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American Abolitionist Movement

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  • Dr. Moses Bloomfield (1729 - 1791)
    Tombstone inscription: "Doctor Moses BLOOMFIELD, 40 yrs physician & surgeon in this Town, senior physician and surgeon in the Hospitals of the U. S. Representative in the provincial Congress and gene...
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    Henry Lee Morey US Congressman. William Morey in his early life was a hatter and to buy furs he occasionally visited New Orleans, where he witnessed the workings of slavery. He abhorred what he saw...
  • Julia Archibald Holmes (1838 - 1887)
    On August 5, 1858, 20-year-old Julia Archibald Holmes reached the lofty 14,115-foot summit of Pikes Peak, perhaps the most famous mountain in the United States. Not only did Miss Holmes become the firs...
  • Anna Elizabeth Dickinson (1842 - 1932)
    Anna Elizabeth Dickinson (October 28, 1842 – October 22, 1932) was an American orator and lecturer. An advocate for the abolition of slavery and for women's suffrage, as well as a gifted teach...
  • Jeremiah Rankin (1828 - 1903)
    Jeremiah Eames Rankin (January 2, 1828 - November 28, 1903) was an abolitionist, champion of the temperance movement, minister of Washington D.C.'s First Congregational Church, and correspondent with...

Abolitionism is the doctrine that slavery must be ended. It is supported by activities that might achieve this goal. It is largely of historic interest because nearly all nations have abolished slavery within their borders.

This project recognizes abolitionists — supporters of this doctrine — and the families of abolitionists.

In western Europe and the Americas abolitionism was a movement to end the slave trade and set slaves free. At the behest of Dominican priest Bartolomé de las Casas who was shocked at the treatment of natives in the New World, Spain enacted the first European law abolishing colonial slavery in 1542, but was forced to weaken these laws by 1545. In the 17th century Quakers and evangelical religious groups condemned slavery as un-Christian. In the 18th century, rationalist thinkers of the Enlightenment criticized it for violating the rights of man. Though anti-slavery sentiments were widespread by the late 18th century, they had little immediate effect on the centers of slavery: the West Indies, South America, and the most southern United States. The Somersett's case in 1772 that emancipated a slave in England, helped launch the movement to abolish slavery in that country. Pennsylvania passed An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery in 1780. In Massachusetts ratification of the Massachusetts Constitution essentially brought an end to slavery in that state through court cases, although there was no abolition law.

France abolished slavery in 1789 as a component of its revolution, but Napoleon restored slavery in France's colonies a few years later. Haiti, one of France's colonies, achieving independence through revolt, partly by its slaves, brought an end to slavery there early in the 19th century. Britain banned the importation of African slaves in its colonies in 1807, and the United States followed in 1808. Britain abolished slavery throughout the British Empire with the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833, the French colonies abolished it 15 years later. The United States abolished slavery in 1865 with the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Abolitionism in the West was preceded by the Laws of the Indies in 1542, in which Emperor Charles V declared free all Native American slaves, abolishing slavery of these races, and declaring them citizens of the Empire with full rights. The move was inspired by writings of the Spanish monk Bartolomé de las Casas and the School of Salamanca. Spanish settlers replaced the Native American slaves with enslaved laborers brought from Africa and thus did not abolish slavery. In Eastern Europe, abolitionism has played out in movements to end the enslavement of the Roma in Wallachia and Moldavia and to emancipate the serfs in Russia (Emancipation reform of 1861).

Today, child and adult slavery and forced labor are illegal in most countries, and are against international law.

The Abolitionist Movement in the United States, 1688 - 1865

In eleven States constituting the American South, slavery was a social and powerful economic institution, integral to the agricultural economy. By the 1860 United States Census, the slave population in the United States had grown to four million.

American abolitionism labored under the handicap that it was accused of threatening the harmony of North and South in the Union. The abolitionist movement in the North was led by social reformers such as Frederick Douglass; and free blacks such as brothers Charles Henry Langston and John Mercer Langston, who helped found the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society.

The 1860 presidential victory of Abraham Lincoln, who opposed the spread of slavery to the Western United States, marked a turning point in the movement. Convinced that their way of life was threatened, the Southern states seceded from the Union, which led to the American Civil War. In 1863, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves held in the Confederate States; the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (1865) prohibited slavery throughout the country.

