Abolitionists: Reformers or Agitators?
Abolitionism played a defining role in the history of the United States. The primary goal of the movement was to end slavery, and it is considered the main reason for the American Civil War (Newman, 2018). Besides abolishing slavery, the movement also influenced other reforms that addressed equality and freedom of women and other subordinate groups (Newman, 2018). Despite opposition, the campaign eventually succeeded when the southern states submitted to the Union and the Civil War ended.
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Any substantial change requires a systemic approach, and pursuing extremes rarely leads to success. American anti-slavery society acknowledged that only through nationwide reform, one might address the issue of slavery. Therefore, society calls for change in legislation in their declaration of sentiments (American Anti-Slavery Society, 1833). Society emphasizes that law should dictate the new requirements and these provisions should be based on freedom and equality for all people. Not all people were advocates of peaceful and systemic reforms. John Brown, for instance, believed that only armed conflicts could resolve the problems (Newman, 2018). In general, however, it can be derived that most of the abolitionists were responsible reformers.
The Role of the Declaration of Independence
The notion of freedom plays a fundamental role in the Declaration of Independence. The Founding Fathers believed that the United States was the country where justice and equality were essential. Fifty-seven years after the independence, the anti-slavery society used the same ideas indicated in the declaration to justify their aspirations. There are quotes, such as “all men are created equal” that the society incorporated in their declaration of sentiments (American Anti-Slavery Society, 1833, p. 1). Society used the provisions of the declaration to emphasize that the United States was built to provide all men with equal opportunities and equal laws.
The Effect of the Gag Rule
Abolitionists used various tactics to promote their ideas and continuously improved their methods. From 1830 to 1836, the opponents of slavery took an active role in communicating and spreading their views (Newman, 2018). Many people signed petitions to end slavery and sent them to their local governments. When the number of requests increased, Southern politicians ensured the emergence of the gag rule, which prohibited discussions about petitions that promoted anti-slavery (Newman, 2018). However, this rule did not have a significant impact on the movement in general – appeals continued to be signed and sent (Newman, 2018). The gag rule also exposed other issues in the United States, namely problems with freedom of speech. Abolitionism was about to lead to other calls for reform.
The Impact of Abolitionism on the Women’s Rights Movement
The majority of the proponents of abolitionism were comprised of women. They not only signed petitions but also shared their views with neighbors, individuals at church, their family members, and friends (Newman, 2018). Therefore, it can be considered that women played a significant role in the distribution of abolitionist attitudes. Women used the First Amendment as their argument – they believed that slavery was violating human freedom (Newman, 2018). After realizing that women in the United States were deprived of many privileges granted to white males, the women’s rights movement emerged (Newman, 2018). The campaign was effective due to the fact that many women comprising the movement were experienced in reform matters because of their active participation in abolitionism.
American Anti-Slavery Society. (1833). Declaration of sentiments of the American anti-slavery society. Library of Congress.
Newman, R. S. (2018). Abolitionism: A very short introduction. Oxford University Press.
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