How did the abolitionist movement promote the idea of freedom as universal, and thus alter the national definition of liberty?

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Abolitionists argued that African-American men and women had the same rights as their white counterparts. Christianity played a major role in their thinking—as all people were created in God's image, they were all equal. Thus slavery was a sin, a moral outrage that flew in the face of God. Many...

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Abolitionists argued that African-American men and women had the same rights as their white counterparts. Christianity played a major role in their thinking—as all people were created in God's image, they were all equal. Thus slavery was a sin, a moral outrage that flew in the face of God. Many Americans, even slaveholders, had accepted the humanity of enslaved people, and many had argued that slavery was evil. But abolitionists argued that slavery was such a pervasive evil that to allow it to continue implicated all Americans, even those who did not own slaves. This is why William Lloyd Garrison denounced the Constitution as a "covenant with death" before burning a copy of that document publicly. Unlike their predecessors, abolitionists argued that the preservation of the United States itself was secondary to the abolition of slavery. So, in short, they argued for a universal concept of rights that applied to all men (and, according to many abolitionists, all women as well) equally. They pushed the government of the United States to align itself with these principles before the Civil War. After the war brought emancipation, they continued to promote equal rights during Reconstruction. Their efforts were reflected in the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments. The Fourteenth in particular defined citizenship and guaranteed equal protection under law to all American citizens. This was a major belief of abolitionists.

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The abolition movement promoted the idea that freedom was universal; that it applied to African Americans just as much as it applied to white people.  It also helped to bring about the idea that women had rights equal to those of men.  This changed (or at least started to change) the American definition of liberty.

Before the abolitionist movement, the American definition of liberty was somewhat limited.  It was believed that true liberty should only be open to white men.  In fact, there had been the idea, not long before the abolitionist movement arose, that only white men with certain amounts of property should enjoy complete liberty.  The abolitionist movement helped to do away with this idea.

With the abolitionist movement came the idea that the promises of the Declaration of Independence should apply to all people.  This was the first time that a serious push arose to expand the meaning of freedom to encompass anyone other than white males.  (Of course, this push did not succeed in the short term as slavery continued and then discrimination against blacks continued long after slavery was abolished.)

 In this way, the abolitionist movement helped to start a major change in the national definition of liberty,

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