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Article

Richard S. Newman, Paul Finkelman, and Carl E. Prince

[This entry contains three subentries dealing with abolitionism from the late seventeenth century through the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in1865. The first article discusses the definition of abolitionism as differentiated from antislavery activism and its forms including Garrisonian and non Garrisonian abolition The second article describes ...

Article

During the three decades that preceded the Civil War, abolitionism was a major factor in electoral politics. Most historians use the term abolitionism to refer to antislavery activism between the early 1830s, when William Lloyd Garrison began publishing The Liberator, and the American Civil War (1861–1865). The term also refers to the antislavery crusade that mobilized many African Americans and a small minority of whites, who saw their goal realized during the Civil War. Historians also commonly distinguish abolitionism, a morally grounded and uncompromising social reform movement, from political antislavery—represented, for example, by the Free Soil or Republican parties—which advocated more limited political solutions, such as keeping slavery out of the western territories of the United States, and was more amenable to compromise.

Abolitionists played a key role in setting the terms of the debate over slavery and in making it a compelling moral issue Yet abolitionists ...

Article

Karen Backstein

dancer and arts administrator, was born in New York City, the daughter of Julius J. Adams, a journalist who rose to managing editor of the New York Amsterdam News, and Olive A. Adams, an accomplished pianist. Her parents cultivated in her a deep appreciation of the arts, as well as a legacy of social activism that stayed with Adams throughout her life—both during her career as a dancer and after her retirement from the stage, when she helped found community-based arts centers for children in Harlem. The dance writer Muriel Topaz described the Adamses' home as a “center of social and political activity,” and noted that the Global News Syndicate, an organization of black newspapers, was founded in their small apartment (Topaz, 30).

When she was eight years old Adams entered New York s progressive Ethical Culture School an institution dedicated to the moral as well ...

Article

Toward the end of his long life, the congressman John Quincy Adams (1767–1848), son of John and Abigail Adams, was notorious for his militant stands against slavery and its expansion in the Republic that his parents had helped found. It is possible to argue that he absorbed many of his views from his mother, who told her husband that she had doubts about southerners and their commitment to liberty. On 31 March 1776 Abigail Adams wrote in a letter to her husband,

I have sometimes been ready to think that passion for liberty cannot be equally strong in the breasts of those who have been accustomed to deprive their fellow creatures of theirs. Of this I am certain, that it is not founded upon that generous and Christian principle of doing unto others as we would that others do unto us.

(Withey, p. 81)

In fact ...

Primary Source

The Baptist minister and abolitionist Nathaniel Paul c 1793 1839 delivered the speech excerpted below on 5 July 1827 following the abolition of slavery in the state of New York The state had gradually worked toward emancipation starting with a 1799 law allowing for slaves born after that year to be freed after a long period of service twenty eight years for men twenty five for women Though it represented progress it was not bold enough for the increasingly popular Methodist church which pushed for a more comprehensive emancipation statute In 1817 Governor Daniel D Tompkins signed a law mandating freedom for slaves within ten years Paul s speech is memorable for its hopeful yet cautious tone and for its biting critique of the hypocrisy of a supposedly free country that still practices slavery This contradiction he says stain s the national character and renders the American republic a by ...

Primary Source

Following the Civil War, Mississippi was the first state to enact a so-called Black Code, a set of laws designed to control the behavior, movement, and opportunities of the newly freed slaves. In effect, the laws codified the vigilante system of justice used to control minor offenses such as vagrancy, shifting it to the courts and the state bureaucracy. Blacks had to carry identification proving that they were employed and remained subject to humiliating and violent corporal punishments. The system was designed to make it nearly impossible for freed slaves to leave the homes of their former masters. Even when Congress attempted to repeal the Black Codes with the Civil Rights Act of 1866, southern states continued to implement statutes that gave local law enforcement agencies increased discretion with little oversight.

South Carolina s version of the Black Codes was even more extensive and within a generation helped to wipe ...

Article

Since Methodism first emerged in colonial America, it has consistently attracted African American adherents. According to religious scholar Alfred J. Raboteau, “the direct appeal, dramatic preaching, and plain doctrine of the Methodists, their conscious identification with the ‘simpler sort,’ and especially their antislavery beliefs” drew blacks to the church. Indeed, African Americans had been members of New York City's John Street Methodist Church since its founding in 1768. By 1793 black membership increased to 40 percent of John Street's congregation.

Still, African Americans within the John Street Church—and within American Methodism in general—were treated as second-class citizens. They were denied ordination, forced to sit in segregated pews, and limited in their access to the Methodist itinerant clergy and the Communion table. Frustrated by such treatment, two black John Street members, Peter Williams, and William Miller, founded the African Chapel in 1796 The chapel was later ...

