Abolitionist Movement
Guiding Questions
1) What historical forces led to the rise of the movement?
2) What methods/tactics were used to lead the movement?
3) What major figures involved in the movement?external image am_i_not_a_man.jpg
4) Was/Is the movement successful in achieving its goals?


The Abolitionist movement was accomplished through the perseverance of people to create a society in which everybody received equal rights. This reform movement was prompted by a realization of the moral and political injustices of slavery. Through religion, politics, lectures, and print, the abolitionists spread their ideas and awareness for their cause and worked hard to get rid of the harsh life slaves had to live. Ending slavery was not an easy goal to achieve, many exhausting years were dedicated to this cause. The controversies about slavery were so significant that the country divided and started the Civil War. However, slaves were finally freed with the writing of the Emancipation Proclamation along with the adoption of the 13th Amendment.

Influential Forces and Factors

British Army Persuasion
During the Revolutionary War fighting between the British and Americans as well as prevailing conflict caused there to be a rush to convince slaves to join their sides to fight. The British started the idea of bribing slaves to fight for their side by offering them freedom. The Americans soon realized that whoever convinced more slaves to fight for their side would win the advantage in the course of the war. They too began to offer freedom to slaves that would fight for them. This was the first time mass freeing of slaves was done. Although this freeing was not because of the desire to end moral corruption, or to cause equality for all, but rather was used as a tool in battle, it was still a step towards abolitionism.

Early Petitions
Slaves in the north during the 1770s wrote petitions for emancipation or travel to Africa that they sent to the legislature. They claimed that New England government officials were being hypocritical demanding freedom and equality for all Americans during the Revolution, yet still keeping blacks deprived of rights. They wrote that they were a, "Grate Number of Blacks of the Province who (were) held in a State of Slavery within the bowels of a free and Christian country (who in) common with all other men (had) a natural right to our freedom without being depriv'd of them by our fellow men." This petition failed to gain support of the legislature because the white leaders thought it would complicate matters for themselves, yet it brought some notice to the affair.

Religious Factors
The Second Great Awakening. This revivalism of religious spirit helped the American Abolition Movement emerge. The religious sentiment helped enforce the ideas that slavery was morally wrong and sinful racial discrimination. The goal was to have, "abolitionists see slavery as the product of personal sin and to demand emancipation as the price of repentance." They wanted people to have the fear of going against God's will cause them to reverse their sins by freeing the slaves.

The religious Quaker group also sparked abolitionism. They wanted a peaceful society which slavery most certainly did not bring. Because of their "vision of the spiritual equality of all believers", the Quakers believed that slavery should be abolished. They were one of the first groups to petition the enslavement of blacks in America. They believed that it was "unlawful kidnapping" and they "defended the seized Africans' right to armed rebellion. Quakers also claimed that slavery was "contrary to the golden rule of treating others as one would wish to be treated".

American Ideals
The Declaration of Independence, which was inspired by the Enlightenment Thinkers, claimed that "all men are created equal" and are granted "unalienable rights" including "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". Clearly slaves were not granted equal rights, nor were they free. Many abolitionists used the Declaration of Independence as their inspiration and as a building block for their arguments against slavery in the United States.

The harsh conditions of slavery made people believe how morally wrong it was. Slaves were not only forced to work with no pay, they were brutally tortured as well. They were whipped, beaten, insulted and oppressed everyday.

Scars from Whips

Physical Torture
Physical Torture

Obstacles and Challenges

Racial Prejudice and Discrimination
There was much racial prejudice present in America during the time of the Abolitionist movement. This was one obstacle that was hard to face, and is still present in modern day American culture. Since most slaves were black, they were often labeled as inferior and were thought that they did not deserve the same rights as white men in America. Most political leaders during this time were very close-minded and prejudice against blacks. For example, Thomas Jefferson blatantly stated multiple times that he believed that blacks were inferior to whites. To achieve their goal, abolitionists had to convince the most important politicians that slaves deserved to be free, but this was very difficult.

Need for Workers
Many farmers in the South were pro-slavery because slaves helped their businesses and farms. Slaves usually worked in the fields to harvest and care for crops that were then traded internally and to foreign nations. What would farmers do without the slaves? How would their farms thrive with no one tending to them?

