What Is Abolitionism in World History?

Abolitionism is a social and political movement that aims to end slavery and the slave trade. It has a long history, dating back to the ancient world, but perhaps the most famous abolitionist movement was in the 19th century, when activists worked to abolish slavery in the United States.

The Origins of Abolitionism

Abolitionism has its roots in many different cultures and religions. In ancient Greece, for example, some philosophers argued against slavery on moral grounds. In the Bible, there are passages that suggest that people should not own slaves.

However, it was during the Enlightenment period in Europe that abolitionism became a more organized movement. Many Enlightenment thinkers believed in human rights and individual freedom, and they saw slavery as a violation of those principles.

The Abolitionist Movement in America

In America, the abolitionist movement began to gain momentum in the late 18th century and early 19th century. Some of the most famous abolitionists were Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. These activists spoke out against slavery and worked to help slaves escape to freedom through a network of safe houses known as the Underground Railroad.

The abolitionist movement became more radical over time, with some activists calling for immediate emancipation – that is, an immediate end to slavery – rather than gradual emancipation plans that would have given slave owners time to adjust.

The Legacy of Abolitionism

The legacy of abolitionism is still felt today. While slavery has been officially abolished in most countries around the world, there are still instances of forced labor and human trafficking that can be seen as modern forms of slavery.

Additionally, many of the principles espoused by abolitionists – such as human rights and individual freedom – continue to be important values today. The abolitionist movement paved the way for later civil rights movements and remains an important chapter in world history.


Abolitionism is a movement with a long and complex history. From the ancient world to the modern day, activists have fought against slavery and for human rights. While the abolitionist movement was successful in ending legal slavery in many countries, there is still work to be done to combat modern forms of slavery and ensure that all people are treated with dignity and respect.