Article

Kerima M. Lewis

The long and illustrious history of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church dates back to the eighteenth century. The founder Richard Allen, a former slave who had been able to purchase his freedom and was an ordained Methodist minister, was assigned to Saint George's Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, where he was allowed to preach to blacks. When in November 1787 several black church members, including Absalom Jones, were pulled from their knees while praying, all the black worshippers left Saint George's to form a church of their own. The Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church was established in Philadelphia in 1793 and opened in July 1794. In 1816 Richard Allen united black Methodist congregations from the greater Philadelphia area founding the African Methodist Episcopal Church he was elected the first bishop during the new church s first General Conference The Book of Discipline Articles of Religion ...

Article

Kerima M. Lewis

When Methodism arrived in New York State in 1766, it welcomed blacks into its Christian fellowship. As the Methodist Church expanded it became increasingly discriminatory toward African Americans. After years of ill treatment, in 1796 the 155 black members of the John Street Methodist Episcopal Church in New York City formed a separate church. Although incorporated in 1821 under the name African Methodist Episcopal Church in America, the church was never affiliated with the denomination of the same name organized in 1816 by Richard Allen in Philadelphia. Zion was the name of the New York denomination's first chapel, built in 1801. The AME Zion Church adhered to the doctrines of the Methodist Episcopal Church and adopted an episcopal form of government.

The AME Zion denomination grew as churches were added in Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Their affiliation with the Methodist Episcopal Church ended when James Varick ...

Article

Kristine Johnson and Elizabeth Vander Lei

The American Abolition Society (AAS) was organized in 1855. It stemmed from the New York City Abolition Society, which had been founded in the 1830s by William Goodell to build support for his claim that slavery was unconstitutional. The AAS took the position that the Constitution was an antislavery document, which was consistent with Frederick Douglass's position after his split from his fellow abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. Leading anti-Garrisonian abolitionists, some from the recently disbanded American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society (AFASS), joined the AAS. Gerrit Smith, a wealthy, prominent abolitionist, served as the organization's president. Members of the executive committee included the evangelical reformers Arthur and Lewis Tappan, the physician and abolitionist James McCune Smith, the prominent Boston lawyer William Whiting and Frederick Douglass The membership of this committee indicates that the formation of the AAS represented the joining of two abolition forces ...

Article

Kristine Johnson and Elizabeth Vander Lei

The American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society (AFASS) resulted from a schism in the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS). The conflict pitted those loyal to the radical Boston abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison against a faction led by the brothers Lewis and Arthur Tappan, prominent abolitionists who built and lost fortunes in the textile trade in New York City and were more conventionally religious than Garrison. The roots of the schism reached back to “clerical appeals” in 1837 that sanctioned the Garrisonians for using un-Christian language, for denouncing the moral authority of the Christian church and its leaders, for engaging in unorthodox activities, and for encouraging women to address public audiences at abolitionist gatherings.

Garrison continued to challenge mainstream churches for their complicity with slavery and pressed for more prominent roles for women in the abolitionist movement. Lewis Tappan and his associates continued to assert the primacy of traditional churchly Christianity ...

Article

Donna M. DeBlasio

In the 1830s some Americans took a bold and uncompromising stand on the issue of slavery, demanding its immediate abolition without either colonization or compensation to slave owners. Sixty-two such like-minded opponents of slavery from nine states gathered in Philadelphia in December 1833 to form the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS). William Lloyd Garrison, who two years earlier had begun publication of the Liberator, which took as its motto “No Union with Slaveholders,” was one of the guiding lights behind the formation of the AASS and authored its Declaration of Sentiments. Others present at the convention included the wealthy New Yorkers Lewis and Arthur Tappan and the radical New Englander Samuel J. May Four Quaker women and three African Americans also attended the meeting The newly formed organization s goal was the entire abolition of slavery in the United States To accomplish this goal members declared that they ...

Article

Richard S. Newman

Frederick Douglass was perhaps the perfect embodiment of the American antislavery movement. As a young slave on a large Maryland plantation, he rebelled both physically and psychologically against bondage. When he escaped in 1838 Douglass used the Underground Railroad to make his way north. As a fugitive slave in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Douglass formally joined the abolitionist movement, quickly becoming one of the best-known speakers at antislavery meetings. With his two antebellum autobiographies, Douglass helped pioneer the genre of the slave narrative. His final postwar autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, epitomized the successful reminiscences of abolitionists. He also edited three important abolitionist newspapers through antebellum society's most tumultuous years.

During the Civil War which resulted in the emancipation of nearly four million slaves Douglass advocated abolition as strenuously as ever and recruited black soldiers for the famous Fifty fourth Massachusetts Infantry Regiment the Union s first African ...

Primary Source

Originally known as the Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage the organization that would come to be more commonly called the Pennsylvania Abolition Society was founded in Philadelphia on 14 April 1775 Widely recognized as the earliest American antislavery organization as well as the inspiration and institutional model for subsequent groups of its kind the Pennsylvania Abolition Society petitioned government for a redress of the grievance created by the institution of chattel slavery in the name of those who were allowed no such right One such petition that presented here reached the first Congress in 1790 and touched off an early debate concerning the morality and sustainability of slavery in the young nation Urging the Congress to promote Mercy and Justice towards this distressed Race and Step to the very verge of the Powers vested in you for discouraging every Species of Traffick in the ...

