“Slavery is such an atrocious debasement of human nature,” said Benjamin Franklin.
The founding of the United States marked a turning point in early American views on slavery. Nearly 200 hundred years had passed since the first slaves entered the colony of Virginia. Victory in the War of Independence (1776-1783) brought forth new political freedoms, and the founding fathers sought to preserve and protect these liberties by framing government accordingly.
The Americas provided fertile ground for one English abolitionist, Josiah Wedgwood. In 1787, the artist presented Benjamin Franklin with a collection of small cameo medallions, which advertised their wearers’ support of the abolishment of slavery. The medallions were immediately popular among American supporters of the cause.
Perhaps Franklin’s own words, written to Wedgwood, best captured the medallions’ importance: “I am distributing your valuable present of cameos among my friends in whose countenances I have seen such marks of being affected …that I am persuaded it may have an effect equal to that of the best written pamphlet.”