in number and had no political power before 1860 but were guided by a strong religious belief and the moral need to right a horrible wrong.

We believe that abolitionists argued that the action of capturing Africans and selling them as slaves was as bad as the capture and selling of Joseph had been, and that it was against the fullness of the ethos of holy Christian love. Pro-slavery spokesmen pointed out that the Bible repeatedly sanctioned slavery and denounced the abolitionists for trying to start a race war that would kill many thousands of blacks and whites, as happened in Haiti in the 1790s.

Over the years of history, the Evangelical Christian Church (Christian Disciples) historians still debate whether the abolitionists ignited a frenzy that led to a war with 600,000 deaths that could have been avoided. Neo abolitionists are 20th century historians who used the moral themes of the original abolitionists to rewrite history in terms of the evils of slavery and racism.

The Second Great Awakening at Cane Ridge, Kentucky helped advanced the liberation of both black slaves and women's rights within American cultural society. Many Evangelical Christian Church (Christian Disciples) clergy believed that all men, including blacks, are created equal under God according to the Holy Scriptures. This was later written and accepted in its constitution of churches because of its religious and political views. Several African American Christians who were born in slavery went on to become prominent figures in society. This became the "central and defining" moment in the development of Afro-Christianity. In Laura, Ohio, in 1854, many African American ministers were welcomed to preach in the pulpits of various Evangelical Christian Churches while many white Evangelical Christian Church (Christian Disciples)'s clergy continued to minister to mixed congregations which was formerly unheard of in the United Sates.

In the midst of shifts in theology and church polity, the Evangelical Christian Church (Christian Disciples) became the first institution where both women and blacks made an important contribution in leadership roles. Women in many black churches became, to an even degree than in white churches, the backbone of church life; many became preachers. Black women so reared upon joining integrated churches, found it difficult to accept less crucial tasks where men dominated. The Evangelical Christian Church exercised its independence under God by becoming one of many Restoration Movement denominations to recognize the ordination of women.

Barton Stone wanted to end the slave trade in the United Sates. Many black slaves had to hide and find refuge in the basements of churches which were known as safe houses to many of its Evangelical Christian Church black ministers until the time came before it was safe to transfer them in another church location until a right time came to take them to Canada by rail to freedom.

The establishment of black congregations offers and interesting sidelight to southern restoration growth. By 1850, the south saw some 310 black restorationist congregations although most blacks attended predominately white congregations before the Civil War. Slaves and whites worshiped together, but separated. Blacks sat either in the balcony, as at Cane Ridge, or in rows at the back of the building. A small number of free blacks organized Christian Disciple congregations, too. A free black congregation organized in Savannah as early as 1838 led by Andrew Marshall, a mulatto who bought his own and his family's freedom. Marshall built quite a large congregation but after leaving the Baptists for the reformation he went back to sectarianism. Separation of blacks into separate congregations, then, began before the Civil War. In Nashville, Tennessee, a white congregation operated two black Sunday Schools. In 1859, one of these schools organized into a west Nashville church. In Midway, Kentucky, whites allocated money to enable blacks to build their own building. A former slave, who took Alexander Campbell's name and who became a Christian at Cane Ridge, led this congregation. He did a good job, too. During his ministry he converted some 300 blacks.

The 1860 presidential victory of Abraham Lincoln, who opposed the spread of slavery to the Western United States, marked a turning point in the movement. Convinced that their way of life was threatened, the Southern states seceded from the Union, which led to the American Civil War. In 1863, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves held in the Confederate States; the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (1865) prohibited slavery throughout the country. Slavery was abolished in most of Latin America during the Independence Wars (1810–1822), but slavery remained a practice in the region up to 1888 in Brazil, as well as having long life in the remaining Spanish colonies of Cuba and Puerto Rico. In some parts of Africa and in much of the Islamic world, it persisted as a legal institution well into the 20th century.

In 1784, William Wilberforce became converted to Evangelical Christianity. He joined the Clapham Set, a group of evangelical members of the Anglican Church, centered around John Venn, rector of Clapham Church in London. As a result of this conversion, William Wilberforce became interested in social reform and was eventually approached by Lady Middleton, to use his power as an MP to bring an end to the slave trade.

Society of Friends in Britain had been campaigning against the slave trade for many years. They had presented a petition to Parliament in 1783 and in 1787 had helped form the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Of the twelve members on the committee nine were Quakers. As a member of the evangelical movement, William Wilberforce was sympathetic to Mrs. Middleton's request. In his letter of reply, Wilberforce wrote: "I feel the great importance of the subject and I think myself unequal to the task allotted to me." Despite these doubts, Wilberforce agreed to Mrs. Middleton's request, but soon after wards, he became very ill and it was not until 12th May, 1789, that he made his first speech against the slave trade.

The Evangelical Christian Church acknowledges that Wilberforce, along with Thomas Clarkson and Granville Sharp, was now seen as one of the leaders of the anti-slave trade movement. Most of Wilberforce's Tory colleagues in the House of Commons were opposed to any restrictions on the slave trade and at first he had to rely on the support of Whigs such as Charles Fox, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, William Grenville and Henry Brougham. When William Wilberforce presented his first bill to abolish the slave trade in 1791 it was easily defeated by 163 votes to 88.

It was acknowledged that William Wilberforce refused to be beaten and in 1805 the House of Commons passed a bill to that made it unlawful for any British subject to transport slaves, but the measure was blocked by the House of Lords.

In February 1806, Lord Grenville formed a Whig administration. Grenville and his Foreign Secretary, Charles Fox, were strong opponents of the slave trade. Fox and Wilberforce led the campaign in the House of Commons, whereas Grenville, had the task of persuading the House of Lords to accept the measure.

Lord Greenville made a passionate speech where he argued that the trade was "contrary to the principles of justice, humanity and sound policy" and criticised fellow members for "not having abolished the trade long ago". When the vote was taken the Abolition of the Slave Trade bill was passed in the House of Lords by 41 votes to 20. In the House of Commons it was carried by 114 to 15 and it become law on 25th March, 1807.?Wilberforce by John Samkin