Article

Kelly Boyer Sagert

Born in Hamburg, Germany, Ottilie Assing was the eldest daughter of David and Rosa Maria (Varnhagen) Assing. Her mother was an energetic teacher with a flair for singing and storytelling; her father was a well-known doctor who penned poetry and was prone to depression. David, born with the surname of Assur, was raised as an Orthodox Jew but associated with Christians. He and Rosa, who was not Jewish, raised Ottilie and her younger sister, Ludmilla, as "freethinking atheists, as true daughters of the Enlightenment, who saw themselves as members of a universal human race of thought and reason." They saw education as a "secular form of individual salvation."

Assing's life was not always easy; she witnessed savage anti-Jewish riots, and by the age of twenty-three she had lost both parents. In 1842 she and her sister moved from their hometown to live with an uncle Ludmilla adapted ...

Article

Martha I. Pallante

Born to Lyman and Roxana Foote Beecher in Litchfield, Connecticut, Henry Ward Beecher was a member of one of the nation's most visible reform-minded families, and he would come to be acknowledged as one of nineteenth-century America's finest orators.

The ninth of ten children, who included the author Harriet Beecher Stowe and the educator Catherine Beecher, Henry grew up questioning the faith his father passionately espoused. Hoping to inspire his son, Lyman Beecher sent him to the Mount Pleasant Classical Academy in Amherst, Massachusetts, in 1827. There Henry committed to becoming a minister. He attended Amherst College (1830–1834) and Lane Theological Seminary in Ohio (1834–1837). After serving as a the pastor for two Congregational churches in Indiana, at Lawrenceburg and Indianapolis, he was called to the pulpit of the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, New York, in 1847.

By the time Beecher returned to ...

Article

Belinda  

Roy E. Finkenbine

a former slave who achieved renown in the era of the American Revolution by laying claim to a portion of the wealth of her former master's estate, was born in the region of West Africa known as the Gold Coast (later Ghana). Her early years were spent in a village on the Volta River. According to her later memories, it was an Edenic existence. However, when she was about age twelve, the Atlantic slave trade shattered this bucolic world. She was captured in a slaving raid, permanently separated from her parents, marched overland to the coast, and sold to European slave traders. For several weeks she endured the horrific Middle Passage with some three hundred other Africans in chains, who were “suffering the most excruciating torment” (Carretta, 143).

In about 1732, after six or seven years in North America, Belinda became the slave of Isaac Royall Jr. a ...

Article

Mamie E. Locke

abolitionist, poet, and lecturer, was born in Gallipolis, Ohio. His parents' identities are unknown. At age sixteen, in 1842, he moved to Cincinnati. While there, in 1848, he married Louisiana Sanderlin (or Sanderline), with whom he had several children. He also learned the plastering trade from his brother-in-law, George Knight. Bell worked as a plasterer during the day and attended Cincinnati High School for Colored People at night. Founded in 1844 by Reverend Hiram S. Gilmore, the school had a connection to Oberlin College and was said to have given impetus to the sentiment found in Uncle Tom's Cabin and the cause of human freedom. Through his studies Bell was thoroughly indoctrinated into the principles of radical abolitionism.

In 1854 Bell moved his family to Chatham Ontario Canada feeling that he would be freer under the authority of the British government While ...

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Clifton H. Johnson

clergyman and abolitionist, was born in Colchester, Connecticut, the son of Jehiel C. Beman, a clergyman. Nothing is known of his mother. He grew up and received a basic education in Middletown, Connecticut, where his father was pastor of the African church. A Wesleyan University student, L. P. Dole, volunteered to tutor Beman after the university refused his application for admission because he was an African American. Dole and Beman suffered ridicule and harassment from other students, and an anonymous threat of bodily harm from “Twelve of Us” caused Beman to give up the effort after six months. He went to Hartford, where he taught school for four years, and around 1836 he briefly attended the Oneida Institute in New York.

Beman was ordained as a Congregational minister in 1839. At about this time he married a woman whose name is not known. In 1841 ...

Article

The son of a Kentucky plantation slave and a state senator, Henry Walton Bibb was born a slave in Kentucky. His repeated attempts to escape bondage were successful in 1842 when he fled to Detroit, Michigan. By then his first wife, whom he married in 1833 and with whom he had a daughter, had been sold again. Bibb turned his energies to abolitionism.

In 1850 Bibb published his autobiography, Narrative of the Life and Adventures of an American Slave. That same year Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Laws, which forced him and his second wife to flee to Canada. A leader of the African American community there, Bibb founded the first black newspaper in Canada, Voice of the Fugitive, in 1851.

See also Abolitionism in the United States; Slave Narratives.