Calls for abolition

The first American movement to abolish slavery came in April 1688 when German and Dutch Quakers of Mennonite descent in Germantown, Pennsylvania (now part of Philadelphia) wrote a two-page condemnation of the practice and sent it to the governing bodies of their Quaker church, the Society of Friends. (See Geni projects Germantown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Quaker Ancestor Roster, Quaker Women, and Quakers: Religious Society of Friends) Though the Quaker establishment took no immediate action, the 1688 Germantown Quaker Petition Against Slavery, was an unusually early, clear and forceful argument against slavery and initiated the process that finally led to the banning of slavery in the Society of Friends (1776) and in the state of Pennsylvania (1780).

Thomas Paine (1737-1805), whose 1775 article "African Slavery in America" was the first article published in what would become the United States which advocated abolishing slavery and freeing the slaves.

The Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage was the first American abolition society, formed 14 April 1775, in Philadelphia, primarily by Quakers who had strong religious objections to slavery. The society ceased to operate during the Revolution and the British occupation of Philadelphia. After the Revolution, it was reorganized in 1784, with John Woolman gave up most of his business in 1756 to devote himself to campaigning against slavery along with other Quakers. The first article published in what later became the United States advocating the emancipation of slaves and the abolition of slavery was allegedly written by Thomas Paine. Titled "African Slavery in America", it appeared on 8 March 1775 in the Postscript to the Pennsylvania Journal and Weekly Advertiser, more popularly known as The Pennsylvania Magazine, or American Museum.

Abolition in the North

Through the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, the Congress of the Confederation prohibited slavery in the territories northwest of the Ohio River. By 1804, abolitionists succeeded in passing legislation in most states north of the Ohio River and the Mason-Dixon Line that would eventually (in conjunction with the 13th Amendment) emancipate the slaves. While Massachusetts did not abolish slavery, its new constitution of 1780 declared the equal rights of men and became the standard against which slavery ceased. But, emancipation in some of the free states was so gradual that both New York and Pennsylvania, for example, still listed slaves in their 1840 census returns, and a small number of black slaves (18) were held in New Jersey in 1860 as "perpetual apprentices".

The principal organized bodies to advocate this reform were the Pennsylvania Antislavery Society and the New York Manumission Society. The latter was headed by powerful politicians: Aaron Burr, later the Democratic-Republican Vice-President of the United States. That bill did not pass, because of controversy over the rights of freed slaves, although every member of the Legislature but one voted for some version of it. New York did enact a bill in 1799 that ended slavery over time, but made no provision for the freedmen. Free blacks were subject to racial segregation and discrimination in the North.

At the United States Constitutional Convention of 1787, delegates debated over slavery, finally agreeing to protect the international slave trade for 20 years by not regulating it before 1808. By that time, all the states had passed individual laws abolishing or severely limiting the international buying or selling of slaves. The importation of slaves into the United States was officially banned on January 1, 1808. No action was taken on the nation's internal domestic slave trade.

Manumission by owners

After 1776, Quaker and Moravian advocates helped persuade numerous slaveholders in the Upper South to free their slaves. Manumissions (acts of freeing slaves from bondage) increased for nearly two decades. Many individual acts of manumission freed thousands of slaves in total. Slaveholders freed slaves in such number that the percentage of free Negroes in the Upper South increased sharply from one to ten percent, with most of that increase in Virginia, Maryland and Delaware. By 1810 three-quarters of blacks in Delaware were free. The most notable of individuals was Robert Carter III of Virginia, who freed more than 450 people by "Deed of Gift", filed in 1791. This number was more slaves than any single American had freed or would ever free. Often slaveholders came to their decisions by their own struggles in the Revolution; their wills and deeds frequently cited language about the equality of men supporting their manumissions. Slaveholders were also encouraged to do so because the economics of the area was changing. They were shifting from labor-intensive tobacco culture to mixed crop cultivation and did not need as many slaves.

The free black families began to thrive, together with African Americans free before the Revolution, mostly descendants of unions between working class white women and African men. By 1860, in Delaware 91.7 percent of the blacks were free, and 49.7 percent of those in Maryland. These first free families often formed the core of artisans, professionals, preachers and teachers in future generations.

Western territories

During the Congressional debate on the 1820 Tallmadge Amendment, which sought to limit slavery in Missouri as it became a state, Rufus King declared that "laws or compacts imposing any such condition [slavery] upon any human being are absolutely void, because contrary to the law of nature, which is the law of God, by which he makes his ways known to man, and is paramount to all human control." The amendment failed and Missouri became a slave state. According to historian David Brion Davis, this may have been the first time in the world that a political leader openly attacked slavery's perceived legality in such a radical manner.

