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To abolish is to formally end an institution, usually a law or practice.[1] There have been many such acts of abolition throughout the course of human history.

Abolition is a term often used to describe the efforts to end slavery in the Atlantic world in the 1800s.


In 2007, the UK marked the bicentennial of the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade, a celebration which was marked by officially sanctioned acts of ‘remembering’ the legislation passed into law by Parliament in 1807 and the impact that the ceasing of the legal trade in African lives had upon the course of history.[2] Commemorative acts such as these have served as nothing more than exercises in self-affirmation.

It seems that Western nations such as Britain are incapable of acknowledging the barbarity of their slave-trading histories unless accompanied by the self-assurance that they also played a significant role in ending it; distancing themselves from the immoral, unethical doings of those Britons, Spaniards, French, Dutch, Americans and others that came before them, preferring instead to relish in the work that their reformed ancestors undertook in confronting the remaining pro-slavery nations that they previously collaborated with.

Prominent anti-slavery parliamentarians, scholars and abolitionists such as William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson have done more to re-affirm Britain’s self-righteousness than any eminent pro-slavery activist of the 18th and nineteenth centuries. Indeed, contemporary ignoramuses Anglocentric academics such as Niall Ferguson, in keeping with the self-congratulatory line assumed by the establishment since abolition, pay lip service to British involvement in the trade, preferring instead to trumpet the "civilizing mission" of the Royal Navy some two hundred years ago when, on what he calls a "moral mission," it stationed a squadron in Sierra Leone with the task of preventing "American and European slave ships leaving the African coast for America [in order to] bring an end to the Atlantic slave trade."[3] (Two wrongs don't make a right, sir.)

There have been some official apologies issued by the nations of the world for their treatment of other humans as property, but this has little practical effect.[4] Slavery and its racial effects continue to plague society.

Other uses[edit]

Animal rights[edit]

Within the animal rights movement, abolitionism refers to the position that all human use of animals for food, clothing, animal testing, hunting, and entertainment should be abolished.[5][note 1] The term is most often associated with Gary Francione, but was written about by philosopher Tom Regan beforehand. Abolitionism stands in contrast to what its proponents perceive as animal welfare or reformist activism which seeks more humane conditions in zoos, slaughterhouses, etc. Animal rights abolitionists may take a view against any animal welfare activism at all, on the grounds it implicitly endorses caging animals and only wants bigger cages.

By comparison: the Humane Society is considered animal welfarist. PETA uses abolitionist rhetoric ("animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on or use for entertainment") but in practice often engages in animal welfare activism. The Animal Liberation Front, Hardline subculture, and many vegans are purely abolitionists.


See the main article on this topic: Abolition of gender

See also[edit]


  1. What is to become of domesticated breeds and species that either cannot survive in the wild or have no place to survive in the wild, but must not be kept or otherwise supported by humans, is conveniently glossed over.