Lesson Plan 7 | Abolitionist Movement (1619-1865)


“Slavery was established in North America for centuries when the first Christian settlers founded the American colonies in the early 1600s. So opposed were the colonies of the Pilgrims and Puritans to slavery, that when the first slave trader brought his ship to Massachusetts, he was arrested, and his slaves returned to Africa. More than one hundred years later, the Founding Fathers inherited the situation of slavery, and dedicated themselves to its eradication.”  (America – A Call to Greatness by John W. Chalfant)

The first Abolitionist movement in both American and Britain began with the Society of Friends, known as the Quakers. Quakers believed that all people were created equal in the eyes of God, slavery was considered a moral outrage and a sinful practice. By the 1750s, the American Quakers became increasingly active in opposing slavery and founded the first Abolitionist Society in 1776 in Pennsylvania.

Abolitionist sentiment was active during the American Revolution but did not become militant until the 1830s. From the 1830s until the 1860s, the anti-slavery movement employed risky and radical tactics to bring an end to slavery.  In 1831, William Lloyd Garrison founded the abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator.  From the 1840s, free blacks and whites from New England down to the South joined the fight for the abolition of slavery. Because of the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Dred Scott decision, and John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, the Abolitionists had increased their membership to more than 150,000.

  • To understand two hostilities to slavery – Abolitionism, and Free-Soilism
  • To learn about some leading abolitionists
  • To understand the effect of abolitionist authors and newspapers had on the slavery issue
  • To examine the speeches of abolitionist leaders
  • To Examine the American Anti-Slavery Society, the New York Society and other organizations that affected the movement
  • To understand the development of the Underground Railroad.

Time: To Span Two Lesson Plans


Abolition Biographies Comparisons
Biography links www.biography.com/people/groups/abolitionists
1854, William Lloyd Garrison, “No Compromise with the Evil of Slavery.” http://www.blackpast.org/1854-william-lloyd-garrison-no-compromise-evil-slavery
1852, Frederick Douglass, “The Hypocrisy of American Slavery.” http://www.historyplace.com/speeches/douglass.htm
Map of routes for the Underground Railroad
Photos/ Illustrations of Abolition/Underground leaders
Illustrations of some Underground Railroad Stops

Background Information:

Some abolitionists disagreed among themselves on what course of action to take - some wanted immediate liberation of slaves - an end to segregation and discrimination. Other abolitionists wished to curb the westward expansion of slavery and were known as free-soilers.  Powerful evangelical religious movements stressed the moral imperative to end slavery. In the minds of the southern slaveholders, they now regarded the North as unified against them and in favor of black emancipation.

Antislavery literature, newspapers, speeches, and books provoked large-scale hostile responses from the North and South and moved the Union closer to war. The passage of The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, encouraged Harriet Beecher Stowe to write “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” in protest of the recently passed Fugitive Slave Law. White abolitionists protected blacks threatened with capture as escapees, and autobiographies of former slaves like Frederick Douglass, Solomon Northrup, and William and Ellen Craft had an invaluable impact on the northern culture.

Comparing Abolitionist Speeches:

Frederick Douglass, a former slave, and William Lloyd Garrison were prominent abolitionists in the 19th century in the United States. Each had a common purpose and delivered two remarkable speeches that urged the country to end slavery.

1852, “The Hypocrisy of American History by Frederick Douglass (1817 – 1895) http://www.historyplace.com/speeches/douglass.htm

“In 1852, the leading citizens of Rochester asked Douglass to give a speech as part of their Fourth of July celebrations. Douglass accepted their invitation. In his speech, however, Douglass delivered a scathing attack on the hypocrisy of a nation celebrating freedom and independence with speeches, parades, and platitudes, while, within its borders, nearly four million humans were being kept as slaves.” (Great History Place, Great Speeches Collection)

“Fellow citizens, pardon me, and allow me to ask, 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?

...I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! ...The blessings in which you this day rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not by me…This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn…Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today?

... My subject, then, fellow citizens, is “American Slavery.” I shall see this day and its popular characteristics from the slave’s point of view. Standing here, identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this Fourth of July. 

Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity, which is outraged, in the name of liberty, which is fettered, in the name of the Constitution and the Bible, which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery-the great sin and shame of America!

...I hear some of my audience say it is just in this circumstance that you and your brother Abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. Would you argue more and denounce less, would you persuade more and rebuke less, your cause would be much more likely to succeed.

…The manhood of the slave is conceded. It is admitted in the fact that Southern statute book are covered with enactments, forbidding, under severe fines and penalties, the teaching of the slave to read and write. When you can point to any such laws in reference to the beasts of the field, then I may consent to argue the manhood of the slave. When the dogs in your streets, when the fowls of the air, when the cattle on your hills, when the fish of the sea, and the reptiles that crawl, shall be unable to distinguish the slave from the brute, then I will argue with you that the slave is a man!

 Would you have me argue that man is entitled to liberty? That he is the rightful owner of his own body...Must I argue the wrongfulness of slavery? Is that a question for republicans...How should I look today in the presence of Americans, dividing and subdividing a discourse, to show that men have a natural right to freedom, speaking of it relatively and positively, negatively and affirmatively...There is not a man beneath the canopy of heaven who does not know that slavery is wrong for him.

…It is wrong to make men brutes, to rob them of their liberty, to work with without wages, to keep them ignorant of their relations to their fellow men, to beat them with sticks, to flay their flesh with the lash, to load their limbs with irons, to hunt them with dogs, to sell them at auction, to sunder their families, to knock out their teeth, to burn their flesh, to starve them into obedience and submission to their masters?

...Oh, had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would today pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not the light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the property of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; its crimes against God and man must be denounced.  

What to the American slave is your Fourth of July?...To him your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mock; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy – a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.

Go search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation and you will say with me that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.”

Frederick Douglass, a former slave,
Fredrick Douglass

1854, “No Compromise with Evil of Slavery” by William Lloyd Garrison

“By 1854, William Lloyd Garrison was the most prominent abolitionist in the United States. Beginning with his newspaper, the Liberator, which he establishes in Boston in 1831, Garrison led the effort to end slavery in the nation. In this 1854 speech which appears below, Garrison called for complete freedom for the slave and urged all Americans to support this cause.” (BlackPast.org) http://www.blackpast.org/1854-william-lloyd-garrison-no-compromise-evil-slavery

“I am a believer in that portion of the Declaration of American Independence in which is set forth…that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Hence, I am an abolitionist. Hence…regard oppression in every form…that which turns a man into a thing…They who desire me to be dumb on the subject of slavery…to degrade my manhood, and to stain my soul. I will not be a liar…or hypocrite, to accommodate any party…to preserve any institution, or to promote any object. Convince me that one man may rightfully make another man his slave and I will no longer subscribe to the Declaration of Independence. Convince me that liberty is not the in alienable birthright of every human being, of whatever complexion or clime…I do not know how to espouse freedom and slavery together.

I do not know how to worship God and Mammon at the same time…my crime is that I will not go with the multitude to do evil. My singularity is that when I say that freedom is of God and slavery is of the devil…My fanaticism is that I insist on the American people abolishing slavery or ceasing to prate of the rights of man…

The abolitionism which I advocate is as absolute as the law of God, and as unyielding as his throne…Every slave is a stolen man; every slaveholder is a man stealer…While a slave remains in his fetters, the land must have no rest. The law that makes him a chattel is to be trampled underfoot…the church that consents to his enslavement is horribly atheistical; the religion that receives to its communion the enslaver is the embodiment of all criminality…And who am I but a man? What right have I to be free, that another man cannot prove himself to possess by nature?

If the slaves are not men; if they do not possess human instincts, passions, faculties, and powers; if they are below accountability, and devoid of reason; if for them there is not hope of immortality, no God, no heaven, nor hell; if, in short, they are what the slave code declares them to be rightly deemed, sold, taken. Reputed…then, undeniably, I am mad, and can no longer discriminate between a man and a beast.

