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Describe the formation of the abolitionist movement, the roles of various abolitionists, and the response of southerners and northerners to abolitionism.

Topics and Abolitionists on this page:

external image Image_from_abolitionist_pamphlet.jpg
  • Formation of the Abolitionist Movement

    • 50 Essential Documents
    • Black Abolitionists

  • Frederick Douglass

  • William Lloyd Garrison

  • Theodore Weld

  • Robert Purvis
  • Harriett Tubman
  • Sojourner Truth

  • Angelina and Sara Grimke

  • Lydia Maria Child

    • Abolitionist Leaders: A Comparison
    • Abolitionist Newspapers

Link to Influential Historical Literature Page for Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Focus Question: What was the abolitionist movement, who were its major figures and what was the response in the North and the South?

rotating gif.gifFor more on the abolition of slavery in northern states, including Massachusetts, see Grade 5.31.

Map_of_USA_MA.svg.pngSee also AP United States History 8.

Formation of the Abolitionist Movement

Therefore to a protestant abolitionist, it's a Christian's duty to be a moral person and change society for the better through the social gospel. Slavery was viewed by these northern protestants was the most unjust institution in American society.
  • In 1800, there was a small but growing number of abolitionists opposed to slavery. (Davidson 2007)
    • By 1820’s there were 100 plus anti-slavery organizations expressing the sentiment that Blacks should emigrate from America to Africa.

Abolition: 50 Essential Documents

The Mennonites, a Quaker group similar to the Amish, formed one of the first protest of slavery in 1688. It is referred to as the Germantown Protest. Click here to read the protest.

Some background info on the The Constitution and Slavery.

Rotating_globe-small.gifBlack Abolitionists

A portrait of Anthony Burns*
A portrait of Anthony Burns*

Allies for Emancipation? Black Abolitionists and Abraham Lincoln from the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

Screen Shot 2016-02-13 at 11.47.54 AM.pngHow Many Black Abolitionists Can You Name? from the Zinn Education Project.

primary_sources.PNGAbolition from the African American Mosaic at the Library of Congress with a focus on the American Anti-Slavery Society.

Quill_and_ink.pngBrief Biographies of Black Abolitionists from Zinn Education Project
  • Click here for the website of The David Walker Project which provides resources about an African American abolitionist in Boston, Massachusetts in the 1820s.

Multimedia.pngClick here for "I Will Be Heard": Abolitionism in America from Cornell University.

For a little-known part of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts, read about David Ruggles from the David Ruggles Center for Early Florence History and Underground Railroad Studies in Florence, Massachusetts.
  • More than 100 years before Rosa Parks, David Ruggles refused to give up his seat on a railroad train, was forcibly removed, sued the company, and although he lost the case, made a powerful statement for civil rights.

*Fugitive slave Anthony Burns's arrest and trial under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 touched off riots and protests by abolitionists and citizens of Boston in the spring of 1854.

massseal.gif See also the Massachusetts Underground Railroad Network from the National Park Service
external image Red_apple.jpgFor lesson plans, see Emerging America: Online Exhibits—Radical Equality, 1842-1846.
  • In 1842, radical abolitionists formed an Utopian community in Western Massachusetts around a bankrupt silk mill, the Northampton Association of Education and Industry).
    • Though the Association lasted just four years, it played exemplary roles in Abolitionism, the Utopian community movement, and the building of the New England textiles industry.

Check out this lesson plan for learning about the abolitionists. It includes templates for taking notes, links to speeches for and against slavery, and links to more biographies of abolitionists.

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass, 1856
Frederick Douglass, 1856

primary_sources.PNG"The Meaning of July Fourth of July for the Negro" (1852) was one of Douglass' most famous speeches.
  • He stated, "This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn."
  • He asked his audience, "Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day?"·
    • One of the most powerful abolitionists and perhaps the most important African American leader of the 19th century
      • He stated: “I appear this evening as a thief and a robber. I stole this head, these limbs, this body from my master, and ran off with them.”

primary_sources.PNGFrederick Douglass's papers from the Library of Congress
primary_sources.PNG Click here for his autobiography: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (1845) with a preface by William Lloyd Garrison.

For more information, go to the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site.

