Why was the abolition of slavery so hard to acheive?
The reform movements and sectional conflicts of the mid 1800’s
rightfully centered on the issue of slavery. There arose a movement
in the North called the Abolitionist Movement. The movement to
abolish slavery represented the very best of human intentions yet was
a strike to the heart of Southerners. Southerners, as a result,
resisted abolition. As you can imagine this led to increasingly
bitter sectional conflict.
1. William Lloyd Garrison – Publisher of the newspaper
“The Liberator” we was the most outspoken and most vocal of all
abolitionists. He often wrote in corse and blunt language that left
no room to be misunderstood. This short excerpt shows his resolve and
his passion: “I am in earnest. I will not equivocate; I will not
excuse; I will not retreat a single inch; and I will be heard!”
2. Frederick Douglass – Frederick Douglass, (1818?-1895), was the
leading spokesman of African Americans in the 1800’s. Born a slave,
Douglass became a noted reformer, author, and orator. He devoted his
life to the abolition of slavery and the fight for black rights.
3. Harriet Tubman – Harriet Tubman was an African American whose
daring rescues helped hundreds of slaves escape to freedom. She
became the most famous leader of the underground railroad, which
aided slaves fleeing to the free states or to Canada. Blaks called
her Moses, after the Biblical figure who led the Jews from Egypt.
4. Sojourner Truth – Like Harriet Tubman, Truth was born into
slavery (with the given name Isabella) and had no formal education.
She fled the last of a series of masters in 1827, and several years
later, in response to what she described as a command from God, she
became an itinerant preacher and took the name Sojourner Truth. Among
her most memorable appearances was at an 1851 women’s rights
conference in Akron, Ohio: in her famous “Ain’t I a woman?” speech
she forcefully attacked the hypocrisies of organized religion, white
privilege and everything in between.
5. Nat Turner – Nat Turner, a black slave and preacher, led the
most famous slave revolt in United States history. In 1831, Turner
and from 60 to 70 other slaves killed about 60 whites in Virginia.
The victims included the family of Joseph Travis, Turner’s owner.
More whites died during the rebellion led by Turner than in any
other in the nation’s history. The Virginia militia captured and
hanged about 20 of the slaves, including Turner. In addition, angry
whites killed about 100 innocent slaves. The rebellion caused the
Southern States to pass strict laws for the control of slaves,
especially those who were preachers.
6. John Brown – He lived and worked successively in Pennsylvania,
Massachusetts and New York. Meanwhile, he had conceived an intense
hatred of the institution of slavery and had resolved to do
everything in his power to bring about its destruction. Brown, with
only eighteen men, five of whom were Negroes, attacked and captured
the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, W. Va. on October 16, 1859. On
October 18 he was overpowered by a small force of United States
Marines under the command of Col. Robert E. Lee. Brown was captured,
seriously wounded and thrown into prison. He was tried and convicted
for “treason and conspiring and advising with slaves and other rebels
and murder in the first degree” On December 2, 1859, Brown was hanged
B. What was the impact of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s
1. Harriet Beacher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin addresses
the issue of slavery Frequently in the novel the issue is raised .
Even Mrs. Shelby ( slave owner) recognizes the depravity and admits
that slavery, “is a bitter, bitter,most accursed thing- a curse to
the master and a curse to the slave!” The novel is extremely
effective in conveying the inhumanity concerning slavery and does so
in an honest manner. The preposterousness of such practice is clearly
identified by the reader and illustrated remarkably well by Stowe.
Stowe also discerningly demonstrates the disheartening fact that,
“slavery always ends in misery” Stowe’s book sold over 300,000 copies
in one year, a record for the time. In fact more copies of Uncle
Tom’s Cabin were sold that year than copies of the Bible!
C. Why was slavery so hard to abolish despite these efforts?
1. Northerners as the silent accomplice –
Abolitionists in the North were few and far between until the late
1850’s and even then there were quite few. In actuality abolitionists
only made up less then 2% of the Northern population. The plain fact
was that most did not care.
2. The North made a profit off of slavery – Northern shippers and
vessels plied the seas engaged in what was known as the “Triangle
Trade.” Northeren shippers made a huge profit going from : Molasses
to Rum to Slaves.” If you get a chance watch the movie “1776” where
the delegate form South Carolina, Rutledge, makes this relationship
quuite clear. It’s about 1/2 way through the film.
3. The South passed effective legislation. Laws like the Slave
Codes which forbade the teaching of reading and writing to slaves and
the Fugitive Slave Laws, which mandated the return of escaped slaves
as lost property, made it difficult for slaves to resist.
4. To take away the slave meant to take away the private property
of southerners, this was a law most were unwilling to break. No
matter how absurd that seems to you today it was true in 1850.
4. The north was unwilling to fight – There was little desire to
push the issue as it seemed it might lead to war.