Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Did the Abolitionists free the slaves?




This year we are running the blog a little differently. Participants only need to leave one comment on the blog. Comments must be made after our Saturday meeting with the professors. However, we must comment on all five postings. You can post your comments on this post after our meeting on September 26th. Your comment on this posting should take into account both our reading of the book and what we gleened from the professors. Good luck and I will see you soon!

46 comments:

msmilow said...

To assume that the abolitionists freed the slaves requires omitting consideration of the political and economic factors that led to the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. While Aileen Kraditor in the Means and Ends in American Abolitionism emphatically states that the radical nature of Garrison’s brand of abolitionism was responsible for starting the war, this is an overstatement of the abolitionists’ reach and influence. As Mr. Napoli noted in his presentation, the abolitionists misread the Southern culture. More significantly the abolitionists incorrectly assumed that “…even the most unregenerate slaveholder could be awakened by the redeeming truth…” (Kraditor) Garrison and his followers also failed to acknowledge the economic stranglehold that slavery had on the South and had little understanding of these issues.

This is not to say that the abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison and like-minded individuals through organizations like the American Anti-Slavery Society and publications like The Liberator were not the sparks that ignited the flames. As Professor Brown acknowledged there was no organized movement towards abolition until the end of the eighteenth century when Enlightenment impulses and moral absolutism coalesced and led to the formation of organizations that attacked the slavery in Great Britain and subsequently in the United States. However, it would be a huge leap to assume that the writings of the abolitionists were responsible for ending slavery. Examining the political climate of the post-Mexican War era and the fact that Northerners believed that the balance of power in the Senate was in danger, it is more likely that political factors were more important in formenting the period’s escalating tensions. The formation of the Free Soil Party and finally the establishment of the Republican Party were based on preventing the expansion of slavery, not its abolition. Furthermore, it was the “reformer” abolitionists who went beyond Garrison’s call for “political agitation” and were looked upon with disdain by him who joined the ranks of the new parties with a more realistic view of how to achieve their goal. Finally it was disunion that led to the Civil War, not abhorrence over slavery. It was only after the Emancipation Proclamation, that the abolition of slavery became the rallying cry of the North and provided the moral imperative that gave the beleaguered Union troops the will to continue the fight.

Again, the abolitionists were instrumental in stirring things up and did cause some to take actions that had a greater impact than abolitionist writings and preaching. Most notably Harriet Beecher Stow and John Brown were the most famous of those who were so inspired. However, beyond these example we have the lesser known abolitionist ministers who in speaking to their congregations, acted as the pebbles thrown on the quiet waters, causing the ripples which eventually reached a greater audience and made the nation ready to receive the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment.

Mr. Madeiras said...

Based on the scholarly opinion of the esteemed academics on Saturday, the 13th amendment directly freed the slaves, but the role of the abolitionists can’t be denied as the root cause. There is little doubt that the abolitionist movement, as a moral cause, played a significant role prior to 1860. After the election of 1860, however, the moral became a political one and that was the preservation of the Union. In order to save and preserve the Union, the destruction of the Confederacy was paramount. It became obvious to Us leadership that the cultural, economic and political bonds that united the South needed to be destroyed and that included slavery. The abolition of slavery came as a result of the the Northern victory over the South during the Civil War.

Midwinter said...

I do not believe you can reject the influence that abolitionists had on the issue of slavery in the United states, but I also believe that there were just too many factors that went into the eventual freeing of slaves. Lincoln writing the Emancipation Proclamation and the creation of the 13th Amendment is what will essentially free the slaves. Non of this will happen if the North does not win the Battle of Antietam. Britain would have recongnized the Confederate States of America, and I doubt Britain would have required the South to outlaw slavery (as Britain has done)

Mr. Ferrante said...

Unfortunately, I was unable to make the Saturday session and I really regret missing the speakers. That being said, I cannot comment directly on what they presented. However, I do have some thoughts. I don't think the Abolitionists freed the slaves. Antislavery ideas had been in the air for quite sometime both in the US and on the other side of the Atlantic. The Abolitionists seem to me to be the outgrowth of a movement/idea which had finally come to maturity and was looking for a way to express itself in an institutional form. To me the Abolitionists were not so much a cause, but an effect of a philosophy which had already dominated much of intellectual life for quite some time.

Mrs. Geldmacher said...

Listening to our speakers have showed me that the 13th amendment was the direct action taken to free the slaves. However, I do not believe this would have occured without the Abolistionist movements actions. The abolitionist provided the support for such action. They helped spread the message of autrocities of slavery and distributed important information regarding the movement. In every great constitutional debate, there is a grassroots effort that brings the issue to light. These reformers brough the issues to light.

bkilkenny said...