…But, if they are men; if they are to run the same career of immortality with ourselves; if the same law of God is over them as over all others; if they have souls to be saved or lost; if Jesus included them among those for whom he laid down his life; if Christ is within many of them “the hope of glory;” then, when I claim for them all that we claim for ourselves, because we are created in the image of God…claims of human nature, by obedience to Almighty God…to demand their immediate and unconditional emancipation…

These are solemn times…The reason why the South rules, and the North falls prostate in servile terror, is simply this: with the South, the preservation of slavery is paramount to all other considerations above party success, denominational unity, pecuniary interest, legal integrity, and constitutional obligation. With the North, the preservation of the Union is placed above all other things-above honor, justice, freedom, integrity of soul…

What then is to be done? Friends of the slave, the question is not whether by our efforts we can abolish slavery…but whether we will go with the multitude to evil…Living of dying, defeated or victorious, be it ours to exclaim, No Compromise with Slavery! Liberty for each, for all, forever! Man, above all institutions! The supremacy of God over the whole earth!”

By 1854, William Lloyd Garrison was the most prominent abolitionist in the United States.
William Lloyd Garrison

Guiding Questions:

  • What did Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison agree upon concerning the Declaration of Independence as it pertained to slaves?
  • Do you think that Douglass was aware of the contribution that blacks made during the American Revolution? What clues did you find in his speech to support your view?
  • Do you think that the leaders in Rochester expected the scathing attack on the hypocrisy of Douglass’ Fourth of July speech?
  • How did both men agree on what they believed that God felt on the subject of slavery?
  • Are primary sources, such as Douglass’s speech, always accurate?  What did Douglass write that made you question his knowledge of slavery in the world?
  • How did Garrison help us differentiate between the Northern and Southern views on the preservation of slavery?
  • Did both men want immediate emancipation for the slaves?
  • How were the views of Douglass, a slave, compared with Garrison’s as a white man? Do you think Garrison was as knowledgeable as Douglass? Why or why not?

Understanding the Underground Railroad and Its Leaders:

The federal law most credited for fueling anti-slavery flames was the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, passed by Democrats in Congress, it was one of many bills in the Compromise of 1850. The North refused to follow the Fugitive Slave Act, and abolitionists, writers, and leaders galvanized the abolitionist anti-slavery movement.  The Underground Railroad was a network of persons that helped escaped slaves to freedom to the North and Canada. Between 1850 to 1860, 20,000 blacks escaped with the help of the Underground Railroad.

There was a great need for secrecy because slaves, and those who helped them, would be severely punished if caught. Railroad terminology was used to maintain that secrecy and to obscure the slave catchers: “tracks” were routes; “station masters” were those that hid slaves in their homes; “agents” were people who helped slaves connect to the railroad;  “passengers,” “cargo,” “fleece,” or “freight” were escaped slaves; “tickets” meant that slaves were already traveling on the railroad; “stockholders” were financial supporters of the railroad; “Freedom Trails” were the routes of the Railroad; “terminal,” “heaven,” or the “Promised Land” were the destinations of Canada and the northern free states; and “the drinking gourd” was the Big Dipper constellation – a star in the constellation pointed to the North Star. The lyrics of “Follow the Drinking Gourd” are below and provided a ‘map’ for the escaped slave.

The lyrics of “Follow the Drinking Gourd,” provide many clues for the escaped slave. First, the clear suggestion of the northern direction of the route. Next, the banks of the Tombigbee River in Alabama were lined with dead trees and drawings of a left foot and a pegged foot, helped to differentiate the Tombigbee from its tributaries. The song continues to tell the fugitive that he must leave the South during the winter months (when the first quail calls) for that is when the Ohio River is frozen, and one could walk to safety.

"Follow the Drinking Gourd"
(song lyrics)

The riverbank makes a very good road                                                                             
The dead trees show you the way
Left foot, peg foot, traveling on
Follow the drinking gourd
When the sun comes back and the first quail calls
Follow the drinking gourd
For the old man is waiting to carry you to freedom

If you follow the drinking gourd

1851 – Harriet Beecher Stowe was a Connecticut-born teacher and active abolitionist. Distressed by the lack of protest against the recently passed Fugitive Slave Law, she began writing short stories for the anti-slavery weekly, The National Era, published serially from June 5, 1851, to April 1, 1852. Later published as Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the book made readers understand the evil of slavery with the use of melodrama, sentimentality, lively characters inspired by real people, and a suspenseful plot. The book became banned in the South and Stowe was considered a traitor. The impact of Uncle Tom’s Cabin on the anti-slavery movement was incalculable.

