Abolition and Anti-Slavery Movement
The Abolition movement was a worldwide effort to end slavery, particularly the Atlantic slave trade. In the colonial empires, such as France and Great Britain, slavery was first abolished at home. For economic reasons, slavery continued in Caribbean and other colonies well in the 19th century.
In the United States, the first abolition society was formed in 1775 in Philadelphia, becoming the Pennsylvania Abolition Society later that year. New York followed suit in 1785 with the Manumission Society. While there were smaller abolition societies in areas around the US, the largest and most well-known society, the American Anti-Slavery Society was founded in 1833 by William Lloyd Garrison and Arthur Tappan. Prominent African Americans in the US abolition movement were Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth. Prominent whites included Garrison, Lucretia Mott, the Grimke Sisters, and Lydia Maria Child.
When enslaved people were legally freed with President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, enslaved people in border states that were loyal to the Union, such as Maryland were exempted from the Proclamation. It was until 1864 that voters approved a new state constitution that banned slavery. The ban went into effect on November 1, 1864 and 16 days later, Frederick Douglass was allowed to return to his home state. He gave the speech, “A Friendly Word to Maryland,” at the Bethel AME Church in Baltimore – the church where he had been inspired as a boy.
In the South, anti-slavery and abolition activities were often met with harsh reprisals. States expelled Northerners suspected of abolitionism. In Tennessee, Amos Dresser was publically whipped by the Committee of Vigilance for possessing anti-slavery publications.
This picture contrasts sharply with one of the documents below, also from Tennessee. In the first 30 years of the 19th century, many in Tennessee support some form of the abolition of slavery. Elihu Embree was the first printer and publisher for The Emancipator, the United States’ first abolitionist newspaper. The Emancipator ran from March to October 1820 and was very popular. Very few issues remain today, but in 1932, a Nashville publisher re-issued the periodical.
In the 1830s, the petition seen below was signed by more than 70 residents of Bedford County and asked the Tennessee State Legislature to pass a law that will free the state’s enslaved people and their descendants. While the exact date of the petition is unknown, it is possible that it was submitted as part of a movement to abolish slavery in Tennessee during the revision of the state’s constitution in 1834.
That same year, the broadside seen below advertised two lectures on slavery and the slave trade through the world to be given by George Thompson, one of the most important international abolitionist speakers in the world. Later that year, Thompson’s lecture tour angered pro-slavery proponents and he had to escape from the South.
Since abolition work was so dangerous in the South, those who did travel tried to obtain official documentation, even during the Civil War. The travelling pass below is just one example and was issued by Union Military Governor of Louisiana General George F. Shepley to William Furniss, possibly the abolitionist William Henry Furness.