Then, as now, Massachusetts was "ahead" of the learning curve in judicial activism. In 1783 they abolished slavery by judicial decree, not by democratic majority vote.
Slavery was abolished by a judicial decision based on a case involving a slave, Quork Walker, who had sued for his freedom based on the master's verbal promise. State constitution later declared: "All men are born free and equal, and have certain, natural, essential, and inalienable rights."[Hat tip: David Boaz for the link.]
Indeed, in 1772, a judicial decree, not democratic vote, paved the way for the end of slavery in England (I previously thought that this decision, issued by Lord Mansfield, abolished slavery in England, but as this link indicates, it's a bit more complicated).
When individual rights are antecedent to majority rule (as is the case in liberal democracy), it figures that what is commonly called "judicial activism" will be an unavoidable feature of law and life. Well, at least it will be in common law nations where the judiciary is given such an important role.