On this day in 1780, Pennsylvania passed the first state Abolition Act in the United States, abolishing slavery for new borns.
The emancipation document ended with; “That all Persons, as well Negroes, and Mulattos*, as others, who shall be born within this State, from and after the Passing of this Act, shall not be deemed and considered as Servants for Life or Slaves; and that all Servitude for Life or Slavery of Children in Consequence of the Slavery of their Mothers, in the Case of all Children born within this State from and after the passing of this Act as aforesaid, shall be, and hereby is, utterly taken away, extinguished and for ever abolished.”
(*Mulatto refers to an individual with one white parent and one black parent, though the term is very archaic and rarely used.)
Slavery was a controversial issue for America since the nation’s inception, with this Act being passed during the American War of Independence from the British. However, despite the fact that such progressive legislation was being passed prior to even the Constitution, America would continue to face significant divisions over slavery.
These came to the fore in the 1860s where the Southern slave owning states, many of whom backed the Democratic Party, seceded from the Union in response to the election of Republican Abraham Lincoln as President; fearing he would outlaw slavery in the new colonies being found in developed in the East.
This led to the horrific American Civil War in which hundreds of thousands died and many more when permanently injured. The victory of the Union allowed for the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments. The first banned slavery, the second gives equal protection under the law and the third prevents federal or state governments denying the vote to anyone based on “race, color or previous servitude”.
So although the Act passed today almost 250 years ago did not prevent slavery remaining an issue in American society, its passage marked a Northern progressivism which still exists today, and it was perhaps decisive in saving the Union of the United States of America because of that fact.