I agree with the other comments in that the actual abolishment of slavery was the result of many factors. As Dr. Brown pointed out, there may not have been such a push for abolition in the US or the Americas if the British abolition movement hadn't preceded it. The abolition movement in the US had its own political infighting. The abolition movement was an amalgam of different political and cultural philosophies and it did have an impact on culture and politics in both the north and south but it was not what ultimately freed the slaves.

The Union victory in the Civil War and the 13th Amendment were the actual and ultimate causes of Emancipation. It would be difficult to predict when slavery would have ended without the impetus of the Abolition Movement. The movement itself was not the cause of emancipation but one of many.

stapes1976 said...

Like most of our discussions I believe the question is open ended with no definite answer. Yes the abolitionists helped in freeing the slaves. However there were other contributing factors that preceded the abolitionist movement, and many pivotal moments in history that all added up to the slaves being freed. Individuals like Harriet Beecher Stowe as well John Brown helped to stir the pot, but overall the North's victory in the Civil War was what ensured slavery would remain abolished.

KWeinstein said...

The general consensus after both lectures and the debate within my group was that the abolitionists did help bring attention to the cause, but we cannot simply credit them with the freeing of the slaves in 1865. On the other hand, the impact that Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin had on showing the cruelty of slavery and garnering support for abolition cannot be disregarded. The same goes for Garrison’s call of immediate emancipation and the spread of abolitionist ideas through The Liberator. The proliferation of information about this issue brought by some of the abolitionists helped create a moral argument for the abolition of slavery in antebellum America.

Although moral arguments were created by the abolitionists, there were political causes for abolition that had a more direct impact on the emancipation proclamation and the 13th amendment. It is widely acknowledged that Lincoln wasn’t an abolitionist and didn’t intend to abolish slavery where it already existed in 1860. He was a Unionist, and felt that the only way to save the union in 1863 was by changing the meaning of the war from a war to save the Union to a war to end slavery.

Michaela said...

The abolitionists certainly played a role in the movement to free the slaves. One can assume that their influence regarding the movement was helpful and informative. Abolitionists published information, sparked concern and their efforts even led to the best-selling book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. However, they had neither the power nor influence to grant actual change for the slaves. The abolitionists helped to promote this worthy cause but were not in the position, politically, to afford the slaves their freedom, citizenship or voting rights. President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation took the ideas and concerns of the abolitionists and implemented legitimate change for the slaves. The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments freed the slaves. These amendments physically freed the slaves, granted citizenship and gave men voting rights. In summary, the abolitionists were a significant component in the movement for freedom but other individuals took this movement to the next step. It was those with the ability to implement new laws that freed the slaves. The strength lied in the hands of those with political power.

Christy said...

Yes, officially the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment freed the slaves. And yes, the abolition movement in America was very fragmented due to the abolitionists' different approaches. Some abolitionists shared Garrison's radical beliefs and others wanted a more gradual end to slavery. Often times it did seem as though ending slavery was just one item on their laundry list of issues needing attention. As professor Brown said, "They were more concerned with other political agendas rather than being freedom fighters."

However, I still believe that the abolitionists had some part in freeing the slaves. Slavery had existed for so long and it was such a natural part of the culture that it was going to take some time for it to be abolished. At a time when slavery was in existence without really being questioned, aboltionists gave the anti-slavery movement momentum. Sure, Garrison's newspaper wasn't being read by everyone, but his ideas sparked thought and discussion on the issue. As stated by Professor Brown, "The American Anti-Slavery movement was created in the shadow of the British Anti-Slavery movement. People never thought about the possibility of slavery being abolished. It only became possible with the development of abolitionists."

Mrs. Cone said...

I was unable to attend Saturday’s class but after reading the book, participating in discussions via the book circle, and reading the comments posted here, I would like to weigh in on this topic as well. Jonathan argues that the abolitionists did not invent this humanitarian movement, and I agree. We can look to the Enlightenment thinkers that were their predecessors and we should also acknowledge that slavery had been abolished in Britain and elsewhere before the issue really took on steam in the United States. Yet, one could argue that it was, in large part, a result of the abolitionists in Britain that motivated Parliament to pass the act to abolish slavery. That being said, I feel as if the abolitionists were one of the main causes in freeing the slaves in the United States. They may not have had the actual authority to implement change, yet their tireless work toward moving public opinion in their favor helped pushed the “powers that be” to institute change.

Ms. Gentile said...

The long-term causes of the end of slavery are the Enlightenment and abolitionist movement (both in Britain and the U.S.). Without these philosophical movements, there would not have been a paradigm shift in American society that eventually led to the freedom of slaves. Despite the extremism of some abolitionists, the movement as a whole brought this issue to the forefront of American politics.