More than 100 years after the publication of the book, “Uncle Tom” became an epithet for passive, usually older blacks…paradoxically, Uncle Tom’s character would not answer to any white man, only to God.

Harriet Beecher Stowe was a Connecticut-born teacher and active abolitionist.
Harriet Beecher Stowe

Josiah Henson – “Josiah Henson was born into slavery on June 15, 1789, in Port Tobacco, Maryland. While still a slave, in 1828 Henson became a preacher for the Methodist Episcopal Church and was eventually able to earn the $350 he needed to buy his freedom. His master took the money, but then raised the price to $1,000. In 1830 Henson fled to Canada with his family, where he became involved in the Underground Railroad, leading nearly 200 slaves to freedom. His autobiography was published in 1849 and was the primary influence for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, (the character Uncle Tom) Henson died on May 5, 1883.”  (TheBiography.com website)

Josiah Henson was born into slavery on June 15, 1789
Josiah Henson

The 1850s - Harriet Tubman, Abolitionist, Spy, and Scout – Tubman, known as the “Black Moses,” was a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad during the 1850s. Born a slave in Maryland, escaped slavery and returned to the South nineteen times to lead her family and others to freedom by utilizing the Underground Railroad. She led three-hundred slaves to independence and never lost a fugitive nor was she caught by bounty hunters. The reward for her capture eventually went to forty thousand dollars. Tubman’s resistance to slavery continued during the Civil War as she worked with the Union government as a spy and scout.

Harriet Tubman, Abolitionist, Spy, and Scout – Tubman, known as the “Black Moses,” was a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad
Harriet Tubman

1851 - Sojourner Truth – Was an evangelist, abolitionist, and feminist who was unschooled and remembered for her remarkable speaking voice.  Truth was born a slave, later emerged in Massachusetts working among the Garrisonian abolitionists but later became a wandering orator.   In the 1850s she settled in Michigan and set up her base operations for the rest of her life, later interest was the women’s suffrage movement. Truth delivered the “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech extemporaneously at the 1851 Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio and brought the house down. http://www.slaverysite.com/hard%20to%20believe%20-%20but%20true!.htm (55)

Sojourner Truth quotes: “Give ‘em land and an outset, and hab teachers lean ‘em to read. Den they can be somebody.” 

“It is hard for the old slaveholding spirit to die, but die it must.”

 Sojourner Truth – Was an evangelist, abolitionist, and feminist
Sojourner Truth

Levi Coffin (1798 -1877) – Levi and his wife Catherine, were Quaker abolitionists who helped more than three thousand runaway slaves while living in Indiana and Ohio. Levi was known as the “President of the Underground Railroad.” He wrote a memoir, Reminiscences of Levi Coffin, that is a history of his anti-slavery labors, and Underground Railroad experiences that he deferred writing until his seventy-eighth year of age.

Levi, his wife and family, and their associates risked their lives to fight against slavery before the Civil War, and after helped newly-freed slaves secure the rights afforded them. Reminiscences of Levi Coffin is living history, history written at the time.  Coffin helped a slave named “Eliza” whose story formed the basis for the character of the same name in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  His book is an insightful account of what abolitionists did to protect and help slaves to escape.  Here is an excerpt from the Reminiscences of Levi Coffin on the slave known as Jack Barnes: https://docsouth.unc.edu/nc/coffin/coffin.html.

Levi Coffin, “the President of the Underground Railroad”
Levi Coffin, “the President of the Underground Railroad”

Painting of Levi and Catherin Coffin & Underground Railroad, (Cincinnati Art Museum, artist, Charles T. Webber)

Catherine Coffin, wife of Levi Coffin

Guiding Questions:

  • What Act most galvanized the Abolition movement? Why?
  • Who is considered the President of the Underground Railroad? Why?
  • After reading the excerpt of Reminiscences of Levi Coffin, do you understand the risks that abolitionists took to help runaway slaves?
  • Some historians believe that the most active Railroad workers were northern free blacks who had little or no support from white abolitionists. What do you think?
  • According to the map, above, what northern states had the most active Underground Railroad presence? Why? 
  • Why is it when the question of slavery is brought up, do historians leave out the fact that Democrats were the party of slavery?

