American Anti-Slavery Society: History & Activities

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

The American Anti-Slavery Society had a role in abolishing slavery through political engagement and lobbying, becoming a powerful activist association for black rights. Learn more about slavery in early America, anti-slavery societies, policies and politics. Updated: 12/08/2021

Slavery in Early America

Even during the Revolutionary Era, slavery was a divisive issue in America. Our Founding Fathers largely side-stepped the issue, leaving it to future generations to negotiate. Debate over slavery consumed the young American republic throughout the early 19th century, and by the 1820s, the question of slavery was central to American politics. The North tended to embrace a more radical stance on slavery. In the North, abolitionism was far more common than in the South. In the South, slavery was accepted as an economic necessity.

Slave rebellions were common throughout the South during the first half of the 19th century, and these rebellions sparked fear among white Southerners. In Virginia, the Southhampton Insurrection, or slave rebellion of 1831, led by Nat Turner, was particularly deadly and had profound social and political repercussions. Historians believe rebel slaves killed some 60 whites, while up to 200 African-Americans died at the hands of white mobs and militias.

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American Anti-Slavery Society

Recognizing the social evil of slavery and its effects, numerous abolitionist organizations sprang up during the first half of the 19th century. These organizations worked to abolish slavery through political means. Local and state chapters engaged in lobbying and became a powerful force in the anti-slavery movement. Among the most prominent was the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS), founded in 1833 by William Lloyd Garrison and Arthur Tappan. The society was based in New York City and was in existence until 1870.

The AASS argued against slavery both on religious and natural grounds. This meant that society understood slavery to be an evil both from a religious and non-religous, or natural, perspective as it was a violation of human rights.

By 1840, the AASS had roughly 200,000 members, including Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, two pillars of the women's suffrage movement. It's important to note that the women's suffrage movement was closely aligned with the abolitionist movement during this time, even though tensions occasionally erupted between the two.

The American Anti-Slavery Society published a weekly newspaper called the National Anti-Slavery Standard. Renowned escaped slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglas was a frequent speaker at the organization's meetings. Douglas was a gifted orator and brilliant thinker, and his speeches were a powerful weapon of the abolitionist movement.

Policies and Politics

Whereas some pragmatic abolitionists favored a gradual emancipation for slaves, the AASS called for the immediate abolition of slavery. Many people during this time feared that immediate abolition would lead to even worse race problems. They feared that emancipated slaves would be murdered or ostracized from society to such a degree that they would not be able to secure a future. William Lloyd Garrison and the AASS dismissed these concerns and called for an immediate abolition without terms.

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