Introduction

The Abolitionist Movement

Module Introduction

During the first half of the nineteenth-century, a vocal if marginalized abolitionist movement developed in the United States. It was a diverse and occasionally fractious movement. Slaves fought for their freedom, and the end of slavery, by organizing and leading rebellions or running away to freedom in the North or Canada. Some of those former slaves, like Frederick Douglass, became leaders in the abolitionist movement by the force of their oratory and writing.

The transatlantic religious revivals of the early nineteenth-century, often referred to as the Second Great Awakening in the United States, inspired others, including some white men and women, to become abolitionists. They saw slavery as a grave American sin that the nation must purge to redeem itself and to prepare the way for Christ’s return and 1,000-year rule on Earth. Rather than just relying on natural rights arguments, nineteenth-century abolitionists often used moral arguments – moral suasion – to highlight the immorality of slavery. In keeping with the religious fervor of the era, abolitionists hoped to bring about a mass conversion in public opinion to end slavery. Nevertheless, the vast majority of white Americans, even in the North, saw abolitionism as a radical, irrational, and dangerous threat, not only to slavery but to white supremacy and the union.

Though abolition would only come about because of the Civil War, the abolitionist movement left behind a revolutionary legacy. It used new means of communication, including mass printing presses, and new forms of literature in America, such as the slave narrative and novel, to organize its movement and spread ideas that indelibly changed the nation and the world. (1)

Learning Outcomes

This module addresses the following Course Learning Outcomes listed in the Syllabus for this course:

  • To provide students with a general understanding of the history of African Americans within the context of American History.
  • To motivate students to become interested and active in African American history by comparing current events with historical information.(1)

Additional learning outcomes associated with this module are:

  • The student will be able to discuss the origins, evolution, and spread of racial slavery.
  • The student will be able to describe the creation of a distinct African-American culture and how that culture became part of the broader American culture. (1)

Module Objectives

Upon completion of this module, the student will be able to:

Use primary historical resources to analyze the Abolitionist Movement. (1)

Readings and Resources

  • Learning Unit: The Abolitionist Movement (see below) (1)
  • Primary Source Documents (see below)
    • David Walker’s Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World, 1829
    • William Lloyd Garrison Introduces The Liberator