century. Several eccentric Quakers had already reached this decision early in the eighteenth century. They urged Quaker elders to liberate the Religious Society of Friends from the sin of holding slaves. These urgings would have little effect, though, until the traumas of the Seven Years' War, which crystallized for the Quaker elite of Pennsylvania the stark choice between worldly compromise and religious duty. The spiritual reformers within the Religious Society persuaded the influential Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in 1761 to ban Friends from purchasing slaves and later, in 1774, disown Friends who possessed slaves. This moral renewal within the Society of Friends, itself affected by George Whitfield and the Great Awakening, in turn would affect how some Baptists and Methodists thought about the institution of slavery in the era of the American Revolution. The second born, those who had passed through the experience of contrition, redemption, regeneration, and sanctification, looked for ways to demonstrate transcendence of the self. Some chose to manumit their slaves as a sign of their rebirth. To be sure, manumission as an act of piety frequently occurred elsewhere, outside of North America and without the influence of evangelicalism. Only the Protestant revivalists in the new United States, however, followed the Quaker example, albeit briefly, by advising followers to free themselves from slaveholding and promote the abolition of slavery. And only in the new American republic did acts of manumission conclude, as they did in the middle and northern United States, in the gradual but comprehensive abolition of slavery.16
These more aggressive stands against slavery by specific Protestant denominations during the 1780s owed much to the influence of the American Revolution. Quaker and evangelical discomfort with slavery otherwise might have concluded with attempts at reform within their own religious communities. They might have ended with individual and sectarian movements for purity, rather than attempts at societal change through government action. The politics of the American Revolution, however, made colonial slavery and the Atlantic slave trade the subject of sustained and persistent controversy for the first time anywhere in the Atlantic world. Antagonists in both Britain and North America politicized involvement in the slave system by treating it as evidence of moral corruption. The antislavery impulses long dormant in Anglo-American culture burst forth in a spasm of accusation, recrimination, and apologetics, as each side insisted, when attempting to ennoble their cause, that the other bore primary responsibility for the inhumane exploitation of Africans. This new definition of the problem as collective and public, rather than individual and private, meant that the locus of change might lie with the nation itself. The sense of crisis contributed to self-scrutiny, as well as
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