Quaker Opposition to the Constitution’s Provisions Concerning Slavery

Quakers were pleased that, during the Revolutionary War, there was a near cessation of the importation of slaves. Under the Articles of Association, the American colonies agreed to stop the practice largely as a punitive measure protesting British trade policies. Throughout the 1770s and 80s, Quakers’ efforts to end the slave trade and slavery consisted mainly of moral suasion and petitioning. Their work met with some modest success as several states banned the importation of slaves and several abolished the practice altogether. But the rhetoric and logic of liberty was not fully extended to slaves. The importation of slaves resumed after the war, and ultimately the Constitutional Convention reached several compromises regarding slavery. Quakers were generally supportive of the Constitution but actively sought to correct deficiencies in the new plan of government in regards to slavery. For an extended discussion about the role of Quakers in the ratification debates and their opposition to several provisions in the Constitution, see Quaker Opposition to the Protection of Slavery in the Constitution.

The selections below highlight the convictions, frustrations, and approaches of Quakers as they sought to ban the slave trade and, ultimately, slavery.