Understanding the Abolitionists

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By Samuel W. Rowse — où l’avez vous obtenue ?, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1540884

One of the largest hammers that smashed away slavery in the United States was the brave work of the abolitionist. It was through their determination and loud voice that the ‘peculiar institution’ called slavery met its downfall. They shouted till no one could deny their cry and the subject had to be met head on. It is through their hard work that so much was accomplished.

Who Were the Abolitionists

The abolitionist cannot be defined in a simple sentence nor can their names simply define the roles they played in history. Yes, they were the ones to argue against slavery and bring its ugliness to the public’s attention, but there was no one way to describe them and there was no one method that they used. It wasn’t a simple matter of fitting into a definable mold.

According to one site, an abolitionist is defined as “someone who wanted to end slavery, especially in the United States before the Civil War — when owning slaves was common practice.” (http://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/abolitionist) They were people who set out to abolish the institution of slavery, and they would do whatever it took to accomplish that.

Let’s pause to note that the abolitionists were not the same as those called ‘free-soilers.’ These were people who fought for the end of slavery expansion. They did not want to see the institution continued by bringing in new slaves from Africa nor did they want slavery to extend beyond the territories it already existed in. It accepted slavery in its current form, but asked that it grow no more. (http://www.us-civilwar.com/abolitionist.htm)

Their means ranged from spreading the word of abolishment in social circles through the act of physically removing the slaves from their owners.

It was not uncommon to see abolitionists literally stand on a soap box, proclaiming the horrors of the slavery of the time. They appeared at rallies and political speeches. They worked their ways through political circles to convince those that had power that the abolition of slavery was needed. they could be found in every level of society.

Then there were those who believed that violence was the only way. They stirred up slave revolts and encouraged the slaves to fight for their freedom. Many chose the peaceable route while others chose the violent path.

History of Abolitionists

Abolitionists did not suddenly start proclaiming the need to end slavery a few years before the American Civil War. They began about two hundred years earlier. In 1807, the trade of slaves was banned in Great Britain and all of its colonies. Despite what most people think, this did not end slavery itself but the act of purchasing and trading slaves. It took another 26 years before slavery was completely abolished in Great Britain.

America at that time was no longer a British colony which meant the abolition of slave trading or the elimination of the institution did not reach across the waters automatically at that time. But that didn’t mean Americans were not working toward that goal. They were dealing with more important issues as in creating a foundation for the new nation.

It was the growth of the new nation that was the key. As America began expanding, the abolitionist found a way to be heard. New lands were being added,therefore the decision on how each new territory or state arose to be debated. Abolitionists pushed to have new lands added with the standing of no slavery firmly in place for each territory. They were very successful as many lands had slavery banned.


Most abolitionists were influenced by religion to support their declaration that slavery was wrong. As religion began to rise in the world from the Great Awakening, so did the call to seek out a Utopia in the New World. The evangelical movement had behind it to give it the energy to fight for the freedom of slaves “its religious fervor, its moral urgency to end sinful practices, and its vision of human perfection.” (http://www.us-civilwar.com/abolitionist.htm)

Abolitionist Hall of Fame

This did not end the actual establishment of slavery, but it was a huge step. Voices of abolitionists were being heard. They included William Lloyd Garrison and Susan B. Anthony are just a small portion of the abolitionists that banded together to bring slavery down.

The movement took a huge leap forward as former slaves such as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman added their voices. The reality of slavery could not be ignored and gradually more and more began to take the stand of abolishing slavery. It was not until the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln and the establishment of the thirteenth amendment that slavery was finally abolished in America.

Their Success

Abolitionists achieved their goals. Politics was huge in abolishing slavery, but in the end it took much bloodshed to have it completely abolished. This would not have come about without the tireless efforts of the abolitionists that brought an end to slavery.

Literary Assistance

Literature played a major role in the fight over slavery. Novels were written showing the life of a slave with the most famous of these being Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It wasn’t a bed of roses as some would like the nation to believe and it wasn’t desired nor the best situation for the majority of slaves. But this book was by far not the only literary method used to help the abolitionist cause.

Newspapers sprung up with abolitionist ideals as the foundation. The Liberator was started in 1831 by William Lloyd Garrison and the Tappan brothers. Its sole purpose was to show how slavery was wrong and should be completely abolished.

Literature could get into the hands of people where speeches could not reach. These were produced by publishers and by anti-slavery societies which number more than a quarter of a million members. (http://www.us-civilwar.com/abolitionist.htm)

Written by

Writer for ten years, lover of education, and degrees in business, history, and English. Striving to become a Renassiance woman. www.writerrebeccagraf.com

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