William Lloyd Garrison· He was a vocal abolitionist and social reformer who considered a radical political activist during his lifetime.

external image Garrison-william-lloyd-loc.jpg
· Garrison was very active in religious revivalist movements and was a strong believer in the social gospel.
· In 1828 Garrison became the editor of his own newspaper, The Liberator, in Massachusetts where he demanded the immediate abolition of slavery in the United States
· In 1835 he was dragged though the streets of Boston by a pro-slavery mob and publicly beaten.
-Garrison was also an early supporter of the Women's Suffrage Movement and the Alcohol Temperance Movement.

primary_sources.PNGThe Liberator: "To the Public"

primary_sources.PNGThe Liberator Files: A website of collected articles from The Liberator

Theodore Weld

external image Theodore_Dwight_Weld.jpg
  • Minister & student of Charles Finney
  • Brought much religious zeal to anti-slavery rallies
  • Click here to read more about Theodore Weld.

primary_sources.PNGWeld, with his wife and sister-in-law, (Grimke sisters, see below) Wrote American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses.
A collection of personal accounts from slaves and slave owners, that they hoped would help to shed light on the horrors of the life of a slave.

Robert Purvis
external image Robert_Purvis_daguerreotype_BPL.jpg
  • Mixed-race member of the American and Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Societies.
  • Was not a supporter of the 15th Amendment, because he did not want women to be left out.
    • Believed that there was a "double curse" upon black women, as they were disadvantaged both by their race and their gender.

Female_Rose.pngHarriett Tubman

rotating gif.gifFor more, see her entry in Influential Women in American History.

Woodcut image of Harriet Tubman
Woodcut image of Harriet Tubman

timeline2_rus.svg.pngClick here for a timeline of her life from the website African American History of Western New York, maintained by Scott W. Williams of the University of Buffalo.

Personally escaped from slavery and escorted more than 300 people from slavery via the Underground Railroad

As many as 50,000 gained freedom this way

Nicknamed Black Moses, after biblical leader who led the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.

Slave owners promised $40,000 reward for her capture.

She undertook these risky endeavors despite suffering from seizures, the result of a head injury from an abusive slave master.

She used many clever techniques to escort escaping slaves to safety, including carrying a gun not just for protection, but so she could stop any of her fellow fugitives from turning back; leaving on a Saturday so the news would not make the papers until Monday; and using a drug to quiet any crying baby.

Tubman was the only woman to lead a military operation during the Civil War, a successful naval operation in which Union ships took in fugitive slaves along the Combahee River in South Carolina.
Multimedia.pngClick here to view a short video about Harriet Tubman from the History Channel.
lessonplan.jpgFor curriculum ideas see Harriett Tubman and the Underground Railroad, a site developed by second grade students and their teachers from the Pocantico Hills School District in Sleepy Hollow, New York.
primary_sources.PNGFor documents related to her life and work, see The Moses of Her People.
lesson_plan_icon.jpgHarriet Tubman Web Hunt from Scholastic.com

Sojourner Truth, 1864
Sojourner Truth, 1864

Female_Rose.pngSojourner Truth

rotating gif.gifFor more, see her entry in Influential Women in American History

  • Born into slavery in NY state
  • Illiterate but spoke to inspire many
  • Inspired African Americans & women
  • Click here to read more about Sojourner Truth from PBS.

See also Things You Might Not Have Known about Sojourner Truth

primary_sources.PNGThe Narrative of Sojourner Truth (1850) is her autobiography.
primary_sources.PNG"Ain't I a Woman?" (1851) Speech to the Women's Convention, Akron Ohio.

Multimedia.pngClick here to hear and view women reading "Ain't I a Woman?" from Kansas State's Diversity Conference in 2011.

Angelina and Sarah Grimke

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Sarah Grimke

Screen Shot 2016-04-02 at 5.04.42 PM.png
Angelina Grimke

Click here for more on the Grimke Sisters from the National Park Service. Angelina Grimke was a well-known southerner who grew up in a wealthy slave owning family in Charlestown, South Carolina. She became a Quaker, an abolitionist, and lectured throughout the North against slavery and for women's rights. She was married to Theodore Weld (see above).

primary_sources.PNGAngelina Grimke gave a famous speech at Pennsylvania Hall in 1838. Speaking as a Southern had seen firsthand the "demoralizing influence" of slavery and its "destructiveness to human happiness," she gave an inspiring speech while rocks were thrown through windows and an unruly mob shouted outside. "

What is a mob?" she asked. "What would the breaking of every window be? Any evidence that we are wrong, or that slavery is a good and wholesome institution? What if the mob should burst in upon us, break up our meeting and commit violence upon our persons—would this be anything compared to what slaves endure?"

