Abolitionist (Frederick Douglass)

By: Nataly Angulo

Abolitionist Movement

From the 1830's until 1870, the abolitionist movement tried to achieve immediate emancipation of all slaves and the ending of racial segregation and discrimination. Their theory of these goals distinguished abolitionists from the broad-based political opposition, to slavery's westward expansion that took form in the North after 1840 and raised issues leading to the Civil War. Yet these two expressions of hostility to slavery were often closely related not only in their beliefs and their interaction but also in the minds of southern slaveholders who finally came to regard the North as united against them in favor of black emancipation.

Abolitionist Startegies

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 people to fight as one. Initially, groups like the American Anti-Slavery Society used lecturing and moral persuasion to attempt to change the hearts and minds of people. Many later activists found moral persuasion tactics not enough and turned their attention to political lobbying. 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 many runaway slaves. 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, and talked about slavery to young people. These materials were deemed so threatening in slave states that they were outlawed.

Still 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. One such militant abolitionist was John Brown, who with a small party attacked the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia to obtain weapons for slaves to rise up in freedom from their masters. Brown was caught by marines commanded by Robert E. Lee. Brown and was hung as a result.

Fredrick Douglas-Abolitionist and Author

Frederick Douglass was born a slave in Maryland. His birth name was Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, but he later changed his name to Frederick Douglass. He tells of witnessing the beating of slaves by unmerciful masters. Slaves received a monthly allowance of food and a yearly allowance of clothing. Children too young to work only received two coarse linen shirts a year. If the shirts wore out, they had to go without clothes until time for the next allowance. Some of them were without clothing during the coldest months. Their beds consisted of only one coarse blanket. Once when he was young he stole a bag used for carrying corn and crawled into it each night to try to keep warm. Frederick lived on the plantation of Colonel Lloyd. The Colonel had a large fine garden. In order to keep the slaves from stealing the fruit, he built a fence around it and put black sticky tar on it. If a slave was found with tar on him, he was whipped by the chief gardener.

Some of the overseers were extremely cruel to the slaves in their charge. They could murder a slave and there would be no consequences. It was not considered a crime either by the courts or the community. Cornmeal was boiled to make a mush then put into troughs and set down on the ground. The feeding of the slave children was similar to the feeding of pigs. Those who ate the fastest got the most. When he was seven or eight years old Frederick went to Baltimore to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Auld to care for their young son. There for the first time he found kindness. It was Mrs. Auld who taught him his ABC's and how to read. She changed over time however, and at the insistence of her husband she quit teaching him. It was against the law for anyone to teach a slave to read. He was so eager to learn he befriended the white boys who knew how to read. He would take bread from his master's house and use it to bribe the poor white boys to teach him how to read. For the first time in his life he had enough to eat at the Auld's house. When he began reading the book The Columbian Orator he began to be able to formulate his ideas about slavery. The more he read, the more he began to detest the enslavers. As he describes it he felt like "a man in a pit with no ladder to get out". He began to hear about the "abolitionists" and determined to learn more about them. He knew that some day he would run away and be free, but first he had to learn how to write. He began by copying letters from Webster's Spelling Book .
He was hired out to a Mr. Covey to "break him" of his obstinate. The man was very cruel, but one day when Frederick fought back, things changed. Covey never whipped him again. This was the turning point. He knew that one day he must be a free man. He was sixteen years old at the time. He remained a slave for four more years. He had several fights but was never whipped again. He began a Sabbath school to teach the other slaves how to read and write. At one time he had over 40 students, mostly men and women. Frederick and four other slaves made plans to run away, but they were betrayed and ended up in prison for a time. Next he was apprenticed to a ship builder and learned the trade. Sometimes he made as much as $1.50 a day, but was compelled to turn the money over to his master when he got home. Once when he turned over $6 to the master, six cents was returned to him. He said it would have hurt him less if nothing had been returned because he knew rightfully he should have been able to keep the whole amount. He finally escaped and made his way to New York where a kindly man, Mr. David Ruggles, took him in. He sent for Anna, his intended wife, and they were married. He was able to find a job and worked joyfully in his new found freedom. After his book was published, he left the country for a time fearing his old master would try to get him back. He went to Ireland and spent two years in Great Britain. Friends in England raised money to purchase his freedom from Mr. Auld. After returning to America he began to publish an abolitionist newspaper The North Star . Within eight years he had 3,000 subscribers. He became a great orator, speaking out against slavery. His words and his writing were so effective that some people doubted they had been written by a former slave. When the Civil War started, Abraham Lincoln's aim was to preserve the union. Douglass urged the President to make emancipation of the slaves the goal of the conflict. On January 1, 1863 his dream was realized with the Emancipation Proclamation. Douglass had been instrumental in the formation of two black regiments during the war. Previously blacks were prevented from participating in the conflict.

How Would I have Felt?

I would have felt like slavery was something very cruel and I would have been very unhappy. I think I wouldn't have been able to go through or survive everything he had to go through.


"Abolitionist Movement." Abolitionist Movement. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Mar. 2013. <http://questgarden.com/99/59/3/110911103612/files/The Abolitionists.htm>.

"Be a Civil War Spy!" Questgarden.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Mar. 2013. <http://questgarden.com/99/59/3/110911103612/process.htm>.