Abolitionists in the North
The movement for the abolition of slavery began with calls for freedom from Quakers and Mennonites before the Revolution. An American Colonization Society was formed in 1817 to send blacks back to their now-forgotten home in Africa; a few years later, the society founded the Republic of Liberia on the west coast of Africa.
In 1832, a rare group of people got together at Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati and held an 18-day debate on slavery. They included Theodore Weld, who had been evangelized by Charles Finney, the same Great Awakening preacher who would go on to be president of Oberlin College. Based on what he learned from slaves just across the river from Cincinnati in Kentucky, Weld wrote American Slavery As It Is (1839). He greatly influenced a young lady whose father was the head of the seminary.
That young lady was Harriet Beecher Stowe, and twenty years later she would write the best-selling novel of the 1800s: Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852). That book burst upon society like a star shell, lighting up thinking all over the North. It sold more than 300,000 copies in its first year. Watching thousands of stage productions in every little town in the North, people in the audience gasped as Eliza carried her son across the shifting river ice to freedom and cried at the death of kindly Uncle Tom. Showing the power of an idea whose time has come, Uncle Tom's Cabin crystallized opposition to slavery in the North. (For more information about Uncle Tom's Cabin, see Chapter 12.)
On New Year's Day 1831, uncompromising publisher William Lloyd Garrison, another spiritual child of the Great Awakening, launched the antislavery newspaper The Liberator. He said, "I will be as harsh as truth and as uncompromising as justice." The cause soon had black heroes:
- Sojourner Truth, a freed black woman from New York, fought for both emancipation and women's rights.
- Frederick Douglass, an eloquent escaped slave, wrote his early life story in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845). He went on to be a respected spokesman for blacks through the Civil War and for years after.
Question: Who was William Lloyd Garrison?
Answer: Garrison was the uncompromising abolitionist who founded the anti-slavery newspaper The Liberator (1831).
Abolitionists were beaten, burned out of their houses, and sometimes killed, but they didn't back down. At first, careful politicians like Abraham Lincoln avoided them, but by the 1850s. the abolitionist cause was beginning to be accepted in the North. With the birth of the Republican Party in 1854, that cause found a national voice. See Chapter 12 for more information on the rise of abolition.