Pennsylvania: An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery

(1780)

On March 1, 1780, with the Revolution still raging and its outcome in doubt, the Pennsylvania legislature passed An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery, making it the first legislature in history to take steps to abolish slavery. Pennsylvania's Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery is both idealistic and practical. It tries to balance the idea of liberty, which was at the heart of the Revolution, with the founding generation's deep respect for private property. The law also recognizes the significance of race in both the creation of slavery and the perpetuation of discrimination against former slaves. Eventually four other states and a Canadian province—Connecticut (1784), Rhode Island (1784), New York (1799), New Jersey (1804), and Upper Canada (present-day Ontario) (1794)—adopted similar laws to end slavery. Thus the Pennsylvania law became a model for how places with slavery ended the institution. These places accomplished what no other societies before them had:...

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The Pennsylvania Gradual Abolition Act (Pennsylvania State Archives)

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