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The Abolition Movement

The Abolition Movement describes activity that took place in the 1800s to the end of slavery. In the United States, antislavery activity began in colonial days. Although the Quakers of Pennsylvania had opposed slavery from its inception and stressed the importance of ending sinful practices and upholding the activities God wanted in society, there was no national movement in America until William Lloyd Garrison began his crusade in the early 1830s. In December 1833, the three most active antislavery organizations, the Philadelphia Quakers, the New England Garrisonians, and the New York Reformers, met with freed blacks to form an organization called the America Anti-Slavery Society.

Abolitionists initially focused their efforts on church members and clergymen. If the concept of the abolition of slavery could be driven home from the pulpits, the attitudes of White Americans would surely change. Garrison was not the consummate politician who sought compromise on the matter of slavery. Not only did he advocate the emancipation of slaves, but also suggested that blacks be given the same political and economic rights that were afforded to Whites only. Many Northerners would accept the gradual elimination of slavery, but giving blacks equal rights to compete among Whites was totally unacceptable. Although their numbers did grow rapidly, most White clergymen would not speak out against slavery.

The abolitionists knew that they had to influence the many northerners who where still undecided on abolition of slavery issue in order to reach their goal. Northern abolitionists would assist the slaves in running away, or simply attempt to speak to people on the topic. By the 19th century, the institution of slavery was somewhat gone from the North, but this institution remained strong in the South because their economy depended on slave labor. The southern plantation owners were not willing to follow in the North's footsteps because their income would decrease a considerable amount. Having this difference in their lifestyles began to cause tension, and would soon get the ball rolling toward abolition.

While abolitionists struggled in the North to change the attitudes of the White Northerner, no such efforts took place in the South, and as abolitionists grew in numbers in the North they were completely disappearing in the South. Southern state legislatures banned antislavery material. Southern hospitality for abolitionists was a rope with a noose or a whip. By the late 1830s there were no known abolitionists in the South, and northern abolitionists were seen committing acts of violence against the South.

John Brown, a well-known abolitionist at the time, wanted to purchase some land in Virginia so that escaping slaves would have a place to go. From there John would help them escape to the North. In order to do this, he decided that he was going to attack Harper's Ferry, a southern fort, so that he could acquire arms. He and 22 other people attacked the ferry and lost. They were all caught and killed. This is the most important violent act performed by an abolitionist- it is this attack that started the Civil War.

After the Civil War began in 1861, abolitionists rallied to the Union cause. They rejoiced when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, declaring the slaves free in many parts of the South. In 1865, the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery in the country. Large numbers of abolitionists then joined the fight to win social and political equality for blacks.

Although Garrison did not initially see his goals come to fruition, he and others in the abolitionist movement did succeed in bringing the matter of slavery into the forefront.

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