Click here for the rest of this historical document.

Click here to read more about the Grimke sisters.

Lydia Maria Child

Lydia Maria Child
Lydia Maria Child

From 1841-43, Lydia Maria Child served successfully as editor of the National Anti-Slavery Standard, the weekly New York newspaper of the American Anti-Slavery Society. She was a radical activist, supported women's suffrage, and was a major figure in the abolitionist movement.

Click here and here to read more about Lydia Maria Child.

Click here to view information about Lydia Maria Child as well as information about other abolitionists.
Multimedia.pngPreview for Over the River...Life of Lydia Maria Child

Female_Rose.pngWomen in the Abolitionist Movement: A Guided Tour from the National Women's History Museum.

external image Beecher-Stowe_2.jpg

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Harriet Beecher Stowe is the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, a novel based on thorough accounts of former slaves that Stowe had encountered and interviewed.

The novel gave Northerners a look at slave life, theextent of which many were not aware of. This inspired newfound determination to abolish slavery in the North and lots of outrage in the South, leading to claims that upon meeting her Lincoln proclaimed "So you're the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!"

Learn more on her page for Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Here's a compilation of Women Abolitionists along with some questions and activities for possible lesson plans.
This article from the National Parks Service gives an interesting look at the connections and the frictions between the abolition movement and the women's rights movement Neither Ballots nor Bullets: The Contest for Civil Rights.

Abolitionist Leaders: A Comparison


Here are some video clips of some of The Abolitionists from PBS.

Abolition and the North vs. South Response


Abolitionists Newspapers

timeline2_rus.svg.pngClick here to view a timeline of black press from PBS.
a. Freedom’s Journal
  • Founded in 1827 in New York
  • Started by a group of free African Americans
  • Created to counter mainstream racist press
  • Edited by Samuel E. Cornish and John B. Russwurm
  • Advocated for civil liberties and freedoms and for the end to lynching
  • Also sought to improve the lives of African Americans
    • Published bios of successful African Americans
    • List of housing, jobs, and schools
  • Cornish resigned in September of 1827
  • Russwurm started supporting the colonization movement
  • Lost readers due to radical change in position
  • Russwurm eventually emigrated to Liberia

Click here for more information.
external image Dagbladet_2._januar_1905_-_framside.JPGClick here to view a picture of the front page of Freedom's Journal, from Huffington Post.

b. Rights of All
  • After Russwurm left the US, Cornish returned to publication.
  • He attempted to revamp Freedom's Journal into Rights of All.
  • The paper shut down within 2 years, and little is known about the newspaper.

c. The Colored American
  • Founded in 1893 in Washington, DC
  • Owned by Edward Elder Cooper
  • Editorials and political cartoons that described life for African Americans
  • Advertising was focused on African American interests
  • Backed by Booker T. Washington
  • Cooper made bad investments
    • The Colored American was shut down in 1904 from debts
  • Selections of The Colored American from March 1837-March 1938.

d. Anglo African
  • Founded in 1859
  • Owned by Thomas and Robert Hamilton
    • sons of William Hamilton, an African American leader
  • Motto was “Man must be free, if not through the law, then above the law.”
  • Discussed African American politics, history, and future
  • Extensively covered Nat Turner's rebellion and trial and John Brown's raid
  • Supported the colonization movement
  • Was sold in 1860 to George Lawrence, Jr.
  • Supported moving to Haiti
  • Covered African American participation on the Civil War
primary_sources.PNGClick here for an Anglo African archive.

e. The Ram’s Horn
  • Published in Chicago starting in the 1890s
  • Published and edited by Willis A. Hodges
  • Frank Bread was its main illustrator
  • Click here to view the magazine's views on immigrant, the wealthy smoking, Prohibition, the trusts, political bosses, America in the world, and their religious views.

primary_sources.PNGFrom World Cat, archives of the Ram's Horn

f. The North Star
  • Created by Frederick Douglass (see above)
  • First published in December 1847
  • Became the most African American anti-slavery newspaper in the pre-Civil War era
  • Published weekly and was four pages
  • The motto of the newspaper was, “Right is of no sex—Truth is of no color—God is the Father of us all, and we are brethren.”
  • Douglass separated from the Liberator and William Lloyd Garrison because he wanted a abolitionist newspaper to be owned by African Americans.

