abolitionists, in U.S. history, particularly in the three decades before the Civil War, members of the movement that agitated for the compulsory emancipation of the slaves. Abolitionists are distinguished from free-soilers, who opposed the further extension of slavery, but the groups came to act together politically and otherwise in the antislavery cause. The abolitionist movement was one of high moral purpose and courage; its uncompromising temper made the slavery question the prime concern of national politics and hastened the demise of slavery in the United States (see also slavery).
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