However, the immediate cause for the end of slavery was the Civil War. Lincoln used the Emancipation Proclamation as a "tool" against the South and as a way to revive the Union troops and give them a moral cause to fight for.

HSEMINTY said...

As a few of my fellow teachers said very well, the answer to this questions is very much in the gray area. It was the Federal government that freed the slaves with the 13th Amendment, but then you have to ask what circumstances brought about the 13th Amendment. Abolitionists helped frame the debate in the decades preceding the Civil War, but not only American abolitionists but the international abolitionist movement as well. The abolition of slavery in the British Empire decades before the 13th Amendment did three things. First, it provided an example for American abolitionists. Second, it caused a fear pervasive among American slave owners that something similiar might happen in this country. And third, it showed that a modern nation state could actualy abolish slavery and make ownership of a type of property illegal.

Sill's World said...

I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. . . . I am in earnest -- I will not equivocate -- I will not excuse -- I will not retreat a single inch --AND I WILL BE HEARD.

I, and abolitionists like me, are the reason for the total abolition of slavery in America! This immmoral, evil institution has left a long lasting scar upon or society that can not be healed by speeches, ammendments, or even a war.

I focused, with an uncompromising hand, on the total freedom and assimilation of all blacks in America. They too have natural rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They should be accounted for when we repeat the words, "All men are created equal."

I feel that the Emancipation Proclamation, the 13th Amendment, and the civil war itself were all a direct result, if not a direct branch of the abolitionist movement. I never wanted to use violence to free the slaves, however, the Confederates chose to protect their acceptance of black slavery with a venonous military campaign. Using the excuse of states rights, the southern states were willing to kill others to keep their slaves.

I disgree with all of you conservative teachers! Without my "radical, liberal" views and my unmitigating steadfast publication of the Liberator, there would still be slavery in America! It was the abolitionists who planted the seeds of toleration and inclusion of all people in our society. We became the moral compass of the nation, at least for those who had a conscious, and the reason why slavery ended in America!

Now, as punishment for being wrong about this issue... you have to read the book again!

Thanks you,
William Lloyd Garrison

Mr. Gatto said...

I think the word "free" should be defined. The extent that Aftican-Americans have had social, economic and legal freedom depends on the time period. Immediately following the Civil War, the day to day lives of most former slaves remained exactly as it was before the war. It was only after over one hundred years of advocacy by the Civil Rights Movement that legal freedom was secured. I think, in many areas of the country, including Long Island, African-Americans are being denied economic and social freedom. Our area is one of the most segregated places in the country. Students in poorer school districts have fewer opportunities which makes getting ahead that much more difficult. So, I think the freedom that some abolitionists wanted has not been secured yet, even in the year 2009.

Daniela McKee said...

After hearing and arguing both sides of the question, I do not believe that the abolitionists freed the slaves. I think one of the most interesting arguments made was that the structure of government allowed for the freeing of the slaves. The 13th amendment directly freed the slaves.

This is not to suggest that the abolitionists had no importance. They were instrumental in creating a discourse and stirring up emotion. However, they did not have the power to ultimately free the slaves.

R. Restifo said...

As usual the answer is a combination of factors. The abolitionists played a role but they were not the main reason slavery ended. As Dr. Brown pointed out, Britain's banning of slavery played a key role. As he stated, the world watched what Great Britain did. However the South did not follow suit. This ultimately led to the Civil War and Lincoln's Emancipation proclamation. It took a legal act by government to formally abolish slavery. As a result the 13th amendment was passed giving a formal recognition regarding the abolishment of slavery. As is true in most societies, some legal recognition is need by a government to advance the cause of a certain group.

Robin said...

If the question was phrased, "Did the Abolitionists Help Free the Slaves?" than the answer would be yes. Without the movement, and the mediums of journalism and literature, many people who were not directly impacted by slavery or had never been exposed to its horrors would have joined the anti-slavery band wagon. Yet, we can't give the abolitionists sole credit. When you look at the issue in a cut and dry fashion, the Emancipation Proclamation only freed the slaves in the Confederacy and the 13th amendment then ended slavery as a whole. Lincoln knew that soldiers fighting could only be inspired for so long on a save the union platform, so by adding an issue like slavery to the mix he made the war have a moral and a political cause. We know that Linclon read both Greeley's articles and Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" so even he was impacted by the abolitionists. It was a blend of moral and political views that freed the slaves.

nancystewart28 said...

