Abolitionist Literature

by Michael de Silva, Mason Smith, and Abhi Lankipalli

The Legacy of Frederick Douglass

  1. Frederick Douglass, a man of great tenacity, managed to escape slavery at the age of 20
  2. Frederick Douglass's’ ran into his first experience with the Abolitionist Movement when he joined the East Baltimore Mental Improvement Society, a renowned debating club for free black men.
  3. Douglass's’ first speech was given at an antislavery meeting in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Abolitionist William C. Coffin talks him into speaking about his life as a slave at a Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society convention. The Society is impressed and he is hired as a speaker. Douglass becomes closely allied with Garrison and his views.
  4. In 1845, Publishes Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. In the same year he meets Susan B. Anthony while on a speaking tour and later becomes a champion of women's rights’.
  5. Douglas buys printing press and begins publishing the abolitionist weekly North Star. He continues publishing it until 1851.
  6. In 1855, he buys printing press and begins publishing the abolitionist weekly North Star. He continues publishing it until 1851.
  7. Douglass is appointed U.S. marshal of the District of Columbia by President Hayes in 1877.
  8. In fact, our president is one of the few lucky people to actually meet with President Lincoln to discuss the unequal pay and poor treatment black soldiers receive.
  9. Douglass is commissioner in charge of the Haitian exhibit at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago from 1892-1893.
  10. Published his third and final autobiography, The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass.
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Uncle Tom's Cabin

Harriet Beecher Stowe (June 1811-July 1896) Was born on June 14, 1811 to outspoken religious leader Lyman Beecher and his wife Roxana, who died when Harriet was 5. Stowe’s religious background would go on to heavily influence her abolitionist sympathies, although at the time of writing “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, she was not a committed abolitionist. Stowe’s works, particularly “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” are credited with playing a major role in the growth of the abolitionist movement.

“Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was most influential perhaps because it gave slaves a “face;” that is to say, it humanized slaves and even gave them memorable names, like Uncle Tom himself, one of the main characters in the book. The plot centers around the fact that the farmer that owns Tom plans to sell him to pay off his debt, and Tom’s flight from the farm that follows Tom learning of this. The novel focuses on the horrors of slavery, the idea of families being torn apart by sales, and the idea of the abusive Southern slaveholder (one of the most controversial facets of the work).

The novel was received well by more moderate abolitionists, but both pro-slavery groups and more liberal abolitionists criticized it for being inaccurate and too moderate, respectively. Many said that the novel was one of the reasons the Civil War actually started, albeit mostly jokingly. The novel did, however, bring a new light to slavery, and was the most read novel in the country for several years after its publishing and became very popular in England among Socially Democratic circles.

Narrative of Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth was known for bringing people together to gain their rights. This was a time where white abolitionists didn’t really cooperate with African Americans or work with the women’s suffrage movement. She is regularly associated with Harriet Tubman as one of the most influential African American women of the 19th century.

Sojourner Truth (born as Isabella) was born into slavery in New York in 1799. When she was nine, her master died, and she was then sold to a new master, John Nealy, and was frequently whipped by him. She prayed for a new master, a fisherman named Scriver. He was relatively humane so it was an improvement, but it wasn’t long before she got sold again. Her new master, John Dumont, inspired trust in her. She worked very hard and Dumont promised to free her in 1827. However, when the time came, he didn’t, so she tried to escape. Finally shortly after, she was freed. As a free woman, the first thing she did was sue a man named Solomon Gedney to get his slave, Peter, freed. Then, she took him to New York City with her. After a few jobs, she ends up leaving NYC, but not before telling her landlady that her name was Sojourner, as she went on to become a preacher.

Sojourner was primarily inspired by Frederick Douglass and other African Americans who challenged segregation. She faced all of their challenges herself which motivated her to work towards a better life for her, her kids, and future generations. She was also deeply religious and was inspired and motivated by God.

Truth’s narrative proved that African Americans weren’t okay with slavery, contrary to slavery advocate claims. She also proved that they were capable of caring for themselves. She created a powerful argument against slavery to draw attention from the public. It was an eye-opening narrative that allowed people to see how unjust the practice of slavery was. Her argument was heavily supported by the fact that she had experienced slavery herself.


Each of the abolitionist writers seeked to change the American perspective, albeit in a peaceful way through their narratives, works and publishes. Slave narratives played a big role in freeing the slaves, since they showed the hard life of the African American and their struggles. In one such slave narrative, known as “Narrative of Sojourner Truth”, the author, Truth, told the story of how she became free, yet fought for the right of other slaves. In fact, she supported the idea that African Americans should work hand-in-hand with the white abolitionist during a time when this cooperation was minimal. Another example was Frederick Douglass’ publication through the North Star. It got its name because slaves escaping at night followed the North Star in the sky to freedom. Though the newspaper met only a small amount of success, the symbolism that the newspaper embodied carried on through other abolitionists. For example, Harriet Tubman did indeed use the North Star as her guide to help slaves escape through the underground passage. Yet another great addition of abolitionist literature was “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” which gave slaves a “face,” and made their perspective more visible.Indeed, the phrase “Uncle Tom” carries significant meaning today.To be an “Uncle Tom” was to be excessiveley subservient to the whites, which Uncle Tom overcame by learning that Christian love can overcome something as destructive as enslavement of fellow human beings. The book had such a big impact, in fact, that some like Will Kaufman would even go as far as to say that “[the book] helped lay the groundwork for the Civil War”. All of these revolutionary pieces of literature were successful in that they brought about big change without the use of violence.