AP®︎/College US History
- The slave economy
- Life for enslaved men and women
- Early abolition
- Uncle Tom's Cabin - influence of the Fugitive Slave Act
- Uncle Tom's Cabin - plot and analysis
- Uncle Tom's Cabin - reception and significance
- Sectional conflict: Regional differences
- Sectional conflict: regional differences
The abolition movement sought to end the practice of slavery in the United States.
- Abolitionism was a social reform effort to abolish slavery in the United States. It started in the mid-eighteenth century and lasted until 1865, when slavery was officially outlawed after the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
- The movement evolved from religious roots to become a political effort that at times erupted into violence.
- Though most abolitionists were white, devoutly religious men and women, some of the most powerful and influential members of the movement were African American women and men who escaped from bondage.
Origins of the abolition movement
Opposition to slavery started as a moral and religious movement centered on the belief that everyone was equal in the eyes of God. Not confined to a single church, early antislavery sentiment was common among Mennonites, Quakers, Presbyterians, Baptists, Amish, and other practitioners of Protestant denominations. From its religious roots in the eighteenth century, abolitionist sentiment, or the belief slavery should be completely eradicated, evolved into the formation of antislavery societies in the early nineteenth century. These societies aimed to raise awareness about the moral evils of slavery. The moral character of the abolitionist appeals were a common rhetorical feature of the Second Great Awakening, a bubbling social movement of the first half of the nineteenth century.
The colonization movement, an early effort of the abolition movement, sought to free enslaved people and send them back to Africa. This was viewed by antislavery activists as a compromise with a deeply racist white society that they believed would never accept black equality. The American Colonization Society, founded in 1817, set up a colony on the west coast of Africa in 1822, called Monrovia, in present-day Liberia. By 1860, nearly 12,000 African Americans had returned to Africa. But the colonization project met with hostility from white Southern slaveholders who were adamantly opposed to freeing their slaves. Moreover, some abolitionists opposed the colonization movement, viewing it as unjust to remove African Americans from the land of their birth.
Abolitionism in black and white
The Missouri Compromise of 1820, which allowed Missouri to enter the Union as a slave state, ignited antislavery sentiment in the North. The abolitionist movement, which gathered steam in the years after the compromise, was centered in New England and many prominent leaders of the movement were white, upper-middle-class social reformers and clergy members.
William Lloyd Garrison, a journalist from Massachusetts, was one of the most radical and influential abolitionists. In 1831, he founded the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator, which advocated for the immediate emancipation of all enslaved men and women. In the first issue of The Liberator, Garrison published an open letter, “To the Public,” which called for the “immediate enfranchisement of our slave population." Garrison was also one of the most radical members of the American Anti-Slavery Society, AAS, a national organization established in 1833. The AAS was highly effective at igniting moral outrage over the institution of slavery, but ultimately, the organization was impeded by disagreements between members over the position of women and tactical uses of violence within the antislavery movement.
Portrait of William Lloyd Garrison
Many Americans reacted negatively to seeing women so active in the public sphere. This propelled the question of a woman’s proper role in society to the forefront of political debate; the Grimké sisters then became instrumental in a related social cause, the early women’s rights movement . Lydia Maria Child, an abolitionist and feminist, observed, “The comparison between women and the colored race is striking . . . both have been kept in subjection by physical force.” Other women who would become prominent in the women’s rights movement, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, and Susan B. Anthony, agreed.
Free northern African Americans, as well as those who had escaped enslavement, played a vital role in the movement by virtue of their firsthand experience of slavery. In 1845, Frederick Douglass—who had escaped slavery himself—published his memoir, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, one of the most influential memoirs of an enslaved person in US history. Douglass was a tireless advocate for the abolition of slavery and was also a strong supporter of the early women's rights movement.
Increasing sectional division over slavery
In 1850, Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act, which legally required Americans to return any African American who had escaped enslavement to his or her owner. It was a major victory for the slaveholding South and directly inspired social reformer and abolition activist Harriet Beecher Stowe to pen the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which quickly became a bestseller and fueled the antislavery cause across the nation. Abolitionism would soon become more radical in response to the political developments and rising sectional tension of the 1850s.
What do you think?
What were the most important influences on the abolitionist movement?
In your opinion, who was the most influential abolitionist leader?
How were the abolitionist and early women’s movements related?
Want to join the conversation?
- What is the difference between anti-slavery and abolitionism?(3 votes)
- Anti-slavery just means that a person was against the institution of slavery, whereas abolitionism means that someone was taking steps to actually end it. A lot of people would be anti-slavery, but just didn't want to use the practice. Abolitionists didn't want anyone to use slavery, whether for moral reasons, economic reasons, etc...(24 votes)
- Where was the facility worst? I mean, If many African American had been turned back to West Africa, wouldn't they suffer from similar conditions of labor work, properties' restrictions and detrimental life rules? Thank you.(1 vote)
- Ask yourself if it is better to be imprisoned and enslaved, but fed, or free and living "poor". What is the value of freedom? People in Hong Kong have been marching by the millions in recent months over just this question. the government of China is saying to the, "give up your freedom and be rich," while the people of Hong Kong are saying, "let us live freely."(14 votes)
- Why did Congress pass the Fugitive Slave Act?(2 votes)
- My guess is that they tried to compromise between north and south, trying to please both.(4 votes)
- what effect did the novel Uncle Tom's Cabin make?(1 vote)
- Uncle Tom's Cabin had a huge impact on slavery. Basically, it gave a huge push to the ending of slavery. It was a very influential book.(3 votes)
- Were these movements worth risking your life or popularity to receive what you believe was right?(1 vote)
- Doing what's right is ALWAYS worth more than retaining one's popularity. Don't forget that. Many things that are right are also worth risking one's life. Sadly, many of us choose to do what's wrong all too often.(4 votes)
- was segregation worse than the process of abolishing slavery?(1 vote)
- it was better than slavery but not as good as equality.(4 votes)
- What reasons made northerners (abolitionists or not) want to not spread or abolish slavery?(3 votes)
- You ask, 'what reasons'. I respond, "Christian Love."(0 votes)
- why were the protestants in specific so anti-slavery(1 vote)
- One might claim that their faith made them see the value of all people whom God created. BUT, that wouldn't explain the pro-slavery views of many protestants, would it? So it must have something to do with a non-religious drive. Perhaps a universal love for humanity, or an economic drive like, slaves are unprofitable where we reside, nobody should have them anywhere else. Maybe it was a sense of justice when confronted with evidence of the terrible treatment of the enslaved.
In sum, it probably had little to do with being "protestant".(4 votes)
- Did Frederick Douglass ever got whipped?(2 votes)
- Frederick Douglass as a Child got away mostly with Whipping. However after leaving relatively Mr.Auld's safe house of Baltimore and returning to Lloyd's plantation, he got whipped several times as per his autobiography. He also mentions that fight with Covey, The Negro Breaker, is the last time he avoided whipping and he stood up his ground whenever he faced physical abuse.(2 votes)
- Anti slavery just means that a person was against the institution of slavery.(1 vote)
- Against the institution, certainly. But also against the attitudes upon which the institution was based.(3 votes)