The question of whether or not the abolitionist movement freed the slaves is not a question with a simple yes or no answer. There were of course many factors which converged at that point in time which led to the Emancipation Proclamation and eventually the 13th Amendment. However, I think it would be short-sighted to completely discount the role of the abolitionist movements, American and British, in the freeing of the American slaves. As Dr. Brown discussed, slavery had existed throughout human history in many societies, was accepted as a part of life, and typically was not ended by decree or legislation anywhere else (although other factors may have contributed to the demise of slavery in certain societies). By the 18th and 19th centuries, however, new ideas lead people to begin to think of slavery in a new way, as an evil which should not be accepted in their societies, and they begin to agitate for its end. As the British end slavery in their empire, the states in the American south become concerned that this can and will happen to them as well, and the events which follow lead eventually to secession, civil war, and ultimately emancipation. Without abolitionist movements here and abroad, it seems likely that these events would not have happened in this way or in this time period, and we must then acknowledge that the abolitionist movement did lead to the freeing of the slaves.

Mr. DeMatteo said...

Based on my interpretation of the book, it was Garrison that was the catalyst for many to be exposed to and actually develop an opinion of the topic of slavery and abolition. Using this - in addition to the information the speakers presented - I feel that no, the Abolitionists did not free the slaves, they raised awareness to the topic.Abolitionism was a multi layered conundrum and Pandora’s Box of radical social change. Topics such as states rights – transcendentalism – class structure – women’s rights and the very definition of civil rights all are weaved into the social fabric of antebellum America. To discuss one would lead to a discussion of all and the raising of voices would be inevitable. Abolitionism was to be in its simplest form - the end of slavery, but it was the “what next” that was the issue. It would force Americans to reflect upon what the true definition of citizenship. In the early years, I feel that many Americans just did not care and had no relevance. It was the exploitation of events that Abolitionists were able to associate to thier cause and create an impassioned opinion.

Jennifer said...

The question is a difficult one, because to answer it literally, one would have to say the Abolitionists did not free the slaves. Abolitionists would have to have been in a position of power to be able to free the slaves, and I would not characterize Lincoln as an Abolitionist. Furthermore, if Abolitionists truly had that power, slaves would have been freed long before the Civil War.

I think it is fair to say that the Abolitionists created public support for freeing the slaves in the north. Many northerners did not know the realities of slavery and in some cases might have been indifferent on the issue. Without Abolitionists like Harriet Beecher Stowe, they might never have shown support for freeing the slaves. In the words of an earlier post, I believe a more accurate way to say it is the Abolitionists helped free the slaves.

vbronzino said...

An abolitionist is someone who wants to end or to do away with something. It is true that abolitionists did want to end slavery but did they directly free the slaves? I would say no. It was a deadly civil war fought by men and boys that eventually led to Lincoln’s carefully crafted Emancipation Proclamation and later the 13th Amendment that eventually freed the slaves. But how did we get to these events? The answer is pretty clear that an abolition movement in America evolving from the time of the Founding Fathers and their debate about the infamous slave trade to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book Uncle Tom’s Cabin impacted the events mentioned above.
According to Dr. Brown, when the British Empire abolished slavery in the early 19th century, many people began to criticize the United States for allowing it. Therefore, many people in the country, who for along time hadn’t seemed to care about the “peculiar institution”-started to speak out against it. Although it is true the abolitionists approached abolition in a variety of ways, we must assume that actions of some abolitionists including John Brown, William Lloyd Garrison, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Preston Brooks, etc. caused a deep divide in country which eventually “put the wheels in motion” to free the slaves.

Thone said...

“Did the abolitionists free the slaves?”, when I first read the controversy question I thought to myself absolutely not. Sure they played some role but ultimately it was secession, the war and the 13th amendment that freed the slaves. Reading the book didn’t change my opinion either, and yes I actually finished the book. It wasn’t until the book circle and the Saturday session when I began to see things differently. The more I thought about it the more I began to see how important the abolitionist movement was and once again I left the Saturday session with a changed mind.

From 1830 – 1850, the abolitionists played an important role socially in building support for abolition to occur. Even though they were not a unified movement they did help to build support in the North while creating opposition in the South. Without their efforts politicians may not have began to push for abolition beginning in the 1850’s and Lincoln’s election may not have resulted in secession and the war.

Chauncy said...

As many have pointed out, it was not the abolitionists that freed the slaves, however, without their efforts, and many like minded people before them, slavery may have continued for much longer here in the United States. Like the Enlightenment thinkers in Europe, and the Quakers, Thomas Paine and others here in the United States, abolitionists believed in ending slavery, and it was their efforts that helped to push this country to emancipating the slaves.

