Abolitionist Sentiment Grows

28. Abolitionist Sentiment Grows

Illustration from Uncle Tom's Cabin
Most of the African American characters in Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel Uncle Tom's Cabin are transported to Africa at the end of the novel, causing controversy amongst abolitionists and free African Americans.

As the cotton industry took hold and slavery became more and more entrenched across the American south, the opposition to the Peculiar Institution began to grow.

The first widely accepted solution to the slavery question in the 1820s was colonization. In effect, supporters of colonization wanted to transplant the slave population back to Africa. Their philosophy was simple: slaves were brought to America involuntarily. Why not give them a chance to enjoy life as though such a forced migration had never taken place? Funds were raised to transport freed African-Americans across the Atlantic in the opposite direction. The nation of Liberia was created as a haven for former American slaves.

But most African-Americans opposed this practice. The vast majority had never set foot on African soil. Many African-Americans rightly believed that they had helped build this country and deserved to live as free citizens of America. By the end of the decade, a full-blown Abolitionist movement was born.

Wendell Phillips
Library of congress
Abolitionist Wendell Phillips spoke on behalf of fugitive slave Thomas Sims, and against the Fugitive Slave Law in 1851. Sims was later returned to Savannah where he was publicly whipped.

These new Abolitionists were different from their forebears. Anti-slavery societies had existed in America since 1775, but these activists were more radical. Early Abolitionists called for a gradual end to slavery. They supported compensation to owners of slaves for their loss of property. They raised money for the purchase of slaves to grant freedom to selected individuals.

Grave marker
Many runaway slaves died on their way to freedom on the Underground Railroad. This stone marking the grave of a four-year-old fugitive slave orphan is in Oberlin, Ohio, a town noted for helping slaves escape.

The new Abolitionists thought differently. They saw slavery as a blight on America. It must be brought to an end immediately and without compensation to the owners. They sent petitions to Congress and the states, campaigned for office, and flooded the south with inflammatory literature.

Needless to say, eyebrows were raised throughout the north and the south. Soon the battle lines were drawn. President Andrew Jackson banned the post office from delivering Abolitionist literature in the south. A "gag rule" was passed on the floor of the House of Representatives forbidding the discussion of bills that restricted slavery. Abolitionists were physically attacked because of their outspoken anti-slavery views. While northern churches rallied to the Abolitionist cause, the churches of the south used the Bible to defend slavery.

Abolitionists were always a minority, even on the eve of the Civil War. Their dogged determination to end human bondage was a struggle that persisted for decades. While mostly peaceful at first, as each side became more and more firmly rooted, pens were exchanged for swords. Another seed of sectional conflict had been deeply planted.

On the Web
The "drinking gourd" was another name for the Big Dipper, which points to the North and freedom. The lyrics to the folk song "Follow the Drinking Gourd" contain clues to known escape routes on the Underground Railroad.
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As well as being a compelling force in the anti-slavery movement, Frederick Douglass strongly supported the women's rights movement. In fact, when he died in February 1895, he had just attended a Woman's Council meeting.
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Among the founders of the American Colonization Society were Presidents James Monroe and Andrew Jackson, Senators Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, and Francis Scott Key, songwriter of "The Star-Spangled Banner."
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