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Antislavery sentiments in Pennsylvania


Farms of Pennsylvania
Farms of Pennsylvania

As in most Northern states, Pennsylvania had strong antislavery sentiments from the earliest days of settlement. The Quakers had sought to abolish slavery since 1688, and in 1780 the legislature outlawed slavery. Beginning in the 1840s, slavery became the dominant political issue in the nation, and Pittsburgh and Philadelphia became centers of abolitionist activity. In 1838 abolitionists and other reform groups built Pennsylvania Hall, a meeting place dedicated to free speech, but proslavery rioters burned it down within days of its opening. In 1846 Pennsylvania Representative David Wilmot introduced in Congress an amendment, called the Wilmot Proviso, to exclude slavery from any territory acquired as a result of the Mexican War (1846-1848). The measure heightened tensions between Northern and Southern states and was later adopted by the Free-Soil and the Republican parties as a basic policy.

The Compromise Measures of 1850, passed by Congress to reconcile proslavery and antislavery factions in the country, included a strict Fugitive Slave Law that provided for runaway slaves to be returned to their masters. When a Maryland slave owner tried to use the law in 1851 to recapture several slaves in southeastern Pennsylvania, a conflict known as the Christiana Riot broke out and the slave owner was killed. The image of armed resistance to federal authority in defense of runaway slaves foreshadowed the larger national crisis of the American Civil War (1861-1865). The Underground Railroad, a network of antislavery activists who helped fugitive slaves reach safety in the North, became more active in Pennsylvania, especially along the state’s southern border with Maryland, which was known as the Mason-Dixon Line.

In 1854 Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which authorized creation of those two territories and had the effect of repealing the 1820 ban on slavery in new territories north of the Mason-Dixon Line, or parallel 36°30’ (see Missouri Compromise). This action so angered Pennsylvania abolitionists that they responded eagerly to the call for a new antislavery party. As in other states, slavery opponents in Pennsylvania held a mass meeting, which convened in Pittsburgh in 1855, to organize the Republican Party in the state. The first Republican national nominating convention was held in Philadelphia in June 1856. "Pennsylvania" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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