Beginning in the 1830s, the U.S. Postmaster General refused to allow the mails to carry abolition pamphlets to the South. Northern teachers suspected of abolitionism were expelled from the South, and abolitionist literature was banned. Southerners rejected the denials of Republicans that they were abolitionists. They pointed to Susan B Anthony to the movement.

Colonization and the founding of Liberia

In the early part of the 19th century, a variety of organizations were established advocating the movement of black people from the United States to locations where they would enjoy greater freedom; some endorsed colonization, while others advocated emigration. During the 1820s and 1830s the American Colonization Society (A.C.S.) was the primary vehicle for proposals to return black Americans to freedom in Africa. It had broad support nationwide among white people, including prominent leaders such as James Forten (1766 - 1842) of Philadelphia.

After a series of attempts to plant small settlements on the coast of West Africa, the A.C.S. established the colony of Liberia in 1821-22. Over the next four decades, it assisted thousands of former slaves and free black people to move there from the United States. The disease environment they encountered was extreme, and most of the migrants died fairly quickly. Enough survived to declare independence in 1847. American support for colonization waned gradually through the 1840s and 1850s, largely because of the efforts of abolitionists to promote emancipation of slaves and granting of American citizenship. Americo-Liberians ruled Liberia continuously until the military coup of 1980.

Emigration

The emigrationist tradition dated back to the Revolutionary War era. Initially, the thought was that free African Americans would want to emigrate to Africa, but over time other ideas became popular. After Haiti became independent, it tried to recruit African Americans to migrate there after it re-established trade relations with the United States. The Haitian Union was the name of a group formed to promote relations between the countries.

Cincinnati's Black community sponsored founding the Wilberforce Colony, an initially successful settlement of African American immigrants to Canada. The colony was one of the first such independent political entities. It lasted for a number of decades and provided a destination for about 200 black families emigrating from a number of locations in the United States.

Religion and morality

The Second Great Awakening of the 1820s and 1830s in religion inspired groups that undertook many types of social reform. For some that meant the immediate abolition of slavery because it was a sin to hold slaves and a sin to tolerate slavery. "Abolitionist" had several meanings at the time. The followers of Abraham Lincoln, who opposed expansion of slavery or its influence, as by the Kansas-Nebraska Act, or the Fugitive Slave Act. Many Southerners called all these abolitionists, without distinguishing them from the Garrisonians.

Historian James Stewart (1976) explains the abolitionists' deep beliefs: "All people were equal in God's sight; the souls of black folks were as valuable as those of whites; for one of God's children to enslave another was a violation of the Higher Law, even if it was sanctioned by the Constitution."

Slave owners were angry over the attacks on what some Southerners (including the politician Jefferson Davis. There were Southern biblical interpretations that directly contradicted those of the abolitionists, such as the theory that a curse on Noah's son Ham and his descendants in Africa was a justification for enslavement of blacks.

Garrison and immediate emancipation

A radical shift came in the 1830s, led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton into the anti-slavery cause.

After 1840 "abolition" usually referred to positions like Garrison's; it was largely an ideological movement led by about 3000 people, including free blacks and people of color, many of whom, such as James Forten in Philadelphia, played prominent leadership roles. Douglass became legally free during a two year stay in England, as British supporters raised funds to purchase his freedom from his American owner Thomas Auld, and also helped fund his abolitionist newspapers in the US. Abolitionism had a strong religious base including Quakers, and people converted by the revivalist fervor of the Second Great Awakening, led by Charles Finney in the North in the 1830s. Belief in abolition contributed to the breaking away of some small denominations, such as the Free Methodist Church.

Evangelical abolitionists founded some colleges, most notably Bates College in Maine and Oberlin College in Ohio. The well-established colleges, such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton, generally opposed abolition, although the movement did attract such figures as Yale president Noah Porter and Harvard president Thomas Hill.

