abolitionist who wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin served a chance to make lives for themselves on U.S. soil. As free blacks expressed their opposition to colonization, the idea eventually faded away.
In the years immediately following the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which kept the United States equally balanced between slave and nonslave states, neither the North nor the South showed much interest in the subject of slavery, since it often caused anger and bitterness whenever it was discussed. In the 1830s, though, abolitionism once again became a subject of intense debate as a new generation of antislavery voices made themselves heard. But unlike earlier abolitionists, who tried to negotiate a gradual end to slavery, many of these men and women boldly called for immediate emancipation of all slaves and complete racial equality. Leading abolitionists included journalist William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879), author Lydia Maria Child (1802-1880), business partners and
A U.S. map shows free (shown above as light shade) and slave (darker shade) states/territories following the Missouri Compromise of 1820. The Utah and New Mexico territories (darkest shade) were areas where voters determined the status of slavery. (Illustration by XNR Productions. Reproduced by permission of The Gale Group.)
brothers Arthur Tappan (1786-1865) and Lewis Tappan (1788-1873), writer Frederick Douglass (c. 1818-1895), writer Theodore Dwight Weld (18031895), and human rights leader Wendell Phillips (1811-1884).
Many of the leading abolitionists of this era were guided by their religious convictions. The 1820s and 1830s were decades in which religion took on increased importance in the lives of people all across the nation. During this time, known as the Sec ond Great Awakening, many religious leaders told their congregations that they could achieve salvation by building lives of morality and by speaking out against sin. Since slavery loomed as the most sinful practice in America in many people's minds, abolitionists attacked the institution with greater passion and energy than ever before.
But even though the Second Great Awakening fundamentally changed the lives of many Americans, the recharged abolitionist movement
The Shame of the ShS? American People
Born into slavery, Frederick Douglass escaped to freedom in 1838 and became one of the foremost black leaders of his era. A tireless crusader for the cause of abolitionism, he believed that the continued practice of slavery cast an ugly shadow on the ideals of liberty and justice upon which the United States had been founded. He produced many moving speeches and articles on this subject during his lifetime. His passion and convictions are prominently displayed in this excerpt from one of his lectures:
While slavery exists, and the union of these States endures, every American citizen must bear the chagrin [embarrassment or shame] of hearing his country branded before the world, as a nation of liars and hypocrites [people who pretend to be something other than what they really are]; and behold his cherished national flag pointed at with the utmost scorn and derision. . . . Let me say again, slavery is alike the sin and the
shame of the American people: It is a blot upon the American name, and the only national reproach which need make an American hang his head in shame, in the presence of monarchical governments.
met strong resistance wherever its followers tried to spread its message of freedom and equality. Predictably, resistance to this message was strongest in the American South. During the 1830s and 1840s, Southern whites came to view the Northern abolitionists as perhaps the most serious threat to their way of life that they had ever faced. Even though the majority of white households did not own any slaves, powerful Southern slaveholders had built comfortable lives for themselves.
These men, who had great influence with other whites in their communities, did not want to make any changes that might threaten their wealth and position. Many poor whites wanted to keep slavery, too, because of long-standing racism and the realization that slavery's continued existence ensured that they would never occupy the lowest rung in Southern society. Finally, Southern whites hated the increase in abolitionist talk because they thought that it might spark a bloody slave rebellion.
Alarmed and angered by Northern abolitionists who charged that the very foundations of Southern culture were evil and corrupt, defenders of slavery adopted a defiant position. They claimed that Northerners would not be so eager to abolish slavery if their own regional economy depended on it. Southerners also embraced arguments that slavery actually helped to civilize African "savages," and some slaveholders even used scriptural passages from the Bible to justify enslavement of their fellow men. Northern abolitionists who attempted to spread their message in Southern states were attacked and driven out of the region. In addition, Southern states passed numerous laws designed to prevent Northern anti-slavery groups from discussing abolitionism on their land. In 1835, for example, Georgia passed a law imposing the death penalty on anyone who published materials that might cause slave unrest.
At the same time that the South took steps to protect itself from the speeches and literature of Northern abolitionists, the South also made it impossible for its own citizens to question the slave-dependent society in which they lived without risking their freedom or their lives. Some states passed laws designed to silence antislavery voices within their borders. In 1836, for example, Virginia passed a law that made it a felony for anyone to advocate (speak in favor of) abolition. Such laws rarely had to be enforced, however, because Southerners who expressed doubts about slav ery learned that such statements put them in great danger from their own neighbors. By the late 1830s, whites in the American South were defending slavery and objecting to Northern interference with their way of life with one united voice.
Convinced that Southerners would never abandon slavery willingly, Northern abolitionists focused much of their attention on fellow Northerners. They hoped to convince the citizens of the Northern states to force the South to eliminate slavery. But even though slavery no longer existed in the North, bigotry against black people was still common throughout the region. Free blacks in the North endured all kinds of discrimination in the areas of housing, education, and legal rights. In addition, many white Northerners feared that the abolition of slavery might jeopardize their own economic well-being. Poor white laborers worried that emancipated blacks would come up from the South and take their jobs. Rich Northern merchants who conducted business in the South thought that abolition might diminish their profits. Finally, many Americans living in the North were concerned that abolitionist activities would disrupt the stability of the Union itself.
As a result, when leading abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison and Theodore Dwight Weld first spoke out against slavery in the early and mid-1830s, violence was often directed against them by Northern laborers and businessmen. Printing presses and other equipment used by abolitionists were destroyed, and mob attacks against abolitionist gatherings became quite common. In 1835, a mob in Boston, Massachusetts, dragged Garrison through the streets and nearly lynched (hanged) him. On another occasion, antiabolitionist protestors rioted for several days in New York City during which black neighborhoods were terrorized and abolitionist churches were vandalized.
Despite the risks of speaking out, Northern abolitionists refused to back down. Important abolitionist organizations like the Female Anti-Slavery Society and the American Anti-Slavery Society (both established in 1833) gradually gathered new members. By 1840, an estimated one hundred thousand Northerners had joined hundreds of organizations devoted to the abolishment of slavery. The membership included thousands of white men, but free blacks such as John Jones and Frederick Douglass accounted for a great deal of the abolitionist movement's energy and direction. Another important source of strength for the abolitionist cause was white women. In fact, many of the women who would later become leading advocates of women's rights in America—such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), Lucretia Coffin Mott (1793-1880), and sisters Sarah Grimke (1792-1873) and Angelina Emily Grimke (1805-1879)— first became politically active by working for the emancipation of slaves.
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