The emergence of a sophisticated antislavery ideology and the rise of organized opposition to slavery in the Atlantic World in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries represented nothing less than one of the great intellectual and social revolutions in the history of the world. An institution which by the early eighteenth century was near axiomatically accepted as necessary, useful, and thoroughly in accord with Judaeo-Christian tenets and virtues and which profoundly informed the lives of millions of people had by the mid-nineteenth century come increasingly to be viewed as the chief vector of evil and the Devil in the world, the very quintessence of evil as some called it, and the chief repository of all that was socially, politically, and especially economically archaic and stagnant. This encyclopedia is organized around three principal concerns: the illustration and explication of the various forms of antislavery and its emergence as an organized movement; the immediate precipitants of abolition and the processes of its passage; and the enactment of emancipation and its consequences. While the earliest expressions of antislavery may have only comprised one or a few isolated voices, the antislavery most commonly reviewed here is that animated by a systematic and ardent opposition to slavery and intended to mobilize large numbers of people to attack and end the institution. A wide variety of people and organizations nurtured and extended this antislavery: religious figures, political economists, slaves, sailors, artisans, missionaries, planters, captains of slave ships, democratic enthusiasts, and others were all involved along with the various organizations-secular, religious, or otherwise-with which they were associated. Antislavery was by no means exclusively or even principally the work of an intellectual elite and the force of all, from the lowly and unlearned to the privileged and prominent, is represented. The presence of slavery continued to be attacked in the contracting Ottoman Empire in the early twentieth century, in Liberia in the 1930s, in Saudi Arabia in the mid-twentieth century, and even in the latter years of the century in countries like Sudan, Pakistan, India, and others in Southeast Asia.
The entries have a worldwide focus, covering antislavery movements and important developments in slavery abolition and slave emancipation in many places around the globe. Other entries cover individuals, groups, events, documents, and organizations related to the history of abolition and emancipation over the last two centuries. Coverage also address a wide range of topics, issues, and ideas related to the broad topic of ending historical systems of slavery and human bondage.
Besides over 400 cross-referenced entries, most of which conclude with lists of additional readings, the encyclopedia also includes an Introduction tracing the history of abolition and emancipation, a selected general bibliography, a guide to related topics, numerous illustrations, and a detailed subject index.