The Abolition Movement


The Abolition Movement was a movement started sometime in the early 1780s in which the primary goal was to achieve emancipation for all slaves in the U.S. and to end the segregation and discrimination of African Americans. The supporters of this movement were call abolitionists.

Abolitionists were focused on arousing the consciousness of America in order for action to be taken. The abolitionists believed in the fervor and authenticity of their cause. Their primary purpose was to move the issue of slavery away from the political realm and into the realm of the social and the moral. Their belief was that if they could convince Americans of the moral wrong of slavery, then it would become evident that slavery would be condemned.

Abolitionists employed all manner of strategies to persuade the American public and its leadership to end slavery. One of their first strategies was to unite groups of like-minded individuals to fight as a body. Initially, groups like the American Anti-Slavery Society used lecturing and moral persuasion to attempt to change the hearts and minds of individuals. Many later activists found moral persuasion tactics insufficient and turned their attention to political lobbying.

Activists used the press to spread the abolitionist message. Newspapers like William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator circulated vehement attacks on government sanctioned bondage. Other publications, such as pamphlets and leaflets, contained anti-slavery poems, slogans, essays, sermons, and songs. Abolitionists also looked to future generations to carry on their work, creating a body of children’s literature to bring the harsh realities of slavery before a young audience. These materials were deemed so threatening in slave states that they were outlawed.

Most famous of all abolitionist activities was the Underground Railroad, a network of assistance and safe houses for runaway slaves. The Underground Railroad stretched from the Southern states to Canada, and until 1865 provided shelter, safety, and guidance for thousands of runaway slaves.

Despite the more peaceable tactics having relative success persuading the people, some other abolitionists felt that violence was the only way to end slavery. These militants resorted to extreme and deadly tactics, and incited violent insurrections. These acts of terror aroused fear in slaveholders, but also led to the execution of perpetrators.


William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879), journalist and founder of the influential antislavery journal The Liberator and of the American Anti-Slavery Society (established 1833)

Arthur (1786-1865) and Lewis (1788-1873) Tappan, prominent New York merchants who were also founders of the American Anti-Slavery Society

Theodore Dwight Weld (1803-1895), leader of student protests, organizer of the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, and author of The Bible Against Slavery (1837) and other abolitionist works.

Harriet Tubman (1820-1913) Underground Railroad conductor, worked against slavery by helping to free hundreds of blacks who escaped slavery in the South, heading for northern states and Canada.

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896), a writer-author of Uncle Tom's Cabin (1851-52), helped strengthen the abolitionist cause and were instrumental in swaying public sentiment.

John Brown (1800-1859) led a raid on the armory at Harpers Ferry (in present-day West Virginia), which proved a failed attempt to emancipate slaves by force.

Frederick Douglass (1818–1895) nation's most powerful anti-slavery speaker, a former slave. Most famous for his book, Narrative in the Life of Frederick Douglass.

Wendell Phillips (1811-1884), abolitionist crusader whose oratorical eloquence helped fire the antislavery cause during the period leading up to the American Civil War.

Achievments (pre-civil war)

  • Started to spread the word of the evils of slavery.
  • Formed anti-slavery societies.
  • Published newspapers, books and pamphlets.
  • Fought against the concept of sending freed slaves back to Africa.
  • Tied themselves to religious leaders like Charles G. Finney and Theodore Dwight Weld and linked religion to abolition.