Read more about The North Star, here and here.
primary_sources.PNGA re-print of an article written for The North Star on December 3, 1847.

g. The Liberator
  • Run by William Lloyd Garrison (see above)
  • Started on January 1, 1831 in Boston
  • It was published weekly.
  • Motto: "Our country is the world- our countrymen are mankind."

Click here to read more about William Lloyd Garrison and the Liberator.
primary_sources.PNGClick here for a full archive of the Liberator.

Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Poster, 1855
Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Poster, 1855

Reaction to abolition in the North
a. Abolition had many friends in the North, as that is where it originated
i. In 1780, PA was first state to pass a law to gradually eliminate slavery.
ii. By 1804, every Northern State had either eliminated slavery or pledged to do so.
iii. NY began abolition in 1777 and did not finish it until 1827. In the meantime there were many hard fought struggles over it.
iv. New Jersey held onto slavery the longest out of northern states.

b. Struggle in NY intensified as gangs disrupted antislavery meetings, smashed African Churches & schools. Many blacks were assaulted. (Berlin 2005)

c. Former President John Quincy Adams opposed slavery as a member of the House of Representatives. He attempted to pass legislation banning slavery from any new state

d. New York Manumission Society (1785-1849)
i. Purpose: Abolition in New York initially and then nearby northern states.
ii. Action:
1. Lobbied slaves owners to manumit slaves voluntarily
2. Legal representation for slaves
3. Protected free blacks and slaves against kidnappers
4. Sought to strengthen prohibitions on the import and export of slaves to NY
5. Sought to prevent inhumane treatment of slaves and remove provisions of the slave code permitting courts to deport slaves deemed guilty of crimes
6. Founded the African Free School in New York City to prepare freed New Yorkers for the responsibility of freedom

e. Free-soilers opposed free blacks in their communities for fear they would compete with free white labor

f. Utica, NY—merchants & professionals broke up the state Anti-Slavery convention in 1835.

g. Former Federalist Harrison Gray Otis portrayed abolitionists as subversives in Faneuil Hall in Boston in 1835. He argued if without caution students would be taught “A stands for abolition.”

h. Otis predicted abolitionists would cause a political calamity, while raising questions about the union & the nation.

i. Raid on Harper’s Ferry to attempt to start slave revolt by Nat Turner in Virginia.

Reaction of the South to abolition
a. Response to Nat Turner’s rebellion: present a positive view of slavery arguing slavery is good for African Americans and the entire society, while referring to salves as extended family. The planter was the family’s benevolent patriarch.

b. U.S. Senator James Henry Hammond argued the planter’s fatherly protection of workers assured a stable economy for the nation.

c. Thomas R. Dew, argued that without slavery, “the revolts of degraded and desperate workers would create anarchy and destroy democratic government.”

d. Josiah C. Nott argued that blacks were created to be slaves.

e. Spoke against T. Jefferson’s championing of equity, and stated it was a foolish idea that had been taken up by the “ignorant, uneducated, semi-barbous mass,” in post-Revolutionary France.

f. Restricted movements of northern black sailors in Southern ports, assemblages of Southern free blacks, postal delivery of anti-slavery writings, and expressions of antislavery sentiment in congress.

g. Antislavery literature was intercepted by the postmasters in the South to both seize and incinerate it.

h. Georgia passed a law to execute anyone distributing antislavery literature.

i. Abolitionist Press faced at least 160 instances of violence against antislavery forces between 1833 and 1838. (Horton & Horton 2005)

j. South Carolina intercepted and burned abolitionist literature.

k. In 1836, the House of Representatives passed the “gag rule,” which automatically tabled petitions against slavery.

l. By December 1860, the South seceded.

Compromise of 1850
a. For North: California was free state and slave trade banned in Washington, D.C.
b. For South: Popular sovereignty would be used to decide the question of slavery in the rest of Mexican Cession.
c. People in the respective state would vote for or against slavery.
d. Southerners got tough with the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, while outraging the north.

Lesson Plan Ideas:

Life in the North and South: Before Brother Fought Brother
Slavery-Abolitionist Movement
Explore these sources: The African-American Mosaic

Further Reading: Check out this book (or the extensive review from The Atlantic) - "The Slave's Cause"

Here's an interactive map that shows Abolition Movements Around the World throughout time!


Horton & Horton, J. (2005). Slavery and the Making of America. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Berlin, I., ed. (2005). Slavery in New York. New York, NY: The New Press.

Davidson & Stoff, J. (2007). America: History of Our Nati. Upple Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.