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Abolition Movement Essay

Nineteenth century America bore a perplexing set of movements. Most of which aimed largely to reform American society. At this era, America is redefining her identity. Such was a significant time for reformation movement to peak. The Temperance Movement, religious “Second Great Awakening” and Women’s Rights Movement are along some of the major efforts attempted to improve the nation and its people. Most important of all, the Abolition Movement, which the very foundation of freedom in America was redefined.

The American abolition movement emerged in the early 1830’s as the by-product of “Second Great Awakening.”[1] Revivalistic tenets led the abolitionist to view slavery as a product of personal sin. They demand emancipation as the price of repentance.[2] This religious revival resulted to thousands of conversions to evangelical religions.[3]

Slavery was one of the issues in America which most people sought to end. As early as 1688, the Society of Friends, also known as Quakers, took a public stand against slavery.[4] Even though most quakers own slaves when they first came to America. William Buriling, Ralph Sandiford, Benhamin Lay, John Woolman and Anthony Benezet were among the society’s members who largely determined their policy.

These people were the salient figures who primarily opposed slavery within the society. By late 1700s and 1800s, the Society of Friends declared their protest against slavery. Quakers opposed it on religious grounds. Others contended that slave owners violated the very principles that the Founding Fathers and the Declaration of Independence had established in 1776.

Many religious figures had largely contributed to America’s history of slavery. One was Lyman Beecher, one of the country’s prominent nineteenth- century clergymen and a revivalist of Second Great Awakening.[5] Students of the school where Beecher became pastor, debated the issue on slavery and preferred to adopt abolitionism, which the board of the school opposed. In protest many students including Theodore Weld left the school.[6]

Religion had intruded on slavery issues even during the establishment of Quakers. It is often said that this group have influence beyond their numbers. Through their social class and background, Quakers have shared an important role in forming America’s history as well as the society.

In 1833, the American Anti-Slavery Society was established by William Lloyd Garisson[7] with fellow abolitionists Arthur Tappan, Lewis Tappan, and Theodore Dwight Weld. It attracted a crowd with lecturing agents, petition drives and a wide variety of printed materials, condemning slavery on moral grounds. The organization sent lecturers about the brutality of slavery across the North, including Ohio. Unfortunately, abolitionists’ appeal of emancipation were rejected by higher institutions as well as individual slave-owners.

Some important figures in the emancipation in America were blacks, themselves. Most prominent black during the period started their journey from the oppression of slavery of the Southern states toward more desirable freedom enjoyed at Northern states. In this freedom, they did not grow complacent while their people and family still suffer from inflictions of the institution of slavery. The most famous of this divine ordeal was that of Harriet Tubman.

Harriet Tubman[8] was a slave from Maryland. She suffered all her life from seizures, headaches and hypersomia having had knocked in the head with a heavy iron weight by a slave owner. In 1894 she escaped to Philadelphia where she met with William Still, the Philadelphia stationmaster on the underground railroad. Still, along with the Philadelphia Anti-slavery Society, enlightened Tubman of the workings of the underground railway.

Eventually, she became a conductor for the underground railway. Dubbed as the “Moses of her people”, she helped provide safety and salvation to an approximately 300 slaves. She worked various jobs in order to finance her actives as a conductor. During the Civil War, she served as a soldier, spy and a nurse for the Union.

Another women of considerable existence was Soujorner Truth. Truth had been born a slave from Ulster County, New York at a time wherein the state still permits slaves. The anti-slavery law of 1827 freed her from bondage. Her freedom prompt her to be an active abolitionist and a woman’s rights advocate.

Truth became one of the most famous orator of her day. Her passion came from her desire to abolish slavery and help her fellow black. Her speeches against the evils of slavery “shamed many people who were apathetic and passive”. She also fights for women suffrage. Her speech, “Ain’t I, a Woman?”[9] was her legacy. The speech were made at 1851 Convention on Woman’s Rights after a clergyman remark women as “too weak and helpless”.

Another individual of which probably had the greatest impact for the cause, was Frederick Douglass. Douglass was probably the most important black figure in the abolition of slavery. His accomplishment had impact America on a political scale. His reputation was in an international level.

