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Review of "The Abolitionists, Part 2"

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Radicals. Agitators. Troublemakers

Liberators. Called by many names, the abolitionists tore the nation apart in order to create a more perfect union. Men and women, black and white, Northerners and Southerners, poor and wealthy, these passionate anti-slavery activists fought body and soul in the most important civil rights crusade in American history. What began as a pacifist movement fueled by persuasion and prayer became a fiery and furious struggle that forever changed the nation.

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Abolitionists in the 1800s made many contributions to the movement to end slavery. Abolitionist took a prominent role in society with the establishment of the American Anti-Slavery Movement. This group attracted thousands of people that were interested in ending slavery. One important abolitionist is Harriet Tubman. Harriet Tubman was born into slavery and at age 25 married John Tubman, who was a freeman, and went to live in his log cabin while still working for her master. In 1849 Harriet Tubman ran away from her plantation following the North Star to Pennsylvania. While in Pennsylvania she found work became involved with abolition and anti-slavery movements within Philadelphia. While in Philadelphia she met Thomas Garrett and she used his house as a pinpoint. Between the years of her escape and the civil war Harriet Tubman had taken about 20 trips in the Underground Railroad and had helped about 300 slaves escape to the north, sometimes as far as Canada. The Underground Railroad became one of the most dominant forces in the abolitionist movement. This was only one major contribution made by abolitionist in the 1800s. Another key abolitionist was Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in Maryland. He was cared for by his grandmother until he was able to work. At the age of 6 he went to work on the plantation, soon after he was transferred to another plantation where the wife of the master began to teach him how to read. After she was scolded by her husband she stopped her reading lessons to Frederick however he continued to learn on his own from poor white children trading pieces of bread for lessons. Using money that he earned on the plantation he would by newspapers. He was especially interested in The Columbian Orator. It was a collection of speeches that emphasized liberty, democracy, and courage. At the young age of 13 Douglass was inspired by the speeches and grew a strong hatred for slavery. Frederick Douglass was viewed to be uncontrollable by his master when it was revealed that he was holding church services for slaves. He was again sent to another plantation. To a man that was known as the “slave breaker” at the age of 16 he got into a fight with his master when he could not take the beatings anymore. Instead of killing Douglass his master sent him to another plantation where he was treated better. After suffering an injury Douglass began apprenticing at one of his former owners farms and fell in love with a woman named Anna. Using money that he borrowed from Anna he was able to finance his escaped and in 1838 he arrived in New York City and he was free. He soon sent for Anna and moved to New Bedford while in New Bedford he met his idol, William Lloyd Garrison and began reading the Liberator. In 1841 during a convention Douglass spoke about his experiences as a slave and he impressed many prominent abolitionist leaders including Garrison. He was hired as a lecturing agent and made hundreds of anti- slavery speeches. In 1845 he wrote his autobiography, which became an instant success, however in writing this book he was forced to move to Europe in order to avoid capture. Soon he was able to buy his own freedom and he returned to the United States. In 1847 he published the North Star. This was only one of many anti- slavery works that he published. In addition to lecturing and publishing many newspapers he was an active member in the Underground Railroad. Until his death Frederick Douglass traveled to many places speaking against slavery. Although Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass are not the only abolitionist they made significant contributions that greatly affected America. Both abolitionist were born into slavery and escaped in order to speak out against slavery and the treatment of African Americans. Harriet Tubman made history by aiding over 300 slaves to freedom in the North and Frederick Douglass touched the hearts of many with his moving speeches and numerous publications. The contributions of these abolitionists were not overlooked however as the abolitionist took a more prominent role in society the government took steps in order to stifle their endeavors.

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Could the Abolitionist movement achieve all those purposes? Hardly so; rather, the complexity of the social meanings and principles caused confusion among leaders and their followers (Donald, David, 1956)

For example, Frederick Douglass had to part with his lifetime ally, William Lloyd Garrison, on the premise that the latter refused to open and support a black-run newspaper. Simultaneously, those controversies could not reduce the historical significance of the Abolitionist movement. For the first time in the American history, slavery became a serious impediment to the cultural and social evolution among the states. Abolitionism as a means of self-expression caused profound influences on the structure of social relations in America: in a pursuit of challenge, young abolitionist leaders opened schools for blacks and invited them to their weddings. In the meantime, restoring the traditional values of the social elite became one of the abolitionists’ top priorities. Abolitionism helped to personify the pain of social displacement and empowered young leaders. Abolitionism was the starting point in the subsequent evolution of the American society toward racial and social integration (Derman-Sparks, 2006). It was also “an anguished protest of an aggrieved class against a world they never made”. Although abolitionism never achieved the goal of racial integration, it became a starting point in the country’s fight for racial equality – the fight which seems to have no finish.

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In fact, in a similar manner to the slaves, women were motivated by the beliefs preached in camp meetings and churches during the Second Great Awakening

Due to the amount of free time the women had, they attended these churches more often than men, allowing them to absorb the ideas from the sermons. These women not only became motivated to fight for the rights of slaves, but also for their own since human freedom was one of the essential ideas of the Second Great Awakening. During the international anti-slavery convention, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were denied the right to participate just because of their genders. With the ideas of the Second Great Awakening in their minds, they created the Women’s Right Convention in Seneca Falls, where they wrote the Declaration of Sentiments that listed all of the ways in which males have wronged them by denying equality to them.

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Derman-Sparks, Louise, Patricia G. Ramsey, and Julie Olsen Edwards. What If All the Kids Are White? Anti-Bias Multicultural Education with Young Children and Families. New York: Teachers College Press, 2006.

Donald, David. “Toward a Reconsideration of Abolitionists.” In Lincoln Reconsidered: Essays on the Civil War, edited by David Donald, 19-36. New York: Random House, 1956.

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