AMERICAN ABOLITIONIST MOVEMENT
The American Abolitionist Movement is the name for the advancements made in the United States towards ending the practise of slavery. For instance, the term ‘abolition’ means to stop or end something. As such, an abolitionist is someone who was working to ban slavery. The American Abolitionist Movement is considered to have occurred from the late 1700s until 1865 when the American government abolished slavery following the end of the American Civil War. Also, it should be noted that the American Abolitionist Movement occurred alongside the efforts of British abolitionists and the British Abolitionist Movement.
Slavery was a common practise for much of human history. However, it reached a significant peak during the events of the Atlantic Slave Trade. The Atlantic Slave Trade began in the mid-15th century, reached its peak in the 18th century and concluded near the end of the 19th century. During the time of the Atlantic Slave Trade, approximately 12 million Africans were put on slave ships, sailed across the Atlantic Ocean and sold into slavery. In fact, approximately 600,000 African slaves were brought to the United States as part of the Atlantic Slave Trade, which amounts to about 5% of the total number of slaves from the time. Many of these slaves ended up working on plantations and households across the United States, and played a significant role in the production of certain goods. Click here to read more about the history of slavery in the United States.
EARLY EVENTS OF THE AMERICAN ABOLITIONIST MOVEMENT
As stated above, the American Abolitionist Movement first began in the time of the 1700s. In fact, early movements against slavery in America first emerged from devout religious groups, including the Quakers. The Quakers were a protestant group of Christians, who objected to slavery on spiritual grounds. In fact, Quakers in Pennsylvania protested the practise of slavery from as early at the late 1600s, which helped lead to a growth in abolitionism in the original Thirteen Colonies of the United States throughout he 18th century. For instance, the Colony of Georgia banned slavery in 1733, just a year after it was first founded. This was a difficult task for the Colony of Georgia and its founder, James Edward Oglethorpe, as slavery was a powerful economic interest at the time. More specifically, Oglethorpe faced continuous pressure from businesses and economic interests in the Colony of South Carolina.
Another early example of abolitionism in America was the creation of the first American abolitionist organization, which was called the Pennsylvania Abolition Society. The organization was founded on April 14th, 1775, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and was primarily led by Quakers. For a period of time in the 1780s, Benjamin Franklin served as the president of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society.
NORTH VS. SOUTH & AMERICAN SLAVERY
There was quite a divide between the Northern and Southern states in relation to their views on slavery and the Abolitionist Movement in the 18th and 19th centuries. More specifically, the Northern states were the first to support the American Abolitionist Movement and by the end of the 18th century, most Northern states has some sort of anti-slavery legislation. Such legislation was first introduced in New York in 1799 and New Jersey in 1804. However, the situation in the Southern states was much different, with most people supporting the practise of slavery well into the 19th century. In fact, by 1830 there were nearly 2 million slaves in the United States, and the vast majority of them were located in the Southern states. As such, the Southern states were economically centered on the practise of slavery, and the salve owners held a lot of financial and political influence at the time. This divide between the north and south is important because it set the stage for the conflict that emerged out of the American Civil War. With that said, it should be noted that although the Northern states supported the Abolitionist Movement before the Southern states, there were still many people in the north who disagreed with abolition. As well, there were in the Southern states who did support abolition, despite the lack of anti-slavery legislation. Regardless, the issue of slavery created a divide in the United States, especially in relation to whether or not slavery should be allowed in new states. This was especially true in the Missouri Compromise of 1820.
DIFFERING VIEWS ON ABOLITION IN AMERICA
Another major event in the history of the American Abolitionist Movement was the creation of Liberia and the actions of the American Colonization Society. The American Colonization Society was an organization first established in 1816 with the goal of transporting freed African American slaves to Africa. At the time, many people viewed returning freed slaves to Africa as preferable to allowing them to live free in the United States. As a result, the American Colonization Society created the colony of Liberia in Africa in the early 1820s. It then assisted freed African American slaves to migrate to the colony in the hopes of establishing new lives. This however, did not stop the main push for the Abolitionist Movement in the United States, as many argued that the freed slaves should be allowed to stay and live freely in America. In fact, some abolitionists were critical of the idea of forcing freed slaves to migrate back to Africa. This was also related to the Second Great Awakening in the 1820s, which was a Protestant movement in the United States that led to significant social reforms including abolitionism.