Map of Free States (red) and Slave States (South - blue) after Missouri Compromise
Map of Free States (red) and Slave States (South - blue) after Missouri Compromise

Invention of the Cotton Gin
The invention of the Cotton Gin in 1793 by Eli Whitney caused the south to focus mainly on the cotton crop. Keeping this crop required much physical labor. The plantation owners did not want to do it themselves, or have to pay very much for it to be done, so slaves were a key part in the southern economy. In the north, they were much more focused on city life and industry. The southern and northern economies were very different. This difference in economies between the north and the south helps explain why most of the abolitionists were in the north, and the movement was centered there. Many of the the southern slave owners may not have necessary thought that it was morally right to own slaves, but because it benefitted them so much financially, they were not willing to give into the idea that slavery was wrong and needed to be abolished. The north was much more able to be against slavery because it did not effect them as much. Although they were purchasing cotton, and other slave produced goods, they were not so much attached to slavery and thus it was easier for them to down talk it, but the south relied heavily upon slavery.

Abolishing slavery would be a complex and difficult process that would take a lot of consideration. Sending slaves out into the world to live on their own would be new for them. There were "major controversies developed based on how abolition might best be achieved, rather than whether or not it ought to be". Some believed it would be better to gradually get rid of slavery, while others believed that it would be better to immediately free the slaves. Many questions were raised as to how freeing the slaves would take place because slavery had become a norm over the years.

Potential for Economic Competition
To many, abolishing slavery acted as a double-edged sword. Many "unskilled workers who feared economic competition with freed slaves" feared the abolition. However, keeping slavery would be very costly to slave owners and would defy the many moral teachings of the Christian community.

New Laws
The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 was a major obstacle for many abolitionists, especially in the North. This Law allowed the capture of escaped slaves by force and required citizens to aid in their capture. If bystanders refused to help in their capture or aid in the slaves escape, they could be fined or punished. This Law also did not grant the captured slaves a trial by jury and did not give the suposed escape slave a right to defend themselves. Because of this, many 'fugitives' were wrongly accused and captured. Abolitionists had to work their way around this law so that they could continue on promoting the abolition of slavery.

1851 Warning Flyer

Home Breeding
Although participating in the slave trade was made illegal, that did not end slavery because slaves were just bred from the already present population. According to a New York Daily Times Article from 1853, "Since the commencement of 1808 the importation of slaves from abroad, has, however, been strictly prohibited, and thus, with few exceptions the whole of the existing population may be said to have known no other condition than that of servitude from their earliest recollection, while a very large proportion have been born and bred altogether without an idea of practical liberty."

Tools and Methods

To make slavery abolition more appealing to many Americans, the American Colonization Society created the country of Liberia in Africa. Freed slaves were sent to this country so that they wouldn't 'contaminate' the pure white society. This was a tactic that not only allowed freed slaves a safe-haven, but also increased the appeal of abolition because it still promised Americans a pure white society. However, some slaves were against the creation of colonies because they would rather stay in their homeland on the soil that they knew.

Many American slaves, being fed up with their enslavement, rebelled and often resorted to violence. One of the most important slave rebellions happened in New Orleans in 1811 when 180-500 slaves traveled to the city with weapons including axes, guns, and even knives. They successfully reached their destination, only to be met with a federal military along with slave owners to stop the revolt. This had made slave owners "fearful of the future".

The Raid at Harpers Ferry was a rebellion led by the white abolitionist, John Brown in 1859. This was one of the most violent and intense rebellions against slavery. John Brown gathered an army and had ordered many weapons to use in this raid. He then traveled to Harpers Ferry and took over the United States Armory and Arsenal filled with weapons. He preceded to hold slave owners hostage and freed many slaves. Eventually, Robert E. Lee and his army arrived at Harpers Ferry and stopped the uprising. Many of Brown's men were arrested and later executed. Seventeen people died, the majority being members John Brown's army. This raid was a main cause of the Civil War.

Nat Turner was a slave from Virginia that gathered over 100 other slaves. During their revolt, they killed 60 whites and their rebellion continued on their rampage for six weeks before authorities could stop them. This rebellion not only increased the violence within the slave society, it also made slave owners more "aggressive in their defense of slavery and in their control of slaves". Even if these violent rebellion gave the slaves a feeling a power, they in turn were provoking the enemy.

Nat Turner Rebellion
Nat Turner Rebellion

The American Anti-Slavery Society created The Slave's Friend this was a pamphlet published every month that was geared towards children. It contained songs, poems, stories, and pages that persuaded children to collect money for the abolitionist cause. The Anti-Slavery Picknick was a collection of speeches, songs, poems, and dialogues that were to be used in schools and at anti-slavery meetings.

