Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Liberal Studies


Jonathan Sassi

Subject Categories

History | United States History


Constitution and Slavery, First Emancipation, Moral Change, Quakers and Slavery


The First Emancipation was a grassroots movement that resulted in slavery being mostly eliminated in the North by 1830. Without this movement, it is unlikely that slavery would have been banned in the United States by 1865. The First Emancipation is not only a fascinating but little known part of our nation's history, but can also be used as a case study to illustrate how firmly entrenched, but immoral practices can be changed over time. The First Emancipation began with four immigrants stating their opposition to slavery in Germantown, Pennsylvania in 1688. At this time, slavery was well entrenched, and the practice seemed as if it would go on indefinitely. The arguments made against slavery did not change significantly over the next century, but, after much discussion and reflection--first amongst the Quakers and then more broadly-- the notion that slavery is wrong gradually took hold of the hearts and minds of much of the public. Finally, this perception became effective in action as principled politicians throughout the North overcame the opposition of slaveholders and enacted measures that gradually eliminated the practice. The First Emancipation movement also reminds us that moral progress cannot be taken for granted. At the time of our nation's founding, many of our Founding Fathers believed that slavery was immoral and that the institution would gradually disappear. Unfortunately, our Founders missed some opportunities to enact measures that would have gradually eliminated slavery. They did outlaw U.S. participation in the international slave trade in 1808, but a vibrant domestic slave trade emerged in its place. Slavery actually strengthened in the South and West, and, as we all know, it took a devastating civil war to finally end slavery.