In the North, most opponents of slavery supported other modernizing reform movements such as the temperance movement, public schooling, and prison- and asylum-building. They were split bitterly on the role of women's activism. Abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison repeatedly condemned slavery for contradicting the principles of freedom and equality on which the country was founded. In 1854, Garrison wrote:

I am a believer in that portion of the Declaration of American Independence in which it is set forth, as among self-evident truths, "that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Hence, I am an abolitionist. Hence, I cannot but regard oppression in every form – and most of all, that which turns a man into a thing – with indignation and abhorrence. Not to cherish these feelings would be recreancy to principle. They who desire me to be dumb on the subject of slavery, unless I will open my mouth in its defense, ask me to give the lie to my professions, to degrade my manhood, and to stain my soul. I will not be a liar, a poltroon, or a hypocrite, to accommodate any party, to gratify any sect, to escape any odium or peril, to save any interest, to preserve any institution, or to promote any object. Convince me that one man may rightfully make another man his slave, and I will no longer subscribe to the Declaration of Independence. Convince me that liberty is not the inalienable birthright of every human being, of whatever complexion or clime, and I will give that instrument to the consuming fire. I do not know how to espouse freedom and slavery together.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

The most influential abolitionist tract was Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), the best-selling novel and play by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Outraged by the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 (which made the escape narrative part of everyday news), Stowe emphasized the horrors that abolitionists had long claimed about slavery. Her depiction of the evil slave owner Simon Legree, a transplanted Yankee who kills the Christ-like Uncle Tom, outraged the North, helped sway British public opinion against the South, and inflamed Southern slave owners who tried to refute it by showing some slave owners were humanitarian.

Irish Catholics

Daniel O'Connell, the Catholic leader of the Irish in Ireland, supported the abolition of slavery in the British Empire and in America. O'Connell had played a leading role in securing Catholic Emancipation (the removal of the civil and political disabilities of Roman Catholics in Great Britain and Ireland) and he was one of William Lloyd Garrison's models. Garrison recruited him to the cause of American abolitionism. O'Connell, the black abolitionist Charles Lenox Remond, and the temperance priest Theobald Mathew organized a petition with 60,000 signatures urging the Irish of the United States to support abolition. O'Connell also spoke in the United States for abolition.

The Repeal Associations in the United States mostly took a pro-slavery position. Several reasons have been suggested for this: that Irish immigrants were competing with free blacks for jobs, and disliked having the same arguments used for Irish and for black freedom; that they were loyal to the United States Constitution, which defended their liberties, and disliked the fundamentally extra-constitutional position of the Abolitionists; and that they perceived abolitionism as Protestant, and were therefore suspicious of them. In addition, slaveholders had no hesitation in voicing their support for the freedom of Ireland, a white nation outside the United States. However, it would be difficult to find evidence in the letters or oral tradition of immigrant families that would differentiate them from most Americans of the period. In fact with most immigrants settling in the North, there was actually very little competition for work between poor immigrants and the North's relatively small African-American population. Most of the energy of immigrant families was directed at securing their daily livings and spiritual lives with what was left over for politics channelled into local issues concerning public safety and education. Radical Irish nationalists – those who broke with O'Connell over his refusal to contemplate the violent overthrow of British rule in Ireland – had a diversity of views about slavery. John Mitchel, who spent the years 1853 to 1875 in America, was a passionate propagandist in favor of slavery; three of his sons fought in the Confederate Army. On the other hand, his former close associate Thomas Francis Meagher served as a Brigadier General in the United States Army during the American Civil War.

The Catholic Church in America had long ties in slaveholding Maryland and Louisiana. Despite a firm stand for the spiritual equality of black people, and the resounding condemnation of slavery by Pope Gregory XVI in his bull In Supremo Apostolatus issued in 1839, the American church continued in deeds, if not in public discourse, like most of America, to avoid confrontation with slaveholding interests. In 1842, the Archbishop of New York while denouncing slavery, objected to O'Connell's petition if authentic as unwarranted foreign interference. The Bishop of Charleston declared that, while Catholic tradition opposed slave trading, it had nothing against slavery. However, in 1861, the Archbishop of New York wrote to Secretary of War Cameron: "That the Church is opposed to slavery...Her doctrine on that subject is, that it is a crime to reduce men naturally free to a condition of servitude and bondage, as slaves." No American bishop supported extra-polictical abolition or interference with state's rights before the Civil War. During the Civil War, however, the Archbishop of New York, John Hughes, who was an ally of William H. Seward would denounce Southern bishops as follows: "In their periodicals in New Orleans and Charleston, they have justified the attitude taken by the South on principles of Catholic theology, which I think was an unnecessary, inexpedient, and, for that matter, a doubtful if not dangerous position, at the commencement of so unnatural and lamentable a struggle."