Frederick Douglass created the anti-slavery newspaper called The North Star. His paper was so successful because he gained a lot of support, especially from foreign nations. British abolitionists were especially helpful in encouraging him to publish this paper even though he had some financial difficulties. Douglass' paper was the "most influential black newspaper of the antebellum period".

William Lloyd Garrison began writing a periodical called The Liberator in 1831. He was one of the most radical abolitionists and one of the first to believe in immediate abolition instead of gradual. In his first issue of The Liberator he wrote that "I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject I do not wish to think, or speak, or write with moderation." He believed that abolition slavery had arrived at using intensity and force to save the unity of America.

The Underground Railroad
This was a set of secretive trails and homes that helped escape slaves on their journey to freedom in the North. This was a tool for abolitionists that helped to free slaves as well as a tool for slaves to continue their revolt against their forced labor. Harriet Tubman is one of the most known workers on this system. Slaves traveling on the Underground Railroad used songs and stories to guide them towards liberty. One of the most well-known songs is "Wade in the Water" which taught slaves to walk through the water so that slave catchers would not be able to follow their footprints.

Abolition Groups
The American Anti-Slavery Society was formed in 1833, during the Abolitionist movement. Members of this society were mostly radical whites who recognized that slavery was wrong and needed to be quickly abolished. It also included some freed slaves. They gained some decent support in the north. Their goals included urging the government to take action in achieving equality for blacks and whites. The main way the society attempted to get rid of slavery was through speeches, petitions, publications, and public lectures. Often times this was difficult because there was a large number of people who did not support the cause and were violent in expressing this. Meetings and rallies could help spread ideas and gain more anti-slavery supporters.

Political Tactics
In order to try and spread the word around more greatly, some abolitionists moved towards working for a reform in the government. They petitioned anti-slavery ideas, pounded candidates with questions on the moral injustice, and spread their votes around on write in candidates as to not elect candidates who rejected their views and would keep slavery. A new Political party was formed, the Liberty Party. Their goal was to convince emancipation through the government based on a need for the repeal of all racial discrimination. The anti-slavery groups of all types worked together to cause sectionalism and Southern secession which caused people to acknowledge the moral corruption that slavery was. The North put on pressure during the Civil War and caused President Abraham Lincoln to recognize emancipation as a goal: "Garrisonians rallied Northern public pressure, forcing President Abraham Lincoln to adopt emancipation as a war goal."

Major Figures

William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879)
He was one of the most well known abolitionists, but wasn't dedicated to this cause his entire life. He became a supporter of abolishing slavery after he met with Benjamin Lundy, a Quaker abolitionist. Even though Lundy best believed in gradual abolition and colonization by free slaves, Garrison had a different point of view. He thought that immediate abolition would be best for the United States and that colonization wouldn't be helpful. Garrison began writing on behalf of the anti-slavery argument and he became extremely agressive in his words. He was so violent that he was arrested and spent seven weeks in prison. He, unlike many other abolitionists, believed that persuading people to believe that slavery was morally wrong was the best way to go. He became president of the American Anti-Slavery Society. He had very radical beliefs. Many abolitionists that followed him came to be known as "Garrisonians." Garrison refuted the U.S. Constitution because it allowed the existence of slavery. Thus he was against the whole government and thought that the North should secede from the Union.

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896)
She was the author of the book, Uncle Tom's Cabin, which illustrated the horrific conditions in which slaves had to live. As this book began to grow in popularity sympthathies towards slaves and abolitionists grew.

Frederick Douglas (1818-1895)
He was an escaped slave that was 'purchased' by the British to become free. After becoming legally free, Douglas wrote a newspaper called "The North Star." Unlike other abolitionists, he believed in arguing against slavery by convincing Americans that slavery was a moral issue as well as a political issue. Even though the Constitution was mostely pro-slavery, he believed that the "Constitution's basic principles supported freedom." This was made clear in his response to the Dred Scott case in 1857 when Douglas stated that, "I base my sense of the certain overthrow of slavery, in part, upon the nature of the American government, the Constitution, the tendencies of the age, and the character of the American People." Frederick Douglas also "challenged America to shun the prejudices and practices of white supremacy and embrace the egalitarianism of universal human rights."

Theodore Dwight Weld, Arthur Tappan, and Arthur's Brother Lewis, were the founders of the American Anti-Slavery Society. This was a society founded in 1833 in Philadelphia. It was the first organization to call for immediate emancipation of all slaves, not gradual. The most noteworthy member was President William Loyd Garrison.

