During the revolutionary era, in the midst of the struggle for liberty from Great Britain, Americans up and down the Atlantic seaboard confronted the injustice of holding slaves. Lawmakers debated abolition, masters considered freeing their slaves, and slaves emancipated themselves by running away. But by 1800, of states south of New England, only Pennsylvania had extricated itself from slavery, the triumph, historians have argued, of Quaker moralism and the philosophy of natural rights. With exhaustive research of individual acts of freedom, slave escapes, legislative action, and anti-slavery appeals, Nash and Soderlund penetrate beneath such broad generalizations and find a more complicated process at work. Defiant runaway slaves joined Quaker abolitionists like Anthony Benezet and members of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society to end slavery and slave owners shrewdly calculated how to remove themselves from a morally bankrupt institution without suffering financial loss by freeing slaves as indentured servants, laborers, and cottagers.
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