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The Boston Globe

Opinion

Opinion | JEFF JACOBY

Abolition, word by word

With the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in December 1865, a ban on slavery became the law of the land. No surprise, then, that the Library of America’s sweeping new anthology of antislavery literature — a compilation of 216 works by 158 different authors — ends with the two-sentence addition to the Constitution that proscribed slavery in the United States once and for all.

Much more revealing than where it ends is where the anthology begins. “American Antislavery Writings” opens with the earliest known public statement of opposition to slavery in the colonies — a resolution adopted in 1688 by the Quakers of Germantown, Pa. “What thing in the world can be done worse towarts us then if men should robb or steal us away & sell us for slaves to strange Countries,” the document argues, denouncing slavery as cruel and hypocritical at a time when the American Revolution lay nearly nine decades in the future.

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