The Later Movements of Abolitionism in the United States was inspired by the continual subjugation of black people who were seen as inferior to whites. Two factors account for the radicalization of American abolitionism during the late 1820s and early 1830s. First, the growing agitation of black abolitionists and signs of black unrest in the South inspired urgency among white abolitionists, who feared that maintaining slavery, would lead to more violence. In 1822 free black Denmark Vesey unsuccessfully conspired to lead a massive slave revolt in Charleston, South Carolina; in 1829 David Walker of Boston published his inflammatory Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World; and in 1831 Nat Turner launched a short-lived but bloody slave uprising in Virginia.
Second, a wave of evangelical revivalism called the Second Great Awakening inspired a reform spirit in the North. The revivalists argued that America was in need of moral regeneration by dedicated Christians. They channeled their fervor into a series of reforms designed to eliminate evils in American society. These reforms included women’s rights, temperance, educational improvements, humane treatment for the mentally ill, and the abolition of slavery. Although not all revivalists were abolitionists, during the mid-19th century the abolitionist movement acquired a new urgency and energy because of their support.
These two developments influenced the extraordinary career of William Lloyd Garrison, a white New Englander who became the leading American abolitionist. Garrison began publishing a weekly abolitionist newspaper called The Liberator in 1831. In 1833 Garrison, convinced that slavery was a sin and hoping to avoid more violence, brought together Quaker abolitionists, evangelical abolitionists, and his New England associates to form the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS). It aimed at immediate, uncompensated emancipation and equal rights for blacks. Among early leaders of the AASS were white abolitionists such as Arthur and Lewis Tappan, Lucretia Coffin Mott, Theodore Weld, and Lydia Maria Child, and black abolitionists such as James Forten and Robert Purvis.
Although the so-called immediate abolitionists were never more than a tiny minority of Americans, the AASS spread rapidly across the North. By 1838 the society claimed 1,350 affiliates and 250,000 members. It employed speakers, sent petitions to the U.S. Congress, and mailed abolitionist propaganda into the South. These efforts produced a fierce reaction. North and South, angry white mobs opposed changes in race relations. Southern postmasters refused to deliver antislavery literature, and in 1835 President Andrew Jackson unsuccessfully petitioned Congress to ban the mailing of abolitionist pamphlets. The following year, the House of Representatives passed the gag rule (see Gag Rules), which banned the introduction of abolitionist petitions in that body. In 1837 abolitionist newspaper publisher Elijah P. Lovejoy was killed in Illinois while trying to protect his printing press from a mob.
By the late 1830s, the AASS also faced internal division. Fierce resistance to abolitionism convinced Garrison and his associates that the entire nation—not just the South—had to be cleansed of oppression. In addition to their abolitionist activities, so-called Garrisonians became advocates of women’s rights, denounced organized religion as proslavery, and condemned all governments for their use of force. It was sinful, Garrisonians contended, to vote or to hold office. Other abolitionists had a more traditional view of women, hoped to get the churches to join the abolitionist cause, sought to engage in politics, and were not entirely opposed to using violent means.
The result was the fracturing of the AASS. While the Garrisonians retained control of a much-reduced version of that organization, two new groups emerged. In 1840 Lewis Tappan led evangelical abolitionists of both races in forming the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society to foster abolitionism in the nation’s churches. The same year, other non-Garrisonians formed the Liberty Party to nominate abolitionist candidates for public office.
The Liberty abolitionists were themselves divided into two factions. The radical political abolitionists of western New York, under the leadership of Gerrit Smith, declared slavery to be illegal everywhere and urged Northerners to go to the South to help slaves escape. A more numerous Liberty group, centered in Cincinnati, rejected these provocative tactics. It contended that Northerners must concentrate on ending slavery where Congress had jurisdiction—in the territories and the District of Columbia—while encouraging the formation of abolitionist political parties in the Southern states. The later movements of abolitionism in the United States were significantly influenced by some white minorities who disagreed with their white counterparts on the essence of slavery which they saw as inhuman.