Slavery Used to Be Legal In America.
That much people know. But what a lot of people actually don’t know is that the first petition against slavery appeared in Germantown, Pennsylvania (now part of Philadelphia) back in 1688. While many of the colonists came from areas where slavery was relatively common and so had little qualms about continuing it in America, the residents of Germantown came from an area where slavery was not prevalent. They were not used to it, and so were able to look at the institution and realize that it did not really fit with the religious beliefs that many of the colonists held.
Rather than accept slavery for what it was, a man named Francis Daniel Pastorius drafted the Germantown Quaker Petition Against Slavery, which was signed by him and three other Quakers living in Germantown on behalf of the Germantown Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. While it was unfortunately forwarded to the monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings without any action being taken on it, it is incredible that such a petition existed so early on in the founding of America.
This petition was the first document that asked for equal rights for all human beings, regardless of their outward appearance. Even while many believed that slavery was acceptable, there were people from the very beginning who were working for equality. The Quaker Petition Against Slavery was the beginning of a movement that continued to grow throughout all of the colonies and into the abolitionist and suffrage movements later on. It was eventually set aside in 1688, but in 1844, 156 years later, the petition was rediscovered and once again used to champion equal rights. The abolitionist movement pointed to this early document to showcase the history of their cause and how important it was to the United States. The petition was the very beginning of the equal rights movement, something that changed the foundation of our nation.
I firmly believe that the two most important, earthshaking and humane ideas that we take for granted and consider simply “American,” originated within small religious extremist groups which we now think of as quaint or even strange. It was the search and the fight for individual and religious freedoms that, at least partially, drove the Puritans from Europe to the shores of America, and it was that same religious drive from the Quakers which started and continued the effort to rid the whole nation of the evils of slavery.