The Enlightenment thinkers brought about the radical notion that all men are created equal, and while many of our founding fathers believed this to be true, they put off the issue of slavery for future generations of Americans to hash out. In 1688, the Quakers wrote the Germantown Quaker Petition Against Slavery, in an effort to end the practice of slavery. Prominent Americans such as Thomas Paine, also spoke out about this evil institution. African Slavery in America was an article written by Paine in 1775, which took up the idea of the emancipation of slavery. However, it wasn’t until the formation of abolitionist organizations of the 19th century that the abolition of slavery really got into the American psyche.

The abolitionists, and most noticeable William Lloyd Garrison, brought about a sense that something had to be done about the slavery issue. Through the publication of articles in his paper The Liberator, as well as through speeches, Garrison fought for complete emancipation and equality for all. It was these radical ideas that helped to push this nation to the point where the pressure to free the slaves was too much and emancipation came to fruition.

So while the abolitionists themselves did not free the slaves, it was through their work and the work of others before them that brought about what ultimately was the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in which slavery was abolished.

Joan said...

Did the abolitionists free the slaves? There were political, economical, and social factors that led to the end of slavery. Slavery existed for a long time, beginning in the 1600s, but in the middle and northern states, slavery was abolished by the late 18th century. The abolitionists were an influence that may have brought slavery to the forefront of thought for many in society, but the American movement developed in the shadow of the British abolitionist movement. According to Mr. Napoli, the American abolitionist movement never seemed to understand the culture of the time and was considered to be a fringe movement and was not united; there were several factions of abolitionists and no real leader. Freeing slaves was a gradual movement, with many incidents that led up to it. Harriet Beecher Stowe's book, Uncle Tom's Cabin, raised the moral issue of slavery to the consciousness of many and is believed to have led to the Civil War, but ultimately the political and economic climate influenced the end of slavery. Lincoln was not an abolitionist; his desire was to keep the U.S. together. The Free Soil Party was not against slavery, but for limiting slavery from extending to new territory. Slavery was not a necessity. Immigration from Germany, Scotland, Ireland, and China supplied the workforce needed for industrialization in the North. With the invention of the cotton gin and the harvester, continued crop planting in the South would have resulted in the depletion of soil and therefore little need for slaves. However, the end of slavery in the U.S. was most likely affected by the influence of the abolitionist movement on President Lincoln.

mgoldberg said...

On January 31, 1865, the 13th amendment passed both houses of Congress, ending almost 250 years of slavery in the U.S. The road to abolition was challenging, radical, violent, passive, and liberating. The institution that created a deep schism morally, politically, and economically finally came to an end.
Even though the 13th amendment “sealed the deal”, without the perseverance of the abolitionists like Garrison, Tubman, Douglas and many others, perhaps slavery would have ended differently or at a later date. Should the abolitionists be given the credit for its demise or were they just instrumental in raising awareness of issues at the time? As Mr. Napoli stated, the Abolitionist Movement was a “fringe” movement surrounded by other concerns such as woman’s rights, state rights, temperance and free trade. Garrison and his radical supporters caught the attention of the nation. He stated that it was a moral concern and it would have gradually ended naturally over time with or without the abolitionists. The Dred Scott Decision, John Browns Raid, Lincolns’ Emancipation Proclamation, and the Civil War certainly were pivotal actions that contributed to ending slavery in the U.S.
However, the country at that time was also evolving and Garrison with the cooperation of like minded reformers would make abolitionism “the brightest star in a great galaxy of causes”. I believe their mission began as a radical one however, as time passed on it seeped deep down into the heart of peoples’ soul and ignited the spirit of liberty that this country was founded upon. His newspaper, The Liberator, helped to focus abolition on the national front and eventually international. The works of abolitionists like Frederick Douglas/ The North Star, Harriet Tubman/ Underground Railroad, and Harriet Beecher Stowe/ Uncle Toms Cabin were catalysts that highlighted the evil system thus causing the government to respond to this self serving institution. Abolitionists pressured our society not only to justify the institution of slavery but to be held responsible for its very existence….the time came to end it one way or another.

nmusc said...

Obviously, debating who freed the slaves is not an easy question to answer. The Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th amendment are evidently the legal documents that actually brought about their freedom, however, we would be remiss to assume that the signing of these documents were singular, solitary events within a time-line. Of course there were thoughts, feelings, turning points and milestones throughout history leading up to these pivotal moments. The abolitionists, for example, although considered to be radicals by some, cannot be denied their place in American history. Although we will probably never come to any firm conclusion about who freed the slaves, I'm sure we can all agree that the abolitionists, in the very least, helped bring attention to a period of time that is still highly debated.

Mr. Gallucci said...

Still, after one full year of taking these controversy courses, I tend to look at the questions as far too narrow. For example, did the abolitionists free the slaves? Easy answer: no. Done – controversy averted! Move on!

