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Abolitionist Movement: Important Figures in the Fight to End Slavery

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  • 0:07 A Movement Begins
  • 0:39 David Walker and…
  • 2:10 Frederick Douglass
  • 2:59 Henry Highland Garnet
  • 3:54 Harriet Beecher Stowe…
  • 5:06 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Clint Hughes

Clint has taught History, Government, Speech Communications, and Drama. He has his master's degree in Instructional Design and Technology.

The abolitionist movement spanned decades. Although slavery did not end peacefully, great Americans like William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Beecher Stowe were some of the driving forces behind the anti-slavery movement.

A Movement Begins

Even many of the U.S. founders knew the evils of slavery, but it was from 1829-1850 when the Abolitionist Movement gained its greatest influence. Abolitionists wanted to end slavery through non-violent means by persuading the public and electing anti-slavery candidates to political positions. The abolitionists did not succeed in carrying out their program; it did require a civil war to have slavery meet its end, but they did bring slavery to the front of America's political debate.

In this lesson, we will look at some of the most prominent abolitionists and their additions to the movement.

David Walker

First up, David Walker - he published An Appeal in Four Articles in 1829, attacking slavery as a moral evil and calling on Africans to fight back. Walker saw a need for violence in bringing an end to slavery. A quote from his appeal reads, 'They want us for their slaves, and think nothing of murdering us...therefore, if there is an attempt made by us, kill or be killed...and believe this, that it is no more harm for you to kill a man who is trying to kill you, than it is for you to take a drink of water when thirsty.'

David Walker advocated violence as a means to end slavery.
David Walker

Walker stated that Africans deserved to be seen as both humans and Americans. His Appeal obviously frightened slave owners, but it also frightened opponents of slavery in the North because it embraced violence. Shortly after the Appeal's publication, Walker was found dead. Most likely, he had been murdered. His Appeal paved the way for future Abolitionists and inspired the movement.

William Lloyd Garrison

He was from Massachusetts and was one of the men inspired by David Walker. He started publishing an anti-slavery newspaper called The Liberator in 1831. This is what most consider the formal start of the abolitionist movement.

Garrison was a devoutly Christian man, and he saw slavery as a mortal sin that could not be justified by economics or politics. In 1833, he brought together people in New England to form the American Anti-Slavery Society. The group included Quakers, evangelical Christians who opposed slavery, and other abolitionists. They pushed for an immediate end to slavery and equal rights for free blacks. Unlike Walker, they refused to advocate violence to end slavery.

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass was an escaped slave. He used his excellent abilities as a writer and orator to bring attention to the evil of slavery. Douglass' publication was called the North Star. He agreed with the abolitionist stand against violence, but his speeches to white audiences were very blunt. On July 5, 1852, in a New York speech he asked, 'Why am I called upon to speak here today? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us?'

Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave, was a special adviser to President Lincoln.
Frederick Douglass

Douglass was a special adviser to President Lincoln and fought for the adoption of the constitutional amendments that guaranteed voting rights and other civil liberties to African Americans. He also assisted in recruiting African Americans for the United States Army.

Henry Highland Garnet

He escaped from slavery in Maryland. As a minister, he became interested in the abolitionist and temperance movements. The temperance movement, a social movement urging prohibiting use of alcohol, often crossed over with the abolitionist movement. Although Garnet was a well-known speaker for the American Anti-Slavery Society, in 1843, he became frustrated with the lack of progress and influenced by David Walker's Appeal, he broke ranks with the Society's non-violent stance.

His Address to the Slaves of the United States of America called for 'War to the Knife' to end slavery. Garnet said, 'You had far better all die - die immediately, than live as slaves.' Garnett was disowned by other abolitionists, like William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass, but he remained an important driver of active resistance to slavery. Like Douglass, Garnet helped to recruit black troops for the Civil War. He also established a school for the children of escaped slaves in Washington D.C.

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Harriet Beecher Stowe published Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1852. The novel, which condemned slavery, sold more than 300,000 copies in the United States in its first year and fueled resistance to slavery.

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