Douglass was born a slave in Maryland. He escaped from bondage and went to New Bedford with the help of a black navy named Ruggles. Although blacks are free in the city of New Bedford, it isn’t a paradise. Douglas observed the discrimination throughout the city.

 He subscribed to an abolitionist paper the Liberator by William Lloyd Garrison. Through the Liberator, Douglass were introduced to abolitionist movements. Garrison eventually became his personal hero.  Later he became a member of American Anti-Slavery Society. On August of 1841, an abolitionist meeting took place at New Bedford. Garrison saw Douglass, and he eventually recognized the potential. Douglass became an agent for Garrison. He became a traveling lecturer “touring the Northern states to talk about his life and sell subscriptions to the Liberator”.

The young Douglass “told stories of brutal beatings of slave owners to women, children and the elderly”. He told the story on how he broke the slave breaker Edward Covey[10]. He scorned clergyman “who warned slaves that they would be offending God if they disobeyed their masters”. He speaks of evil of masters breeding their female slaves.

He grew in skill within his trade that people began doubting his credibility. “How can such a slave have such a commanding master of words?” they told themselves. This provoked Douglass into revealing his true identity through the disclosure of personal details. He published an autobiography entitled “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave” against the protest of his mentor Garisson and some co-abolitionists.

The theme of the narrative is about moral force. “It is a story of triumph and dignity, courage and self-reliance over the evils of brutal, degrading slave system”. The narrative connotes the existing corruption in the human spirit that “robs both the master and slave of their freedom”. The book became popular in the North as well as in Europe. However, the Federal Law on fugitive slave threatened his freedom. The Law gave Thomas Auld the right to seize his property.

The threat prompted his tour in London where he was later joined by Garisson and other abolitionist. August of 1846 at World Temperance Convention in London, Douglass attacked the American Temperance Movement. He felt that temperance activist were hostile to free blacks.

Emancipation in Britain is still fresh among its people. In that regard Douglass felt little racial prejudice among the British. He carved connection among British and Europeans who were compassionate for the cause.             The tour “aroused goodwill for the abolitionist cause in the British Isle”. The success in Britain had propelled his reputation to an international level.

Douglass established friends and supporters in Britain. In fact, it was his British friends who paid[11] the price of Douglass’ freedom in America. With his renewed freedom he went to Rochester, New York to settle. The town had reputation of being pro-abolition. The women were also active in fighting for their rights. In here, he established a new anti-slavery publication, named North Star, which was not supported by Garisson. With the North Star he no longer have to cling with white abolitionist group of  Garisson.

The widening connection of Douglass open his mind to the political aspects of his cause. He began to question the Garissonian views. For Garisson, “abolishing slavery through violence is wrong”. Garisson believed he could convince the slave owners into giving up their slaves thus setting them free. A white militant named John Brown[12] helped convince Douglass that “pacifist means could not by themselves bring an end to slavery.”

Douglass believed that the North would never abolish slavery if it could cause the break up of the Union and collapse of the Constitution. “ He therefore decided that slavery would have to be ended through political reforms”. Tension began to rise when Douglass urged North Star reader to be politically active and be involved. The change in principle created factions within the abolitionist circle. He, however, did not allow such disputes to affect what he aspired to do.

Douglass became one of the most prominent and respected black of his time. His actions and success boosted the confidence of the black abolitionist. He tried to establish a black vocational school. Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin helped to raise the fund. Furthermore, his Rochester home became the most important station on the underground railroad. He became the superintendent of the entire system in his area.

The information regarding the evils of slavery are readily available due to hard work and perseverance of Frederick Douglas and William Lloyd Garrison[13]. However, the popularity of these informations are confined within the anti-slavery circle. In line with this, a fictional novel of abolitionist nature was published entitled Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The author was Harriet Beecher Stowe, an alleged daughter of Lyman Beecher. Uncle Tom’s Cabin had been published by weekly installment in the National Era from summer of 1851 to spring of 1852. Nevertheless, its popularity was still within the abolitionist circle.