And then I sat down with the illustrious Joe Gatto. Right away, Joe proved to be some sort of Hamiltonian loose constructionist by asking questions like, “what does ‘slavery’ mean?” or “what does ‘free’ mean?” After I made sure he kept his voice down so Greg Sill didn’t hear, I realized the man was definitely on to something. Although the question appeared narrow, it still provided an avenue for students to think about and embrace the question.

For weeks, I have been trying to find ways to fit this controversy idea into my classroom in a way that wasn’t time consuming, but most importantly, was educationally beneficial. Then it dawned on me. I already do this stuff! Here’s the difference – my questions don’t start off with words like “did” or “what.” For years, I was told to challenge students with questions that targeted higher-order thinking. Therefore, in writing my lesson plans, I would always try to fit the phrase “to what extent” or “why” rather than the one-dimensional “what” or “did.”
I asked this question about abolition a thousand times to my students! However, I always phrased it differently. Instead, I asked, “to what extent did abolitionists free the slaves?” The students would debate the matter (granted, not in a formal setting like the Johnson boys prefer) and all students would benefit from the insights provided.

This year, I would like to make the Johnsons happy by doing a formal controversy in class. I just need to find the right topic that gets the most bang for the buck.

AFisk said...

After listening to both sides of the issue, and after arguing both sides of the abolitionist debate, it is no surprise that the impact of the abolitionist movement on the ending of slavery concludes without any clear answer. While Garrison and other extremists did not directly end slavery (only government and the 13th amendment could do that) their constant criticism was a major underlying cause whose impact cannot be overlooked. It is easy to point out that the movement was froth with factions and splinter groups; each with their own agendas. However, like many social movements their roots can be traced to individuals who feel compelled to speak out against social injustices and attempt to shed light on the “wrongs” in a society. In this vain, the abolitionist movement successfully made people aware of the immoral nature of the institution of slavery. As events led up to the Civil War, I think the abolitionist movement played a crucial role in keeping the immorality of slavery up front making Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation the effective tool for which he hoped and broadened the scope of the war at a necessary time. It sealed the South’s fate by preventing foreign intervention and helped those in the North who needed a moral boost to fight beyond keeping the Union together.

Rick Iurka said...

The abolitionists clearly played an integral part in bringing an end to slavery. If nothing else, they helped start a war (even if it wasn’t their desire) which would end the ‘peculiar institution.’ Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Bleeding Kansas, and John Brown’s raid (perhaps the most significant) all threw fuel on the growing fire between North and South. Once the war began, the abolitionist movement continued to grow, so much so as to be an underlying reason for Lincoln to issue his Emancipation Proclamation. With the election of 1864 on the horizon what better way to sure up those Republican abolitionist votes?

Of course the abolitionists didn’t write the Proclamation, they didn’t win the war, nor were they solely responsible for passing the 13th Amendment. As many of you have said, there were many contributing factors to eventual African emancipation, but without men like Garrison it may have taken much longer.

Mrs Raftery said...

Some great comments have already been posted. The speakers really knew their stuff and made us think about factors not previously considered. I do think that the extreme and morally righteous views of William Lloyd Garrison did serve to plant a seed in the minds of Americans that universal suffrage was a natural right, his extreme views did in fact hinder the cause of the Abolitionist Movement by polarizing the North and South. William Lloyd Garrison’s moral absolutes and uncompromising ideology successfully convinced many Northerners that the abolition of slavery must be accomplished immediately, not by means of a gradual approach. By convincing many Northerners of this, the as step was taken toward the freeing of the slaves. Many more moderate Northerners could have promoted a campaign of more incremental emancipation possibly postponing, yet most likely not eliminating, military conflict. Garrison, however, has to be credited with expressing the views that many Americans may have agreed with, even if they were not ready at that time to act upon them.

Lori Wilde said...

Abolitionists were reformers. They desired change from the atrocities and inhumane treatment of African Americans. Their felicitous attempts to absolve slavery should not go unrecognized but to say that they stopped it completely is difficult to determine. Our guest speaker made that quite clear. The 13th amendment literally freed the slaves. But without the movement of abolitionists, the emancipation may not have occurred until years later. This movement made people aware of conditions in which enslaved people had to endure. This led to political will that was necessary for emancipation

pcostell said...

I also feel as many others have that the question was open ended, and quite debatable given the presentations of the speakers. I would have liked to hear more concerning Lincoln's role in freeing the slaves, since his political savvy moved many northerners into a position of desiring the abolition of slavery, a change of war aims that many would have found unacceptable in 1861

Jeff Cohn said...

The freeing of the slaves was an ongoing process that arguably began at the time of or immediately after the Revolutionary War and was not completed until the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. One could also argue that the reality of actual political, social and cultural freedom then took more than an additional 100 years to achieve. It could finally be argued that economic freedom of many African Americans has yet to take place. The role of the abolitionists in this process was one of educating the American public of the 19th century as to what slavery actually entailed and in trying to demonstrate the inherent evil in forcing an individual into a lifetime of involuntary servitude based solely upon race.