Throughout the 1830s and 1840s, the calls for abolition grew. However, while some argued in favor of immediate abolition, others argued that it should occur more slowly. In fact, one of the most influential people related to the American Abolitionist Movement was Frederick Douglass. Frederick Douglass is one of the most significant figures in American History, especially in relation to the time period of the American Civil War and the issue of slavery in the United States. More specifically, Frederick Douglass is remembered today as an important advocate against slavery and was a leader in the abolitionist movement of the United States. In fact, after being freed from slavery himself, Frederick Douglass became known for his public speaking and his ability to intelligently debate a variety a topics. Today, he is remembered for his efforts to end slavery in the United States including his many speeches and writings.
One of the ways that Frederick Douglass aided the American Abolitionist Movement was by expressing his own story of slavery through his many public speeches and in his writings. Of all of his writings, Douglass is most famous for his three autobiographies. Douglass’ first autobiography, ‘Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave’, was written while he was living in Lynn, Massachusetts and first published in 1845. At the time it was a bestseller and printed in multiple languages. It is one of the most influential pieces of writing in the 19th century and had a profound impact on the anti-slavery movement in the United States. For instance, in the autobiography, Douglass details his life as a slave and his escape to freedom. The narrative was so eloquent in its language that some at the time, questioned whether it had actually been written by a former slave. This highlights the power of Douglass’ writing and his life’s story. Today, it stands as the single most significant account of slave life in the United States.
AMERICAN ANTI-SLAVERY SOCIETY
An important aspect of the American Abolitionist Movement in the 1830s was the creation of the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833. The American Anti-Slavery Society was an important abolitionist organization in the United States and played a significant role in the Abolitionist Movement as it developed in the years before the outbreak of the American Civil War. In fact, the American Anti-Slavery Society was made up of prominent abolitionists including William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass. Furthermore, William Lloyd Garrison was a co-founder of the American Anti-Slavery Society and an important abolitionist writer. For instance, Garrison was the producer of the abolitionist newspaper, ‘The Liberator’. In this newspaper, along with his other writings and speeches, he would argue in favor of ‘immediate abolition’ and was critical of other who called for a gradual or slow end to slavery. He also served as an inspiration for Frederick Douglass, who similarly argued for an immediate end to slavery in the United States. In contrast to both Garrison and Douglass, many others supported a gradual end to slavery. This included most prominent politicians from the Northern states, including Abraham Lincoln. The American Anti-Slavery Society was important to the overall American Abolitionist Movement because it helped to spread the abolitionist message across the United States. For example, it established 1,350 different local chapters across the country and had as many as 250,000 members by 1838. As an organization, the American Anti-Slavery Society existed until 1870 and helped advance the Abolitionist Movement.
Throughout the early and mid-1800s, the abolitionist movement in the United led to other developments, including the Underground Railroad. In general, the Underground Railroad was a system under which slaves from the Southern United States could escape into the Northern United States and Canada. It involved a series of routes, networks, and safe houses that escaped slaves could use as they travelled from the plantations in the south, to their freedom in the north. As well, many of the escaped slaves were aided by abolitionists who disagreed with the practise of slavery in the United States. For example, one of the most famous figures of the Underground Railroad was Harriet Tubman. It is generally accepted that as many as 100,000 slaves escaped their situation through the Underground Railroad by the middle of the 19th century.
LEAD UP TO THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR
The years before the outbreak of the American Civil War saw an increase in the tensions centered around the issue of slavery. For instance, on November 7th, 1837, Elijah Parish Lovejoy was murdered by a mob in Alton, Illinois. Lovejoy was an abolitionist news editor and publisher that produced abolitionist newspapers. On November 7th in 1837, his warehouse was raided by a mob that supported slavery and he was shot and killed. The murder of Lovejoy was shocking to many abolitionists at the time and inspired others to continue the fight for the American Abolitionist Movement.
The Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854 was a major event in both the American Civil War and the American Abolitionist Movement. In fact, the Kansas-Nebraska Act is known for being one of the key causes of the Civil War. The bill dealt with the hotly debated topic of whether or not newly created states would allow slavery or not. The addition of both Kansas and Nebraska to the United States was considered important to completing the Transcontinental Railroad, but it enflamed the issue of slavery. In fact, it led to the violent outbursts referred to as ‘Bleeding Kansas’. In short, the Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed states to chose for themselves whether slavery would be allowed and repealed the earlier Missouri Compromise.
The next major event in the build up to the American Civil War and the fight to end slavery was the raid by John Brown in 1859. John Brown was an abolitionist who argued in favor of using violence to bring about the end of slavery in the United States. He had first gained recognition for his actions in the ‘Bleeding Kansas’ violence that erupted in the buildup to the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Regardless, John Brown is also famous for his raid on Harpers Ferry from October 16th to the 18th in 1859. Harpers Ferry is a small town in Virginia that is home to a federal arsenal, which Brown aimed to invade. His plan was to lead his army into the armory, steal the guns and ammunition, and lead the slaves of the area into freedom with the backing of his newly found weaponry. Unfortunately for Brown and the men that followed him, the plan failed. In the end, Brown was arrested and sentenced to hang on December 2nd, 1859. John Brown’s raid was a pivotal moment in American history and foreshadowed the looming violence of the American Civil War. In fact, on the day of his execution John Brown famously stated “the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood. I had as I now think vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed it might be done.”
THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR & THE END OF SLAVERY
The American Civil War first began in 1861 and continued until 1865. It was one of the most significant events in all of American history and had a profound impact on the development of the United States. At its heart, the American Civil War was the result of growing tensions between the Northern states and Southern states on the issue of slavery. In general, the American Civil War involved the Northern states (also referred to as the ‘Union’) and the Southern states (also referred to as the ‘Confederacy’) fighting in many different major and bloody conflicts. However, another important event that occurred during this time that was significant to the American Abolitionist Movement was the Emancipation Proclamation. In short, the Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order issued by United States President Abraham Lincoln in regards to the issue of slavery in the Confederate States. Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 2nd, 1862, and it became effective as of January 1st of 1863. It declared that all slaves held in Confederate States were free. While the Civil War was not over yet, it essentially gave freedom to any slaves that were able to escape captivity in the Confederate States. This was an important step in the Abolitionist Movement as it foreshadowed the end of slavery that was to occur at the end of the Civil War. The violence and bloodshed of the American Civil War continued until 1865 when the Civil War ended with the surrender of the Confederate Generals. For example, most historians view the end of the Civil War as April 9th, 1865. This is when Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at the Battle of Appomattox Court House. The end of the American Civil War was significant in the history of slavery in the United States because it essentially led to the end of the practise and resulted in freedom for over four million African American slaves.
The final important events in the history of the American Abolitionist Movement was the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment and the Fifteen Amendment of the American Constitution. Together, they are often referred to as the ‘Reconstruction Amendments’ since they dealt with issues resulting from the end of the American Civil War and the period of Reconstruction in the United States. The Thirteenth Amendment, which was ratified on December 18th in 1865, abolished slavery in the United States. The Fourteenth Amendment, which was ratified three years later on July 9th in 1868, dealt with citizenship rights and equal protection under the law for former slaves. The Fifteenth Amendment, which was ratified five years later on February 3rd in 1870, protected the right to vote for people especially in relation to former slaves. Altogether, the three amendments were important in the American Abolitionist Movement, in that they finalized the fight to end slavery and the mistreatment of slaves in the United States. In fact, historians consider the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870 to be the end of the American Abolitionist Movement.
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