The Struggle Begins Some Americans had opposed slavery even before the American Revolution began. Quakers stopped owning slaves in 1776. By 1792, every state as far south as Virginia had antislavery societies.
Congress passed a law that ended the Atlantic slave trade in 1808. Once it became illegal to import slaves, Northern shipping communities had no more interest in slavery. Northern textile mills, however, wanted the cheap cotton that slave labor in the South provided. Although slavery ended in the North by the early 1800s, many Northerners still accepted slavery.
Abolitionists wanted to end slavery, but they did not always agree about how to do it. Some abolitionists tried to inspire slaves to rise up in revolt. Others wanted to find a peaceful way to end slavery immediately. Still others wanted to give slaveholders time to develop farming methods that didn’t rely on slave labor.
From its earliest days, both blacks and whites worked in the abolition movement, sometimes together, sometimes separately. Black activists often kept their distance from their white counterparts. One African American journalist remarked, “As long as we let them think and act for us . . . they will outwardly treat us as men, while in their hearts they still hold us as slaves.”
In 1831, a deeply religious white man, William Lloyd Garrison, started a fiery abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator. Braving the disapproval of many Northerners, Garrison demanded the immediate freeing of all slaves. “I will be as harsh as truth,” he wrote. “I will not retreat a single inch—and I will be heard!” Angry proslavery groups destroyed Garrison’s printing press and burned his house.