The abolitionists certainly helped the people residing in the northern states to sympathize with the plight of the slaves. They gave the northern population an opportunity to reflect on a topic about which many had probably placed in the back of their minds. Writings such as "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and especially the case of Scott vs. Sanford forced many northerners to finally take a stand where before they might have just been satisfied to go about their lives in blissful ignorance.

JKeller said...

The Abolitionists did help support the movement toward ending slavery. However, we must consider the other forces that were necessary to eliminate slavery: political change and legal change. The Abolitionist movement was small and splintered diminishing the role that it played. Garrisons fundamental ideas on the American society (that all Americans needed moral conversion) was not useful in gaining the large support needed for the success of the Abolitionist Movement in achieving its primary goal – universal male suffrage and the end to slavery. However, his deep-seated beliefs set the underpinning for the success of the more “respectable” abolitionist movement proposed by James Birney.

kevinallo said...

It is an extremely difficult task to prove using historical evidence that the abolition movement freed the slaves. However, it is also difficult to understand the Civil War, the event that actually leads to the freeing of the slaves without looking at the work of the abolitionists. Personally, I feel that Garrison, and other radicals perhaps receive too much credit when it comes to the study of the abolition movement. However, their rhetoric, and actions such as John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry cannot be overlooked in the build up to the war. Dr. Brown’s argument about the influence of Great Britain in the abolition movement was interesting, and a perspective that I had never heard before. Regardless, to suggest the emancipation of the slaves would have come without an abolition movement pushing the issue nationally is also reckless. The abolition movement as a whole lacked unity, and the political backing to accomplish their goal without the War. As I argued, they should not receive all of the credit for freeing the slaves, but they should receive some credit for leading the national debate leading up to the war that did.

kimcraig said...

In the years following the American Revolution, slavery seemed to be a dying institution. Thanks to the unforeseen impact of the cotton gin, slavery’s resurgence in the early to mid 1800s made the abolitionists’ goal that much more unattainable. While I applaud the abolitionists for their determination, I do not believe they are responsible for freeing the slaves. One could even argue that the efforts and actions of certain abolitionists further entrenched ‘slave power’ and southern resistance to emancipation. Harriet Beecher Stowe (and the rest of her family) successfully elicited moral outrage among Northerners, yet her book and other abolitionist literature only served to inflame Southern defenses for slavery. In response, Southern writers created new justifications claims of righteousness. Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry made southerners even more paranoid and resistant to northern interference in their property rights.

I am a big advocate of concerned citizens voicing their concerns, opinions, and outrage when necessary. Abolitionists were clearly on the “right side of history” and morality – but one cannot really argue that slavery ended as a direct result of their actions. I do believe that it can be argued they laid some groundwork for acceptance of emancipation that would come as a result of the Civil War.

Mr. Karmin said...

In trying to answer the question, the word "free" must be defined. Technically the 13th amendment freed the slaves. Did the abolitionist movement help to bring the issue of slavery into the spotlight? Absolutely! The abolitionist movement brought together the various reformers that would eventually spark the push towards the elimination of slavery. People like Harriet Beecher Stow, John Brown, and perhaps most importantly Abraham Lincoln all played a vital role in the movement. While no individual can be credited with eliminating slavery, they each helped in the cause. I believe that slavery would not have been such an issue and would never have been abolished without the support of the abolitionist movement.

Mr. Toth said...

After listening to the speakers, I would have to argue that the abolitionist did have a role in freeing the slaves, however it was untimely the 13th amendment that truly abolished slavery. The role that abolitions had is undeniable, whether it was the efforts of Tubman'
on the Underground Railroad, or the impact that Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin had. Abolitionists all over the country made their impact, but without the passing of the 13th amendment the slaves were still behind the shackles of slavery. The one argument that stuck with me from class was the role that the Emancipation Proclamation had on abolishing slavery, after giving this some thought, this with out a doubt was a catalyst, but was never really an official freeing of the slaves, especially in the north and border states.

Ms. Antoniazzi said...

I believe that without the pressure of abolitionism, slavery would have continued for several decades beyond the 1860's. However even without abolitionist pressure, the termination of slavery was inevitable. With the advent of industrialization in the North, slavery was becoming an anachronism-an inefficient economic legacy of colonialism.

The abolitionist movement was deeply connected to the Great Awakening. So, the moral persuasion powers of the abolitionist argument was undeniable, as were the influence of people like Harriet Beecher Stowe on popular culture. The problem is that abolitionism could not address the mundane reality that the South had a vast economic investment in the system of slavery.

