Introducing the Abolitionists!
Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe, & Sojourner Truth
The Legacy of Frederick Douglass
Learned to read and write at age 12; taught the alphabet by the master’s wife and continued to learn from white children
Sent to work for Edward Covey, who had a reputation as a "slave-breaker” ; Douglass was almost broken but he eventually fought back
Escaped from slavery with the help of Anna Murray, a free black woman in Baltimore; the two then married
Douglass was asked to tell his story at abolitionist meetings, and he became a regular anti-slavery lecturer
William Lloyd Garrison wrote about Douglass in The Liberator. Several days after, Douglass gave his first speech at the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society's annual convention
Published his first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, in 1845
Published the North Star, a weekly newspaper in Rochester, New York
Douglass Begins Sheltering Escaped Slaves Fleeing North on the "Underground Railroad."
Douglass attends the first women's rights convention at Seneca Falls, NY and advocates the right to vote for women
Douglass conferred with Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War and recruited northern blacks for the Union Army
Uncle Tom's Cabin - Harriet Beecher Stowe
Harriet Beecher Stowe was born on June 14th, 1811 into a very religious family that believed in social justice and therefore held abolitionist beliefs. During her life, she joined associations such as the Semi-Colon Club where she developed her love of literature. At the club, she met her husband Calvin Stowe, who also believed in the importance of abolishing slavery. After the passing of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, Stowe decided to write a book detailing a slave named Tom’s attempt at escaping from a vicious slave trader. Her novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, became a huge best-seller and Stowe even met President Lincoln in 1862. Later in her life, she wrote various other novels, but none paralleled the fame from Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Stowe died in 1896 after suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin is an overall depiction of slavery in both “kind” and hellish households. Tom, the main slave, is sold to a horrid slave trader from his original household, where the white family always treated him well, but is now forced to sell him to pay off their debt. Now, however, Tom is forced to work in a new household, which is strictly ruled by Legree (who bought Tom from the slave trader). Legree represents the worst of humanity, physically and sexually abusing the slaves he owns. But, the novel refutes the existence of slavery not only in the dreadful Legree household, but even in the “pleasant” one Tom used to work in. Stowe accomplishes this goal by writing about the selfishness of Tom’s original white master; though he may have treated Tom well, he still sold Tom despite the fact that he knew Tom’s family would be torn apart. Thus, Stowe repudiated the institution of slavery, providing an argument against it existing in any household, even though it may be a “kind” one. Stowe manages to finally appeal to her mainly Protestant audience by maintaining a theme of Christian morality by writing Tom’s character as a devout Christian faithful to his beliefs.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a poignant and acclaimed piece of American literature. Perceptions of how Americans and society as a whole viewed slavery were altered as part of the widespread ramifications of this publication, leading to a transition of thought. Values were changed in that slaves were no longer viewed as property but were instead humanized by the novel to the point where people around the world could directly relate to the message presented. Politically, was a factor leading to the outbreak of the Civil War, a major event in United States history, because it demanded that the nation abolish slavery and foster universal equality.
A Narrative of Sojourner Truth - A Northern Slave (1850)
Sojourner Truth, born Isabella Baumfree in 1797, became an abolitionist and women's rights activist after she fought her way to freedom from slavery in 1828. Utilizing her notable oratory skills, Truth lectured to many audiences - "Ain't I A Woman?" being her most famous speech, publicizing the anti-slavery movement and advocating for women's rights all the same. She published her tragic experiences as a slave, being sold to many different owners and losing her children, in a book written with the help of Olive Gilbert called A Narrative of Sojourner Truth - A Northern Slave.
Sojourner Truth received national recognition for the publication of her memoirs, which led to her going on a tour across the country. This provided her with the platform necessary to give her most profound and impactful speech, “Ain't I a Woman?” at a woman’s suffrage conference. Her life story when it was distributed acted as a precursor, building up to the time when she would travel the nation and use her skills as a powerful and impassioned orator to further her cause. The style of her accounts, though recorded by Olive Gilbert because Truth was illiterate, entranced audiences due to their religious influence and passion.
Sojourner Truth was inspired heavily by God to share her very personal and controversial stories of the past with the world. She also cited Frederick Douglass as an inspiration to take a nonviolent approach to pursuing change.
Sojourner Truth’s slave narrative inspired change in American values, politics, and society through her powerful presence, aggressive oratory style, and deep religious conviction. Truth’s narrative brought a personal and real aspect to the discussion of slavery that convinced many of the necessity of abolition.
How did these abolitionist writers and pieces of literature inspire change American values, politics, and society?
Abolitionist writers like Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Sojourner Truth, wrote pieces of literature, which put a face on the “peculiar institution” of slavery. They gave detailed accounts of the horrors slaves endured and inspired changes involving American values, politics, and society. Frederick Douglass was a powerful orator and writer whose works, including his first biography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, were among the most widely distributed abolitionist documents. Throughout his entire life, Douglass relentlessly pursued his dream of abolition. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin fully humanized the slave, Tom, and described the awfulness of slavery, in households both “kind” and appalling; through this narrative, Stowe could completely repudiate the existence of slavery. Sojourner Truth wrote A Narrative of Sojourner Truth - A Northern Slave which shared her experiences enslaved and the difficulties she faces in attaining freedom for herself and son, Peter. Truth’s struggles, depicted in a relatable manner, allowed audiences across the country to become receptive to her unique voice, leading up to her performances as a strong orator on various public platforms, exposing the world to her perspective. Through these inspiring works of literature in the Humanities, American society opened their eyes to the cruelty of slavery to finally strengthen the abolitionist movement and resolve slavery in the future.