by David Brion Davis

First published on the website of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History in 2012.

A detail from a broadside urging the abolition of slavery in Washington, DC, published by the American Anti-Slavery Society, 1836 (Gilder Lehrman Institute, GLC04557)

Abolitionism emerged in America as part of a massive fusion of reform movements related to religious revivals and dedicated to the goal of creating a righteous society capable of fulfilling America’s high ideals. [1] In part, the religious revivals and emergence of a reform-oriented…