The rhetoric of abolitionism cast the Civil War and Reconstruction into moral crusades. Abolitionism led to the 13th, 14th and 15th amendment, but it's strident tone also led to a century of bitterness, division, repression and violence.

Ms. Antoniazzi said...

I believe that without the pressure of abolitionism, slavery would have continued for several decades beyond the 1860's. However even without abolitionist pressure, the termination of slavery was inevitable. With the advent of industrialization in the North, slavery was becoming an anachronism-an inefficient economic legacy of colonialism.

The abolitionist movement was deeply connected to the Great Awakening. So, the moral persuasion powers of the abolitionist arguments were undeniable, as were the influence of people like Harriet Beecher Stowe on popular culture. The problem is that abolitionism could not address the mundane reality that the South had a vast economic investment in the system of slavery.

The rhetoric of abolitionism cast the Civil War and Reconstruction into moral crusades. Abolitionism led to the 13th, 14th and 15th amendment, but it's strident tone also led to a century of bitterness, division, repression and violence.

sahmedani said...

The abolitionists did not directly free the slaves. The movement itself helped to create an atmosphere that made it possible to abolish slavery, for example Uncle Tom's Cabin, which would create a moral compass. Although there was this atmosphere, this movement alone did not free slaves. It was a combination of historical abolishment, as well as the 13th amendment.

Liz said...

The abolitionists were key players in the freeing the slaves but they ultimately were not the reason for emancipation. The movement gained strength with the development an abolition movement in Europe. In the US the abolition movement is rooted in our early history in the late 18th century as our founding fathers debated the framework of our gov't/society. In the 19th century the movement gained strength once agin.
The civil war did not erupt because of slavery, but over states rights- it was politically (and economically) motivated by the south. As a strategic move by our President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, later in a political power play the 13th amendment became part of the plans for Reconstruction. The emancipation of slaves was a political power play.

CTator said...

Politics is powerful and perhaps a corrupt instrument and politicians new had to play the game. The future of politicians relies on the very concept of representation, and the population of slaves and slave sympathizers was an untapped potential vote. Indeed abolitionists laid the foundation and the voice to the cause but it was more than that. Lincoln had a hard job trying to restore the Union and tried any possible means of halting more states seceding. The Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves in those states that were rebellious and not in the states were loyal.
So brings me to the Reconstruction amendments, that constitutionally freed the slaves, can be argued was amended as a form of punishment to the south and at the same time gain political support from the freed slaves and sympathizers.

dmcgoldrick said...

In Dr. Brown's inital discussion of the question "Did the Abolitionist free the slaves?", he discussed the wording of the question as well as American slavery in the context of World History. According to Dr. Brown, slavery has existed as a human institution for at least all of recorded human history including the present. So then, what is required to bring about the end of slavery in a specific time and place and in particular in the United States? Even if the Abolitionist can not be given "credit" for ending slavery in the U.S., were they necessary to bringing about that end?

The abolitionist were to credit for the ending of slavery in the United States. The lack of economic need for slavery in the North created a climate for the Abolitionists' moral indignation and activism which led to laws elminating the slave trade and eventually the institution of slavery in the North. This created regionalism morally, economically and politically which was fundamental to the identification of slavery as a national issue. The abolition of slavery in Great Britain and Europe, the leading world powers, added to the pressure to resolve the issue in America. The Abolitionist were recognized by their contemporaries as a force to be reckoned with in pursuing their political agenda. While many other forces and groups can be credited for their role in ending slavery in the United States, the abolitionist were vital in reaching that conclusion.

Zartler, Michael said...

Although the abolitionist movement was not directly responsible for ending slavery in the United States, its efforts helped set in motion the chain of events which ultimately led to the secession of the southern states and the outbreak of the Civil War. Although antislavery sentiment among whites ran high in the Revolutionary era, it declined significantly in the early nineteenth century. The American Colonization Society, the dominant antislavery organization of the 1820s, called for the gradual emancipation of slaves, with compensation to slave owners, and the shipment of freed blacks to Africa. It was not until the 1830s that increasingly radical groups like the American Anti-Slavery Society began to call for the immediate emancipation of slaves, without compensation to slave owners. By then, however, serious divisions had begun to disrupt the movement. Chief among them were the question of whether abolitionists should enter politics as a distinct party and the debate over what role women should play in the movement. In the mid-1830s, Congress's adoption of the "gag rule" further hurt the movement by automatically tabling abolitionist petitions. It was not until the 1850s that the issue of slavery became a major focus of national political debate, and even then the issue debated was not so much about whether to end slavery, but whether to limit its expansion into the newly acquired western territories.