Greeley's strong interest in eliminating poverty in America was a major factor in his antislavery stands of the 1850s. Slavery had been a part of America since the 1600s, when white people first captured African blacks and brought them to North America. The basic belief behind slavery was that black people were inferior to whites. Under slavery, white slaveholders treated black people as property, forced them to perform hard labor, and controlled every aspect of their lives. States in the Northern section of the United States began outlawing slavery in the late 1700s. But slavery continued to exist in the Southern half of the country, where it became an important part of the region's economy and culture.
Greeley hated the conditions in which many slaves were forced to live, and argued that the continued existence of slavery contradicted the nation's ideals of freedom and liberty. Many of his criticisms were directed at white people of the American South, who continued to defend slavery. But Greeley also criticized Northerners for their racist treatment of free black men and women.
By the mid-1850s, Greeley had become one of the country's most visible abolitionists (people who worked to end slavery in America). In 1854, he helped establish the an-tislavery Republican Party, and he repeatedly spoke out against Southern efforts to expand the rights of slaveowners and the territories in which slavery would be permitted. "This is not an age of the world in which new domain [territories] can be opened to slavedrivers without an instinctive shudder convulsing the frame of Humanity," he wrote. By 1856, Gree-ley's editorials against slavery had grown so strong that proslavery Arkansas congressmen Albert Rust (1818?-1870) physically attacked him on the streets of Washington, D.C. Greeley quickly recovered from the assault, however, and resumed his abolitionist activities.
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