John Brown (1800-1859)
He was a white abolitionist with very unique methods. Unlike many of his fellow abolitionists, he often used violent tactics to fight slavery. He led many raids and attacks, many of which were thwarted by local farmers. Among his many ideas was arming slaves with weapons to fight for their freedom. At one point Brown lived in a black community. He and his wife even adopted a black child and raised it as their own. In Missouri and Kansas he fought guerrilla battles against pro-slavery communities. He brutally killed five settlers of a pro slavery town single-handedly. He wanted to start a war against slavery in Virginia, yet he was wounded and tried for treason in Virginia, and ended up being hanged on December 2nd, 1859. Despite his unsuccessful use of violence to fight slavery, many northern abolitionist respected his recognition of unjust human laws and attempts to resist them. A song was made up about John Brown - "John Brown's Body," and was sung by many abolitionists and slaves on their escape to freedom.

Grimke Sisters
Sarah and Angelina Grimke were Quakers from South Carolina. Because of their southern roots, they had firsthand experience with slavery, even on their family's plantation, as their father was an advocate of slavery. From a young age they recongized the cruelty of slavery. One even tried to teach one of her personal slaves to read. Once old enough and on their own, they went north and began lecturing about their experiences with slavery and other needs for social reforms. They were also a big part of the Women's rights Movement.

Harriet Tubman (1820-1913)
An escaped slave from Maryland herself, she was one of the best conductors of the Underground Railroad. "During a ten year span she made 19 trips into the South and escorted over 300 slaves to freedom." On all of these journeys, she "never lost a single passenger." Her success was due to having faith, following the north star, and carrying a gun with which she used to motivate the fugitives to keep going and also to threaten anyone who got in her way. She was such a threat to white plantation owners that her capture would have been worth $40,000.

Harriet Tubman
Harriet Tubman

Wendell Phillips (1811-1884)
He was converted to believe in abolitionism by his wife. He joined the American Anti-Slavery Society and shared multiple beliefs with William Lloyd Garrison. Like Garrison, Phillips thought that slavery contradicted the Constitution and that abolishing slavery through political means wouldn't be helpful. He often published articles in Garrison's paper, The Liberator. However, unlike Garrison, Phillips thought that forced needed to be used to free the slaves, so he ended up assisting and defending those who helped John Brown in his raid at Harpers Ferry. Phillips attemted to free a captured slave from jail, but was unsuccessful.
Wendell Phillips
Wendell Phillips

Sojourner Truth (1797-1883)
She was a slave herself, and was treated very cruelly. She escaped to freedom in 1826. She had a lifechanging religious experience and then decided to work on the abolitionist movment, and later the women's rights movement. She wrote and speeched, "Ain't I a Women?" and it inspired many to help her cause.

Success of Movement

Emancipation Proclamation
This reform movement appeared successful towards the end of the Civil War when the Union (the Northern states who were against slavery) won the battle. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. This document freed all slaves in the United States and prohibited any further capturing by government officials. This led to the 13th Amendment.


13th Amendment
The hard work of the abolitionists and Abraham Lincoln paid off when Congress passed the 13th Amendment in 1865. This made all types of slavery and forced, unpaid labor illegal in the United States except to serve as punishment.

Ratification of the 13th Amendment
Ratification of the 13th Amendment

Inspiration for Other Movements
The unity and strength of Abolitionism sparked other reform movements as well. It was a "major engine for social reform. Many reformers involved in the abolition cause later supported women's rights, public education, and world peace."

Contemporary Relevance

This video shows how the determination and perseverance of the participants in the abolitionist movement have inspired people, including political leaders, in contemporary American society.

Human Trafficking
Even though slavery and involuntary servitude was abolished with the creation of the 13th Amendment in 1865, it still exists today. Human trafficking includes force labor and sexul exploitation. It is the "recruitment and transportation of persons through coercion, deception, or some other form of illicit influence." Millions of people are victims of human trafficking throughout the world and thousands are tortured by it in the United States. Human trafficking awareness and abolition groups resemble those during the abolitionist movement in the early 19th century.

The fight against slavery is one of the most mentioned events in history. Slavery was a serious issue that split 19th century America into two different sections. The abolitionists and slaves are recognized as brave advocates for human justice.

Discrimination and Inequality
The majority of slaves were African American and were viewed as inferior in the white American society. This idea and belief has carried on into modern society. There has been a fight for civil and equal rights for all races of Americans and many racial prejudices are still present in the American culture.