Early opposition to slavery had promoted gradual abolition of slavery. The reform movement of the early- and mid- 1800s gave new life to the movement to outlaw slavery throughout the country. Abolitionists believed that slavery was a national sin, and that it was the moral obligation of every American to help eradicate it from the American landscape by gradually freeing the slaves and returning them to Africa.
Not all Americans agreed. Views on slavery varied state by state, and among family members and neighbors. Many Americans—Northerners and Southerners alike—did not support abolitionist goals, believing that anti-slavery activism created economic instability and threatened the racial social order.
Around 1830, the antislavery movement gained new strength. Abolitionists used newspapers and other writing to spread their views. Many African Americans also worked to end slavery. While others organized meetings and published articles.
Frederick Douglass was the best-known African American abolitionist. Douglass escaped from slavery in Maryland in 1838. He settled in Massachusetts, and later moved to New York. He was a powerful speaker. He spoke at many meetings in the United States and abroad. Douglass was the editor of an antislavery newspaper called the North Star.
In the years that led to the Civil War, William Lloyd Garrison was another voice of Abolitionism. Garrison through his publication, THE LIBERATOR, reached thousands of individuals worldwide. His tireless, uncompromising position on the moral outrage that was slavery made him loved and hated by many Americans.
Harriet Tubman was active in the Underground Railroad, which was a network of escape routes enslaved workers used to reach freedom in the North or Canada.
Harriet Beecher Stowe was an American abolitionist and author. Her novel Uncle Tom's Cabin was a story about life for African Americans under slavery. Uncle Tom's Cabin reached millions of people as a novel and play, and became very influential because it illustrated the harsh treatment of slaves. It energized anti-slavery forces in the Northern states, while causing widespread anger in the Southern states.
Born into slavery in 1797, Isabella Baumfree, who later changed her name to Sojourner Truth, would become one of the most powerful advocates for human rights in the nineteenth century.
In 1827, after her master failed to honor his promise to free her (to uphold the New York Anti-Slavery Law of 1827), Isabella ran away. After experiencing a religious conversion, Isabella became a preacher and in 1843 changed her name to Sojourner Truth. During this period she became involved in the growing antislavery movement, and by the 1850s she was involved in the woman’s rights movement as well. At the 1851 Woman’s Rights Convention held in Akron, Ohio, Sojourner Truth delivered what is now recognized as one of the most famous abolitionist and woman’s rights speeches in American history: “Ain’t I a Woman?”