 Stops on the Road to Freedom:

There were safe houses and “station masters” represented by more than sixteen states that helped slaves escape northward, and to Canada. This Underground Railroad was the largest example of civil disobedience since the American Revolution. Estimates vary, but the Underground Railroad may have helped more than 100,000 slaves escape to the North.  Here are just a few of the interesting “station masters” and their locations.

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
In 1818, Reverend Alexander Dobbin created sliding shelves at his Gettysburg, Pennsylvania home so he could hide slaves in a crawl space. www.history.com/topics/black-history/slavery/pictures

Milton, Wisconsin
In 1845, Joseph Goodrich built this inn in Milton, Wisconsin and hand dug a 40-foot tunnel from the inn to the cabin. Fugitive slaves would enter the cabin and walk through the tunnel that leads to the basement of the inn where Goodrich and his family provided shelter and food. The earthen tunnel was about three to five feet high and built when the inn was completed. www.history.com/topics/black-history/slavery/pictures

Joseph Goodrich
Joseph Goodrich

Polo, Illinois
The Maltby home, on Oregon Trail Road near Polo, was a “station” on the Underground Railroad.
The Maltby home, on Oregon Trail Road near Polo, was a “station” on the Underground Railroad. Marietta Maltby’s obituary read in part: “She opened her doors to the traveler, especially to him of dusky hue, who journeyed from his home of bondage toward the North Star for liberty.”  (Local Ties to Underground Railroad by Jon McGinty – Fall 2010)

Polo was officially founded in 1857. Between 1836 and 1858 around seventy people, who were abolitionists, came to run the Underground Railroad. Dr. Amos and Marietta Maltby took in fugitive slaves, gave them food, shelter, and provided clothing. Runaway slaves only had the clothes on their backs, so Underground Railroad wives repaired shirts, coats and knitted hats and gloves for the next “leg” of the journey.

Byron, Illinois
Lucius Reed House/Byron Museum

“A two-story red brick building in the center of town houses part of the Byron Museum of History… Built in 1843, it is one of the oldest structures in Byron and was home to the Lucius Read family until the early 1900s. From 1850 to 1862, the Read house was one of three “stations” in Byron as part of the Underground Railroad, and the only one still standing… Runaway slaves were hidden in the cellar of the Read home, where they could eat, change clothes, and rest before the next phase of their journey. A small exhibit in the basement shows how the room might have been furnished for the fugitives.” (Local Ties to Underground Railroad by Jon McGinty – Fall 2010)

Byron Museum Fugitive Room Recreation

Guiding Questions:

Why did abolitionists go to such great lengths to help fugitive slaves?
How successful do you think they were?
How ingenious were these abolitionists in their efforts to protect fugitive slaves?
What dangers did abolitionists face if caught?

America – A call to Greatness by John W. Chalfant, (A Call to Greatness, Inc.), 48
Biography links www.biography.com/people/groups/abolitionists A collection of biographies & videos
Envisioning Emancipation by Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer (Temple University Press), 27 – 33, 36 – 43, 
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1851
Reminiscences of Levi Coffin by Levi Coffin (on the slave known as Jack Barnes: http://www.learnnc.org/lp/editions/levi-coffin/5356.
The Reader’s Companion to American History by Eric Foner and John A. Garraty (Houghton Mifflin Company) 1094 -1095
1854, William Lloyd Garrison, “No Compromise with the Evil of Slavery.” http://www.blackpast.org/1854-william-lloyd-garrison-no-compromise-evil-slavery
1852, Frederick Douglass, “The Hypocrisy of American Slavery.” http://www.historyplace.com/speeches/douglass.htm
Reverend Alexander Dobbin’s Pennsylvania home hide slaves in a crawl space. www.history.com/topics/black-history/slavery/pictures
Joseph Goodrich, Milton House https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/underground/wi1.htm