One historian observed that ritualist churches separated themselves from heretics rather than sinners; he observed that Episcopalians and Lutherans also accommodated themselves to slavery. (Indeed, one southern Episcopal bishop was a Confederate general.) There were more reasons than religious tradition, however, as the Anglican Church had been the established church in the South during the colonial period. It was linked to the traditions of landed gentry and the wealthier and educated planter classes, and the Southern traditions longer than any other church. In addition, while the Protestant missionaries of the Great Awakening initially opposed slavery in the South, by the early decades of the 19th century, Baptist and Methodist preachers in the South had come to an accommodation with it in order to evangelize with farmers and artisans. By the Civil War, the Baptist and Methodist churches split into regional associations because of slavery.

After O'Connell's failure, the American Repeal Associations broke up; but the Garrisonians rarely relapsed into the "bitter hostility" of American Protestants towards the Roman Church. Some antislavery men joined the Know Nothings in the collapse of the parties; but Edmund Quincy ridiculed it as a mushroom growth, a distraction from the real issues. Although the Know-Nothing legislature of Massachusetts honored Garrison, he continued to oppose them as violators of fundamental rights to freedom of worship.

In deeds, however, if not by proclamations, the Irish would play a leading role in defeating the South and ending slavery. General John Reynolds, and Dennis Hart Mahan were all raised by Irish families. Indeed Sherman and Sheridan attended mass at the same Catholic church in Ohio as children. 137 Irish immigrants were awarded the Medal of Honor for Civil War valor, far more than any other immigrant group. After participating in the assault that broke the Confederate center at Antietam New York City's Irish Brigade would be worse than decimated in repeated desperate assaults on the stonewall at Fredericksburg on the eve of Emancipation. In the war's little known last chapter, after Appomattox, General Phil Sheridan took command to the Union army's African-American 25th Corps and was sent by Grant with an armada to pacify Texas. Later President Johnson would relieve Sheridan of command because of Sheridans aggressive enforcement of Reconstruction in Texas and Louisiana.

In the final analysis, none of Lincoln's most prominent opponents were Irish: George McClellan, August Belmont, Fernando Wood, James Bennett, and Clement Vallandigham. Of these only Bennett, who shared a mutual dislike of each other with the "Archbishop of New York" was a Catholic.

Progress of abolition in the United States

To 1804

Although there were several groups that opposed slavery (such as the Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage), at the time of the founding of the Republic, there were few states which prohibited slavery outright. The Constitution had several provisions which accommodated slavery, although none used the word. Passed unanimously by the Congress of the Confederation in 1787, the Northwest Ordinance forbade slavery in the Northwest Territory, a vast area which had previously belonged to individual states in which slavery was legal.

American abolitionism began very early, well before the United States was founded as a nation. An early law abolishing slavery (but not temporary indentured servitude) in Rhode Island in 1652 floundered within 50 years. Samuel Sewall (1652 - 1730), a prominent Bostonian and one of the judges at the Salem Witch Trials, wrote The Selling of Joseph in protest of the widening practice of outright slavery as opposed to indentured servitude in the colonies. This is the earliest-recorded anti-slavery tract published in the future United States.

In 1777, Vermont, not yet a state, became the first jurisdiction in North America to prohibit slavery: slaves were not directly freed, but masters were required to remove slaves from Vermont. The first state to begin a gradual abolition of slavery was Pennsylvania, in 1780. All importation of slaves was prohibited, but none freed at first; only the slaves of masters who failed to register them with the state, along with the "future children" of enslaved mothers. Those enslaved in Pennsylvania before the 1780 law went into effect were not freed until 1847.

Massachusetts took an opposite and much more radical position. Its Supreme Court ruled in 1783, that a black man was, indeed, a man; and therefore free under the state's constitution.

All of the other states north of Maryland began gradual abolition of slavery between 1781 and 1804, based on the Pennsylvania model. Rhode Island had limited slave trading in 1774 (Virginia had also attempted to do so before the Revolution, but the Privy Council had vetoed the act), all the other northern states also limited the slave trade by 1786, and Georgia in 1798. These northern emancipation acts typically provided that slaves born before the law was passed would be freed at a certain age, and so remnants of slavery lingered; in New Jersey, a dozen "permanent apprentices" were recorded in the 1860 census.

