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Historical Glossary

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Abelman v. Booth

On 7 March 1859, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Constitution's supremacy over state law preempts state courts from serving writs of habeas corpus on federal courts and their officials, or from otherwise interfering with the enforcement of US laws. The ruling blocked northern abolitionists from using state courts or personal liberty laws to nullify the Fugitive Slave Law (1850), whose constitutionality was also (improperly) affirmed.

Abington Township v. Schempp

On 17 June 1963, the Supreme Court (8–1) extended Engel v. Vitale by overturning a Pa. law mandating that school days start with the Lord's Prayer and a Bible reading.

Abnaki Indians

Speakers of one of the Algonquian languages, perhaps 2,000 Abnakis occupied Maine, Vermont, and N.H. in 1600. They traded furs with both English and French (but preferred dealing with the latter), accepted Jesuit missionaries, and were French allies in the colonial wars. In 1722 they raided settlements on the Kennebec River, but in the resulting Dummer's War, Mass. and N.H. militia dispersed them along the Kennebec River, and drove many as far north as Canada. During the Seven Years' War, Rogers' Rangers destroyed their main town at Ste Françoise, Quebec. After 1763 Abnakis drifted back and forth across the US–Canadian border, but most relocated in Canada; by 1800, probably less than 300 remained in Maine and Vt.


The earliest proponents of the abolition of slavery were Quakers, starting with William Edmundson's denunciation at Newport, R.I., in 1676 and an antislavery declaration written in April 1688 by the Germantown, Pa., Monthly Meeting. Every yearly meeting of the Quakers, or Society of Friends, between 1770 and 1776, forbade slaveowning. By 1779 over 80 percent of Quaker slaves were free, but not until 1796 were the last released from bondage.
The American Revolution led to the abolition of slavery in Vt. (1777), Pa. (1780), Mass. (1783), Conn. (1784), R.I. (1784), N.Y. (1799), and N.J. (1804). In 1787 Congress excluded slavery from the Northwest Territory. Every southern state but N.C. passed laws making it easier for masters to free their own slaves. The American Colonization Society also originated as a means of encouraging voluntary emancipation by masters. The proportion of blacks who were free rose from about 2 percent in 1770 to 11 percent by 1810.
Although northern whites held strong convictions about keeping slavery out of unsettled territories, they demonstrated little interest in abolitionism after 1800. It would again become politically influential after William Lloyd Garrison founded the Liberator in 1831 and the American Antislavery Society was formed in 1833. Abolitionism was a major cause of southern alienation from the Union, because its fanatical wing advocated the disregard of slavery's constitutional protections and routinely disparaged southern society in a highly insulting fashion.
In the Civil War, Congress's first Confiscation Act (6 August 1861) allowed the military to free any slaves seized while being used for Confederate military purposes, and a second Confiscation Act (17 July 1862) permitted the army to liberate all slaves owned by active rebels. On 16 April 1862, Lincoln signed a law to free slaves in the District of Columbia and compensate their owners. A proposal made in March 1862 to pay federal subsidies for reimbursing owners if any legislature adopted gradual emancipation failed because of opposition by the border states. After Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, Md., W.Va., Mo., and Tenn. voluntarily abolished human bondage, and the Thirteenth Amendment finally ended the institution in Del. and Ky.


In 1973 the Supreme Court invalidated abortion laws in 46 states in Roe v. Wade. In 1972, when N.Y. was the only state with a liberal abortion law, there had been 586,000 legal abortions and perhaps 200,000 illegally-terminated pregnancies. Abortions doubled from 744,000 in 1973 to 1,550,000 in 1980, when they stabilized at around 40 percent of live births. Many states enacted laws discouraging abortions, and Congress passed the Hyde amendment to halt federal financing of them. The Senate demonstrated that it was unwilling to confirm anti-abortion nominees to the Supreme Court with Robert Bork's defeat in 1987.
On 29 January 1988, Ronald Reagan forbade federally-funded health clinics to advise women on abortion, and in 1989, George Bush banned the use of fetal tissue in medical experiments. William Clinton reversed these policies by executive order on 22 January 1992 and committed his administration to appointing judges who were pro-abortion.
Anti-abortion protests turned increasingly confrontational and violent after 1992, when massive pro-life demonstrations led to thousands of arrests in Wichita, Kans., where a family-planning center physician was later wounded on 19 August 1993. At a Pensacola, Fla., abortion clinic, pro-life activists killed one doctor on 10 March 1993; on 29 July 1994, they killed another doctor and wounded two helpers at the clinic. Congress responded with legislation in 1993 that made intimidation or use of force against abortion clinic personnel a federal offense.