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   Chapter 55 1788). No.55

Formation of the Union By Albert Bushnell Hart Characters: 2517

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


[Sidenote: Anti-slavery spirit.]

[Sidenote: Emancipation acts.]

[Sidenote: Southern sentiment.]

One evidence that the States were still sound and healthful was the passage of Emancipation acts. The Revolutionary principles of the rights of man, the consent of the governed, and political equality, had been meant for white men; but it was hard to deny their logical application to the blacks. New anti-slavery societies were formed, particularly in Pennsylvania; but the first community to act was Vermont. In the Declaration of Rights prefixed to the Constitution of 1777 it was declared that since every man is entitled to life, liberty, and happiness, therefore "no … person born in this country, or brought here over sea, ought to be holden by law to serve any person as a servant, slave, or apprentice" after he arrives at the age of maturity. A few years later this was supplemented by an act abolishing the institution of slavery outright. The number of slaves in Vermont was inconsiderable, but in 1780 two States, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, took similar action, affecting several thousand persons. The Massachusetts constitution of 1780 declared that "all men are born free and equal." This clause was a few years later interpreted by

the courts to mean that after 1780 no person could legally be held as a slave. In Pennsylvania in the same year a gradual Emancipation Act was passed, under which persons then in bondage were to serve as slaves during their lives; their children, born after 1780, were eventually to become free; and no person was to be brought into the State and sold as a slave. Within four years New Hampshire and Connecticut passed similar Emancipation Acts. In Rhode Island the number of slaves, 3,500, was considerable in proportion to the population, and that State therefore made a distinct sacrifice for its principles by its act of 1785. Thus at the expiration of the Confederation in 1788, all the States north of Maryland, except New York and New Jersey, had put slavery in process of extinction; those two States followed in 1799 and 1804. Many Southern statesmen hoped that the institution was dying out even in the South. Jefferson in 1787 wrote: "Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, and that His justice cannot sleep forever." Some steps were taken, particularly in Virginia and Kentucky, for the amelioration of the condition of the blacks; and the slave-trade was forbidden in most of the States of the Union during this period.

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