South

The institution remained solid in the South, however and that region's customs and social beliefs evolved into a strident defense of slavery in response to the rise of a stronger anti-slavery stance in the North. In 1835 alone abolitionists mailed over a million pieces of anti-slavery literature to the south. In response southern legislators banned abolitionist literature and encouraged harassment of anyone distributing it.

Immediate abolition

Abolitionists included those who joined the American Anti-Slavery Society or its auxiliary groups in the 1830s and 1840s as the movement fragmented. The fragmented anti-slavery movement included groups such as the Liberty Party; the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society; the American Missionary Association; and the Church Anti-Slavery Society. Historians traditionally distinguish between moderate antislavery reformers or gradualists, who concentrated on stopping the spread of slavery, and radical abolitionists or immediatists, whose demands for unconditional emancipation often merged with a concern for black civil rights. However, James Stewart advocates a more nuanced understanding of the relationship of abolition and antislavery prior to the Civil War:

While instructive, the distinction [between antislavery and abolition] can also be misleading, especially in assessing abolitionism's political impact. For one thing, slaveholders never bothered with such fine points. Many immediate abolitionists showed no less concern than did other white Northerners about the fate of the nation's "precious legacies of freedom." Immediatism became most difficult to distinguish from broader anti-Southern opinions once ordinary citizens began articulating these intertwining beliefs.

Anti-slavery advocates were outraged by the murder of Elijah Parish Lovejoy, a white man and editor of an abolitionist newspaper on 7 November 1837, by a pro-slavery mob in Illinois. Nearly all Northern politicians rejected the extreme positions of the abolitionists; Abraham Lincoln, for example. Indeed many northern leaders including Lincoln, Stephen Douglas (the Democratic nominee in 1860), John C. Fremont (the Republican nominee in 1856), and Ulysses S. Grant married into slave owning southern families without any moral qualms.

Antislavery as a principle was far more than just the wish to limit the extent of slavery. Most Northerners recognized that slavery existed in the South and the Constitution did not allow the federal government to intervene there. Most Northerners favored a policy of gradual and compensated emancipation. After 1849 abolitionists rejected this and demanded it end immediately and everywhere. John Brown was the only abolitionist known to have actually planned a violent insurrection, though David Walker promoted the idea. The abolitionist movement was strengthened by the activities of free African-Americans, especially in the black church, who argued that the old Biblical justifications for slavery contradicted the New Testament. African-American activists and their writings were rarely heard outside the black community; however, they were tremendously influential to some sympathetic white people, most prominently the first white activist to reach prominence, William Lloyd Garrison, who was its most effective propagandist. Garrison's efforts to recruit eloquent spokesmen led to the discovery of ex-slave Frederick Douglass, who eventually became a prominent activist in his own right. Eventually, Douglass would publish his own, widely distributed abolitionist newspaper, the North Star.

In the early 1850s, the American abolitionist movement split into two camps over the issue of the United States Constitution. This issue arose in the late 1840s after the publication of The Unconstitutionality of Slavery by Lysander Spooner. The Garrisonians, led by Garrison and Lysander Spooner, Gerrit Smith, and eventually Douglass, considered the Constitution to be an antislavery document. Using an argument based upon Natural Law and a form of social contract theory, they said that slavery existed outside of the Constitution's scope of legitimate authority and therefore should be abolished.

Another split in the abolitionist movement was along class lines. The artisan republicanism of Robert Dale Owen and Frances Wright stood in stark contrast to the politics of prominent elite abolitionists such as industrialist Arthur Tappan and his evangelist brother Lewis. While the former pair opposed slavery on a basis of solidarity of "wage slaves" with "chattel slaves", the Whiggish Tappans strongly rejected this view, opposing the characterization of Northern workers as "slaves" in any sense. (Lott, 129–130)

Many American abolitionists took an active role in opposing slavery by supporting the Underground Railroad. This was made illegal by the federal Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. Nevertheless, participants like Harriet Tubman, Henry Highland Garnet, Alexander Crummell, Amos Noë Freeman and others continued with their work. Abolitionists were particularly active in Ohio, where some worked directly in the Underground Railroad. Since the state shared a border with slave states, it was a popular place for slaves' escaping across the Ohio River and up its tributaries, where they sought shelter among supporters who would help them move north to freedom. Two significant events in the struggle to destroy slavery were the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue and John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry. In the South, members of the abolitionist movement or other people opposing slavery were often targets of lynch mob violence before the American Civil War.

