Summary Objective 12

Students will understand the growth of the abolitionist movement in the 1830s and the slaveholding states' view of the movement as a physical, economic and political threat. Maps to Key Concepts 3, 5, 7, 9 & 10


What else should my students know?

12.A Opposition to slavery in North America dates to slavery's beginnings there. Enslaved men and women were constantly seeking ways to use the religious and  civil values espoused by enslavers to argue for their own freedom. They were joined by some white Quakers in the mid-18th century.

12.B During the Revolution, many enslaved people actively sought their freedom by escaping to the British or by adopting the language of inalienable rights and challenging white American colonists to live up to their liberty-loving rhetoric. (See Summary Objective 6, page 14.) 

12.C African-American opposition to the American Colonization Society, promoted by those who wanted to remove African Americans and particularly free black people from the United States, signaled a new, centralized movement to promote abolition. In 1829, David Walker's Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World rallied free African Americans to the abolitionist cause and urged enslaved African Americans to rise up in rebellion.

12.D William Lloyd Garrison and his black allies launched the radical abolitionist movement in 1831 using the ideas of all of these predecessors. Garrison began promoting immediate abolition as an alternative to gradual emancipation or colonization. He started publishing the anti-slavery newspaper The Liberator in 1831 and founded the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833.

12.E White women and free black Northerners were among the largest groups represented in northern abolitionist societies. Even so, scholars estimate that abolitionists never accounted for more than one percent of the population.

12.F Fugitives also played a vital role in the abolitionist movement and were some of its most effective speakers.

12.G Southern lawmakers and cultural leaders reacted to the growth of northern abolition with an increased commitment to defending slavery as a positive good and with political actions to prevent the spread of the abolitionist message in the South.


How can I teach this?

  • Angelina and Sarah Grimké were sisters from South Carolina who became prominent advocates of abolition and women’s rights. Their writings are readily available.
  • Sarah Parker Remond and her brother Charles Lenox Remond were members of a prominent free black family from Salem, Massachusetts. Both became popular anti-slavery lecturers.
  • Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman are among the most well known of the many formerly enslaved people who became abolitionists. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is among several fugitive slave narratives available through the website Documenting the American South.
  • Copies of The Liberator are widely available online.
  • Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was an effective way to educate Northerners on the horrors of slavery, even though it perpetuated many racist stereotypes.
  • To understand the southern reaction to abolition, see the 1836 Gag Rule, which automatically “tabled” (postponed) action on all abolitionist petitions relating to slavery without hearing them. Speeches on the subject by John Quincy Adams are also useful.
  • In 1835, the American Anti-Slavery Society began a direct mail campaign in the South. Local postmasters refused to deliver the mail and mobs in Charleston, South Carolina, burned the anti-slavery materials along with effigies of abolitionists. Following this campaign, various slave states passed laws that made it illegal to deliver abolitionist materials. The blog of the Postal Museum includes a short article detailing this event: “America’s First Direct Mail Campaign.”
  • David Walker’s 1829 Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World described the conditions of African-American people in slavery and called on them to rise up against their enslavers. Walker’s Appeal was smuggled into the South using underground networks and subterfuge. Enslavers severely punished anyone caught reading or distributing it. For an overview of the Appeal (including excerpts) and its distribution, see the site of The David Walker Memorial Project.
  • Free and fugitive black Northerners participated in “Colored Conventions” to pursue educational, labor and legal goals. Before the war, the delegates to these conventions discussed, among other topics, colonization and immediate abolition.
  • After the growth of abolitionist societies, Southerners produced a number of forceful defenses of slavery grounded in specific ideas about religion and science. For examples, see John C. Calhoun's “Slavery as a Positive Good” from 1837, James Henry Hammond’s “Letter to an English Abolitionist, 1845” or Hammond's 1858 speech, “Cotton is King.”
  • Southerners also produced defenses of slavery grounded in the comparisons between enslaved men and women and the northern working class.  See, for example, the poem “The Hireling and the Slave” by William Grayson.

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