Friends should deal mildly and gently with their slaves, George Fox advised, and "after certain years of servitude they should make them free." In 1727, minutes of the London Yearly Meeting recorded a censure of slaveholding and slavedealing Friends. Still, the appeals of the great abolitionists Benjamin Lay and John Woolman were directed primarily to Quakers, urging them to manumit their slaves. Until the closing years of the 18th century, not even the Quakers added up to a formidable, reliable constituency for the antislavery cause.

Advocating, supporting and doing manumission was the was elemental, everyday antislavery, but manumission led to large free black populations and white backlash. Virginia banned manumission in 1723. and when it was legalized in 1782, it was with the proviso that the manumitor must provide cash to guarantee that the freedman would not land on the poor rolls; and the freedman must soon leave the state.

Upon admission to the bar of the Virginia High Court in 1767, Thomas Jefferson pursued a less common antislavery tactic. On February 24th 1768, he accepted a slave’s suit for freedom in Whitehead v. Belsches, the first in a string of pro bono freedom suits.

In 1769, he was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses. In September, he offered a bill in the Virginia House of Burgesses proposing to restore the right of slavehholders to manumit their slaves. He lost.

On October 18th, he took the case of Samuel Howell, a mulatto servant suing for his freedom, and on December 15th, he took out a writ in order to bring suit on behalf of Howell. While continuing litigation on behalf of Ben Whitehead, he identified and summoned a witness for Howell, whose case was tried in April, 1770.

“Under the law of nature," Jefferson pleaded in Howell's behalf, "all men are born free, every one comes into the world with a right to his own person, which includes the liberty of moving and using it at his own will." Without hearing the opposing argument, the judge dismissed the slave's suit for freedom. On May 3rd, Jefferson gave Howell money and he escaped from Virginia.

On December 6th 1770, Jefferson took the case of another enslaved man, Ned Russell. On September 10th 1772, he undertook the freedom suit of an enslaved woman, Sybil, and on November 3rd he took out a writ for the freedom suit of Isaac, an Indian. On February 11th 1773, he filed suit in the case of Jamey, an enslaved man. On February 7th 1773. he secured the freedom of George Manly and employed him as a freeman for 2 years.

In 1773 Jefferson inherited 135 slaves from his father-in-law, and his father-in-law's debt, which encumbered the estate and severely constricted his legal power to manumit them.

The slave trade was a growing issue; Virginia and other colonies had tried to ban the trade but were overruled by the Crown. In June 1776 , days before his well known denunciation of the slave trade in the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson's proposed Virginia constitution asserted that "No person hereafter coming into this country shall be held within the same in slavery under any pretext whatever."

That proposition went nowhere and another in 1779 followed suit, but the slave trade question wouldn't go away. In 1783, English Quakers established the Friends Committee to promote the Abolition of the Slave Trade. and delivered to Parliament a petition signed by 300 Quakers- the first organized campaign on the issue- but it made little impact. Quakers were not very influential.

In 1783 Jefferson again proposed a new constitution:

"The General assembly shall not have power to infringe this constitution; to abridge the civil rights of any person on account of his religious belief; to restrain him from professing and supporting that belief, or to compel him to contributions, other than those he shall himself have stipulated, for the support of that or any other: to ordain death for any crime but treason or murder, or offences in the military line: to pardon or give a power of pardoning persons duly convicted of treason or felony, but instead thereof they may substitute one or two new trials and no more: to pass laws for punishing actions done before the existence of such laws: to pass any bill of attainder, or other law declaring any person guilty of treason or felony: to prescribe torture in any case: nor to permit the introduction of any more slaves to reside in this state, or the continuance of slavery beyond the generation which shall be living on the 31st. day of December 1800; all persons born after that day being hereby declared free."

Jefferson aspirations had leaped from immediate abolition of the slave trade to gradual but assured abolition of chattel slavery. In the Continental Congress, he now chaired a committee on the western lands. The committee report urged "That after the year 1800 of the Christian era, there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in any of the said states, otherwise than in punishment of crimes, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted to have been personally guilty." Thus not only territories above the Ohio river, but the those below including Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama, would enter the union as free states. The proposal lost by a single vote.

The federal constitution of 1787 protected the American slave trade for 20 years; during that time William Wilberforce led the British movement against the trade. As the 20 year period drew to its end, Jefferson- now president- congratulated the US Congress in advance and signed the bill abolishing the slave trade on March 2nd, 1807 (to become effective January 1, 1808), and the English king gave his Royal Assent on March 25, 1807 to an analogous measure, the culmination of Wilberforce's crusade over approximately the same score of years.

Jefferson had no remarkable antislavery victories to show, but neither did anyone else. The movement was still in its infancy when he died, but when the Fugitive Slave Act was passed in 1850, Jefferson's States Rights Principles of 1798 would acquire a new relevance. Vermont led the way in with legislation that defied the federal mechanism by offering a writ of habeas corpus to detained fugitives, affirming their right to a jury trial, and requiring the state’s attorney in each county to intervene on behalf of fugitives in rendition proceedings. In 1854–1855 Vermont extended its protections, and Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Michigan passed laws to prevent state officials from taking part in the enforcement of the federal law.

A slaveholder who appeared in an Ohio court to gain possession of a fugitive was asked for document after document but each one was declared insufficient. When the exasperated slaveholder asked what evidence of ownership would satisfy the court, the judge replied "A deed signed by the Lord."

The Massachusetts personal liberty law vacated the office of any state official who authorized the rendition of a fugitive, barred any such person from holding state office, and disbarred attorneys who represented slaveholders.

On 1854 Joshua Glover. An escaped slave, was captured and locked in a Milwaukee jail in 1854. A sympathetic mob led by Sherman Booth broke Glover out and helped him to freedom. Booth was arrested, but the Wisconsin Supreme Court, in language taken from Jefferson's Resolutions of 1798, declared the federal Fugitive Slave Law unconstitutional.

"Resolved, that the principle and construction contended for by the party which now rules in the councils of the nation, that the general government is the exclusive judge of the extent of the powers delegated to it, stop nothing short of despotism, since the discretion of those who administer the government, and not the Constitution, would be the measure of their powers; that the several states which formed that instrument, being sovereign and independent, have the unquestionable right to judge of its infractions; and that a positive defiance of those sovereignties, of all unauthorized acts done or attempted to be done under color of that instrument, is the rightful remedy."

Ripeness is all, says Gloucester's nephew.