Numerous known abolitionists lived, worked, and worshipped in Downtown Brooklyn, from Henry Ward Beecher, who auctioned slaves into freedom from the pulpit of Plymouth Church, to Nathan Egelston, a leader of the African and Foreign Antislavery Society, who also preached at Bridge Street AME and lived on Duffield Street. His fellow Duffield Street residents, Thomas and Harriet Truesdell were leading members of the Abolitionist movement. Mr. Truesdell was a founding member of the Providence Anti-slavery Society before moving to Brooklyn in 1851. Harriet Truesdell was also very active in the movement, organizing an antislavery convention in Pennsylvania Hall in Philadelphia. The Truesdell's lived at 227 Duffield Street. Another prominent Brooklyn-based abolitionist was Rev. Joshua Leavitt, trained as a lawyer at Yale who stopped practicing law in order to attend Yale Divinity School, and subsequently edited the abolitionist newspaper The Emancipator and campaigned against slavery, as well as advocating other social reforms. In 1841 Leavitt published his The Financial Power of Slavery, which argued that the South was draining the national economy due to its reliance on slavery.

John Brown

John Brown (1800 - 1859), abolitionist who advocated armed rebellion by slaves. He slaughtered pro-slavery settlers in Kansas and in 1859 was hanged by Virginia for leading an unsuccessful slave insurrection at Harpers Ferry.

Historian Frederick Blue called John Brown "the most controversial of all nineteenth-century Americans." When Brown was hanged after his attempt to start a slave rebellion in 1859, church bells rang, minute guns were fired, large memorial meetings took place throughout the North, and famous writers such as Henry David Thoreau joined many Northerners in praising Brown. Whereas Garrison was a pacifist, Brown resorted to violence. Historians agree he played a major role in starting the war. Some historians regard Brown as a crazed lunatic while David S. Reynolds hails him as the man who "killed slavery, sparked the civil war, and seeded civil rights." For Ken Chowder he is "the father of American terrorism."

His famous raid in October 1859, involved a band of 22 men who seized the federal Harpers Ferry Armory at Harper's Ferry, Virginia, knowing it contained tens of thousands of weapons. Brown believed that the South was on the verge of a gigantic slave uprising and that one spark would set it off. Brown's supporters George Luther Stearns, Franklin B. Sanborn, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Theodore Parker, Samuel Gridley Howe and Gerrit Smith were all abolitionist members of the Secret Six who provided financial backing for Brown's raid. Brown's raid, says historian David Potter, "was meant to be of vast magnitude and to produce a revolutionary slave uprising throughout the South." The raid was a fiasco. Not a single slave revolted. Lt. Colonel Robert E. Lee of the U.S. Army was dispatched to put down the raid, and Brown was quickly captured. Brown was tried for treason against Virginia and hanged. At his trial, Brown exuded a remarkable zeal and single-mindedness that played directly to Southerners' worst fears. Few individuals did more to cause secession than John Brown, because Southerners believed he was right about an impending slave revolt. Shortly before his execution, Brown prophesied, "the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away; but with Blood."

Civil War

Union leaders identified slavery as the social and economic foundation of the Confederacy, and from 1862 were determined to end that support system. Meanwhile pro-Union forces gained control of the Border States and began the process of emancipation in Maryland, Missouri and West Virginia. Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on 1 January 1863, and in the next 24 months it effectively ended slavery throughout the Confederacy. The passage of the Thirteenth Amendment (ratified in Dec. 1865) officially ended slavery in the United States, and freed the 50,000 or so remaining slaves in the border states.

(The text above was adapted from the Wikipedia article regarding Abolitionism.)

John Brown's Raid at Harper's Ferry, Virginia

On October 16, 1859, Osborne Perry Anderson, Dangerfield Newby, Sheilds Green, Lewis Sheridan Leary, John Anthony Copeland, and others in Virginia with General John Brown's raid on the arsenal at Harper's Ferry, fought and gave their lives trying to seize land and establish New Afrikan [Black] states. (Of the five Black revolutionaries, Leary and Newby were killed; Copeland and Green were hanged; and only Osborne Perry Anderson escaped and survived the failed mission, and later rendered the most accurate and passionate account of the raid). (see also Franklin, John Hope, and Moss, Alfred A., Jr. From Slavery To Freedom, 6th edition. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, NY, c. 1988, p. 179). On December 2nd, (General) John Brown was hanged, but not before he had dazzled the country by his words and his conduct following the trial.

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