United States Abolitionism

US History Project - Halston Stephenson

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Founding of the First Abolitionist Societies

The first American abolitionist society was founded in Philadelphia during the year 1775. The society changed its name to "The Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery and the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage" (Commonly referred to as PAS) in 1784. A leading Quaker abolitionist and educator named Anthony Benezet called the society together two years after he persuaded the Quakers to found the "Negro School at Philadelphia".

By the 1770's, abolitionism was a full-scale movement in Pennsylvania. Many Philadelphia slaveholders of all denominations had started to break under the pressure to emancipate their slaves on many grounds, including religious, moral, and economic ones.

In 1789, under the organization's new president Benjamin Franklin, PAS announced a plan to help free enslaved African Americans. In conjunction with the Free African Society, PAS attempted to create African American schools, help freed blacks get employed, and conduct house visits to foster morality and a strong work ethic in black residents living in Philadelphia.

In 1830, William Lloyd Garrison, an abolitionist and American journalistic crusader, broke away from the American Colonization Society and started his own abolitionist paper, in which he called it "The Liberator". As published in the first issue, The Liberator's motto read "Our country is the world - our countrymen are mankind". This paper was initially responsible for building William Lloyd Garrison's reputation as an abolitionist. However, Garrison soon realized that the abolitionist act needed to be better organized.

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The Rise of Religious Movements, in Opposition to Slavery

The Revolutionary Era witnessed major reforms, including gradual emancipation of slaves in the northern states and, in cooperation with Britain, a ban on the African slave trade in 1808. Major church bodies condemned slave keeping as, in the words of the Presbyterian General Assembly of 1818, a “gross violation of the most precious and sacred rights of nature” and “utterly inconsistent with the law of God.”

Christianity was often taught to slaves who were recently freed of enslavement. Missionaries helped them to read and understand the bible, and sought to save their souls.

In 1688, a "Germantown Protest" pamphlet was printed by Mennonite Quakers in the state of Pennsylvania. It said, in part: "Now, tho' they are black, we cannot conceive there is more liberty to have them slaves, as it is to have other white ones... And those who steal or rob men, and those who buy or purchase them, are they not all alike?"

The pamphlet was not well received by the wealthy slave owners in that region.

Importance of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787

Slavery and involuntary servitude were banned and forbidden in the Northwest Territory, which made the Ohio River a nature/landmark dividing line between the free states and the slave states of the country.

The Northwest Ordinance set out the details for the admission process. Whenever a territory reached 60,000 people, then it could create a constitution and apply for statehood.

Ohio was the first to do this in 1803, and set an example/became a model for the rest of the United States.

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The Rise of the Underground Railroad

Between 1840 and 1860 the Underground Railroad started.

Enslaved Africans followed the North Star on the Underground Railroad to find freedom in Canada. It wasn't an actual railroad, but instead a secret connection of routes and safe houses that helped people escape slavery and reach other free states, or even Canada.

Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel, "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was based on real life events following the Underground Railroad. It was also based on real life people, such as Josiah Henson, an enslaved fugitive who has escaped from Kentucky in route to Canada via the Underground Railroad with his two children and wife.

Harriet Tubman (born as Araminta Ross) was a runaway slave and an abolitionist who has guided around 300 enslaved fugitives to freedom as one of the most famous and successful "conductors" on the Underground Railroad.

Uncle Tom's Cabin

Harriet Beecher Stowe's official author website with a description and pictures of the novel