Its popularity gained when the novel was published in full in 1852. Uncle Tom’s Cabin became the best selling fiction of its time. It is considered by many, as one of the most influential American works of fiction ever published. The fiction had made an impact on America’s inner inquiry and realization of identity and of morality.[14]

The success of the novel were founded on Stowe’s humanization of the slaves. The fiction places the reader in frontal view of the barbarity and “inhuman disintegration of families” which existed in the slavery system. Mothers were portrayed in their most desolate state when their masters sell their babies to a slave trader. The fiction appeal to the Christian soul as Stowe embodied Christ to Uncle Tom which is a black dutiful, loyal and a forgiving slave.

The works of fiction “arouse the antislavery sentiment in the North and provoke angry rebuttals in the South”. Oppositions of views paved the way to devisions. Slavery was no longer a problem of the south and it concerns the whole nation as a whole.

The culmination of all these events leads to a bloody battle between the Union and the Confederate slave states. The Union was fighting for a unified nation. The Confederates, on the other hand, wants to separate from the Union in order to secure their rights to own slaves. This disparity brought America to Civil War from 1861 to 1865. It was this reason why Abraham has been quoted saying to Stowe “So this is the little lady who started this war.”

The status of the South as an agricultural states contributed much to their dependencies on slaves. Slaves were utilized for their manual work on the fields and plantations. In contrast, the North are already being industrialized. Their production was dependent on factories and machineries.

It was the bloodiest battle that took place in American soil. The Confederate eventually succumb to the much equip forces of the Union. It was very devastating era that Americans have gone through in order to bring about change which redefined freedom in their constitution. Emancipation of all slaves was decreed to slaves states after the Civil War

The abolitionists had their victory through information dissemination. Victory was achieved through rallying speeches that awakened compassion and goodwill of humanity. The rallying cries of the oppressed accused passivity a crime. They have pressured those who claimed to be free to guard and fight for freedom. On the night of the proclamation, Douglass was quoted as saying “We were waiting and listening as for a bolt from the sky…we were watching…by the dim light of the stars for the dawn of a new day…we were longing for the answer to the agonizing prayers of centuries.”[15]


Scott, Donald. “ Evangelicalism, Revivalism and the Second Great Awakening.” TeacherServe from the National Humanities Center. October 2000. Queens College. 18 April 2009.


McKivigan, John. “A Brief History of the American Abolitionist Movement.” American Abolitionism. n.d. Indianapolis. 18 April 2009. <http://americanabolitionist.liberalarts.iupui.edu/brief.htm>

“The Second Great Awakening and the Age of Reform.” Teach US History. 19 April 2009. <>


“William L. Garrison.” Ohio History Central. 1 July 2005. A product of the Ohio Historical Society. 18 April 2009 <http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/entry.php?rec=167>

Robinson, B.A. “Religious Society of Friends (Quakers): Quaker History”. Religious Tolerance. 7 February 2006. Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. 19 April 2009. <http://www.religioustolerance.org/quaker1.htm>

Woodson, C.G. “Anthony Benezet.” Classics on American Slavery. 25 March 2003. Dinsmore Documentation. 19 April 2009. <http://www.dinsdoc.com/woodson-3.htm>

“Abolitionist.” Ohio History Central. 1 July 2005. A product of the Ohio Historical Society. 19 April 2009 <http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/entry.php?rec=569>

Sassi, Jonathan. “Great Questions of National Morality.” Common Place. 9. 1. ( October 2008): 19 pars. 19 April 2009. <http://www.common-place.org/vol-09/no-01/sassi/>

“Lyman Beecher.” Ohio History Central. 1 July 2005. A product of the Ohio Historical Society. 19 April 2009 <http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/entry.php?rec=53>

“Theodore Dwight Weld (1803-1895).” Forever Free.The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. 19 April 2009. <http://www.cincinnatilibrary.org/foreverfree/theodoreweld.html>

“The Effect of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” 123HelpMe.com. 18 Apr 2009 <http://www.123HelpMe.com/view.asp?id=16788>

Thomas, Sandra. “Frederick Douglass:Abolitionist/Editor” 19 April 2009. <http://www.history.rochester.edu/class/douglass/home.html#contents>

“The Life of Harriet Tubman.” New York History Net. 20 February 2008. 19 April 2009 <http://www.nyhistory.com/harriettubman/life.htm>.

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