The Abolition Movement and the Abolitionists

The high demand for labour in the European countries and Britain during the 16th century led to the increase in the importation of slaves from Africa who provided cheap labour. Africans were forcefully captured during raids following collaborations between African local rulers and European leaders, and then transported from the coast in the European ships. They were highly preferred as slaves, because they were resilient in nature as they could survive the disease infections and thus were the best to work on the massive sugarcane plantations. By 1867, over ten million slaves had been imported and sold across America and Europe (Meager 2007).

A section of the Christian community perceived this type of trade negatively and viewed it as a practice that was against the Bible principles and morals. This led to the formation of the British abolition movement with the aim of creating national awareness on the evil of the slave trade and advocating for its abolition. A dedicated group of twelve men, most of whom were Quakers and the Anglicans, including Thomas Clarkson and Granville Sharp, formed the slave trade abolition committee to implement the movement’s policies.  White abolitionists in America led by Antony Benezet from Pennsylvania and John Woolman from New Jersey shared the same ideas like their counterparts in Britain supporting the gradual termination of African slaves. They convinced other whites and led to the formation of American Colonization Society (ACS) that aimed at gradual eradication of slave trade. A group of black abolitionists convinced the whites against the ACS’s aim of gradual eradication and demanded immediate abolition of slavery as the blacks’ unrest was growing. The white slave abolitionists agreed to support their call for immediate termination as they were cautious of possible racial wars. Black men abolitionists, including Fredrick Douglass, formed their local associations that aimed at protecting black slaves.

Fredrick Douglass

Fredrick Douglass is regarded as one of the key figures that pushed the anti-slavery agenda forward in the 18th century. He was born in 1818 as a slave in Talbot, Maryland. The African slaves subjected to forced labour had always desired to be free and tried to achieve this through being rebellious and escaping. Fredrick was one of those who managed to acquire self-freedom through escaping. Disguised in a sailor’s uniform, Fredrick safely found his way to New Bedford and sought protection from Polly Johnson and Nathan who were renowned African-American abolitionists at the time. 

His key strengths in oratory coupled with a strong desire to end the slave trade based on his childhood experiences made Fredrick rise to higher ranks that saw him become one of the most vocal abolitionists of the century. He used his personal experiences to advocate for freedom against human sufferings that were rampant at the time, with the slave trade dominating the southern part of America while racial discrimination took a toll in the southern part.

He tirelessly fought for black men to be given opportunities to provide their services in the Union Army during the Civil War as a measure to curb the increased rates of unemployment among the black during that period. He was the political representative during the Reconstruction South Initiative that aimed at advocating for equal and fair employment rights and the need to terminate the Jim Crow’s laws of discrimination. Douglass also played a critical role during the 1848’s Women’s Rights Convention that took place in New York.

Fredrick Douglass spent his lifetime as a distinguished lecturer of abolition and used his public speaking skills to address the masses against slavery. He sacrificed his life in the struggle for African freedom from the slave trade and endured the negative publicity and frequent threats. Douglass became one of the most memorable historical figures of his time as a  writer, politician, political activist, public speaker, and a national celebrity. He died in 1895. His primary works include the speeches he delivered and the writings he made during his career time as highlighted below:

What to a slave is the 4th of July (1852)

Speech on the equality of all men before the law (Boston, 1865)

Speech on the church and prejudice (November 4, 1841 at the Plymouth County)

Speech on self-made men

Speech on fighting the rebels with one hand (September 1861)

Edited the North Star Newspaper (1847-1851)

Frederick Douglass paper

My bondage and my freedom (1855)

William Lloyd Garrison

William Lloyd Garrison was a white abolitionist that made a significant impact during the 19th century. He was born in 1805 to his British parents in New Brunswick. He moved to Boston after the death of his parents where he secured a job as an editor of the National Philanthropist. He later began to work with the Journal of the Times in Vermont. It was while in Boston that he met Benjamin Lundy, a strong advocator for the abolition of the slave trade that influenced his perspective on the issue. Garrison got interested and later published the Liberator newspaper from the dawn of 1831, a publication that was produced for about 34 years and saw the end of the slave trade. He also played an important role in the formation of the American Anti-Slavery Society (Soylet 2012).

He used his writing skills to advocate for anti-slavery movement and released another publication entitled Thoughts on African Colonization in 1832. He persuaded the government to abolish slavery through national capital. He appealed to churches and the entire Christian fraternity to embrace the freedom to avert possible wars and rebellions. He loved peace and unity in the society and hence opposed other minor religious sects that had ganged to support slavery.

In 1840, he advocated for women’s participation in abolition conventions and get their voices heard. His stand on this led to the splitting of the American Anti-Slavery Society as those who were of a contrary opinion left to form a separate movement called the Foreign and American Anti-Slavery Society. William Lloyd’s primary works include:

The Journal of the Times in Vermont that support John Quincy’s re-election:

Volume of sonnets called “The National Philanthropist” (1843);

Thoughts on African Colonization

John Brown

John Brown was another well-known white abolitionist of the 19th century. In fact, the then president of America Abraham Lincoln described him as one of the most controversial Americans of the 19th century. He was born in May 1800 and grew up in Ohio. His father was totally against slavery, and this influenced Brown’s principle on slavery at a tender age.

His motives and activities remained unknown to many until 1855 when he moved to Kansas with his sons. Being there, he organized and carried out guerrilla wars and attacks on pro-slavery supporters together with his sons.

In 1859, he captured the nation’s attention through his attempt of starting a movement of liberation among the African-Americans who were enslaved in Virginia. He used the armed insurrection method, advocated for and practiced armed revolution method to do away with the slave trade. In 1856 and 1859, he led the Harpers Ferry raid and Pottawatomie massacre in Kansas. The raid was unsuccessful, but the Kansas bleeding event was a success as he confessed having killed southerners who were pro-slavery (Resource 2012).

Brown was different from his fellow colleagues from the north who advocated for peaceful rebellions. He was dubbed as a man of action, because he advocated for the use of violent actions in dealing with the southern region. The Southerners perceived his actions as heroic in the sense that they triggered the subsequent events leading towards the abolition of the slave trade. For instance, in 1859, Harpers Ferry increased tensions which resulted in the American Civil War just a year later. His life was ended through capital punishment when he was sentenced to hanging for treason in 1859.  His primary works include:

His last speech during his trial and execution in Virginia

Speech in Salem (1860)

Speech in Boston

Order now

Related essays