by Christopher Butler


The first use of African slaves in what would become America was in Jamestown, Virginia, 1619. What started the African slave trade in North America was the launching of the Desire in 1636, a slave ship from Massachusetts. Even back then, some of the white colonists did not like the idea of slavery. During or near the time of the American Revolution, the following colonies/states abolished or greatly inhibited the institution of slavery: Delaware, Virginia, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania.

Later, in the 1800s, the Abolitionist Movement was the general movement that wanted the institution of slavery to be abolished. Their demands grew stronger and stronger and the conflict between the abolitionists and slaveholders helped start the Civil War (April 12, 1861 – April 9, 1865). ("Abolitionist Movement"). The American Anti-Slavery Society (AAS) was a group of abolitionists who up to that point were not organized in any particular group. It was founded on December 4th, 1833. They had newspapers and sent out spokespeople and tried to recruit people and Churches. It’s leaders were William Lloyd Garrison and Arthur and Lewis Tappan. The Tappans were businessmen from New York, and Garrison was the Editor of The Liberator. They adopted a constitution, and Garrison wrote the group’s “Declaration of Sentiments,” a document which was essentially their manifesto. It bid members to work for ending slavery and getting more rights for free blacks. ("American Anti-Slavery Society"). The North, what would be the Union in the Civil War, was the heart of the Abolitionist Movement. Many abolitionist papers and pamphlets were circulated, to the point that in 1820, South Carolina made penalties for people who brought anti-slavery material into the state. ("Abolitionist Movement”).

Later, a president, Abraham Lincoln, helped abolish slavery. In 1863, Lincoln made the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves in the South. However, he still wanted to make it Constitutional, and that was made so on December 6, 1865, with the Thirteenth Amendment, freeing all slaves in America. However, he was assassinated before he could see it through himself, being shot on April 13, 1865. ("Thirteenth Amendment"). Lincoln did not take unfair advantage of the Union winning. He rightly suggested that blacks and whites try to live peacefully together from then on. Lincoln, a Republican, came close to not being re-elected in the 1864 November election. The Republicans worried that the war would be lost if Lincoln was not re-elected. He was, of course, re-elected. By this time the North still wanted abolition and the South still believed in white supremacy. (Kaplan). The Civil War was won by the Union when Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith, the commander of Confederate forces west of the Mississippi, surrendered. This, more or less, was the final blow to American slavery. (“American Civil War Ends”).

CTB civil war map.png
Map of the USA in 1864. Red represents Confederate States, blue Union states, light blue border states, and white areas were not yet states at the time.


The institution of slavery in the United States of America was a human rights abuse on a monumental scale, one which would shock us today. The following is from a speech of John C. Calhoun, a South Carolina statesmen who held various positions in the Government. Calhoun argues that slavery is good for blacks by enlightening them, so to speak. “I appeal to facts. Never before has the black race of Central Africa, from the dawn of history to the present day, attained a condition so civilized and so improved, not only physically, but morally and intellectually.” (Torr 24). In response to such an argument was the following statement from Theodore Dwight Weld, a member of the AAS.

“We repeat it, every man knows that slavery is a curse. Whoever denies this, his lips libel his heart. Try him; clank the chains in his ears and tell them they are for him. Give him an hour to prepare his wife and children for a life of slavery. Bid him make haste and get ready their necks for the yoke, and their wrists for the coffle chains, then look at his pale lips and trembling knees, and you have nature's testimony against slavery.” (Torr 29).

Weld is arguing that whoever proposes slavery is a positive good is lying to himself, because if they themselves were to be made slaves, their natural fear proves that slavery is a very cruel institution. The previous two quotes go to show the rationalization by some of slavery, and the concurrent rebuttals.

The Abolition of Slavery, a very noble and great moral correction of the United States, was accomplished due to the rallying efforts of the American Anti-Slavery Society, the just President Abraham Lincoln, his Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment, and the inevitable Civil War.

American Anti-Slavery Society

Engraving of William Lloyd Garrison from a 1879 Newspaper. From Wikipedia.

The American Anti-Slavery Society was a group of abolitionists who up to that point were not organized in any particular group. It was founded on December 4th, 1833. They had newspapers and sent out spokespeople and tried to recruit people and Churches. It’s leaders were William Lloyd Garrison and Arthur and Lewis Tappan. The Tappans were businessmen from New York, and Garrison was the Editor of The Liberator. They adopted a constitution, and Garrison wrote the group’s “Declaration of Sentiments,” a document which was essentially their manifesto. It bid members to work for ending slavery and getting more rights for free blacks. The official periodical of the Society was the National Anti-Slavery Standard, but it also circulated Garrison’s Liberator. From 1834 and 1838, the AAS employed one hundred agents. ("American Anti-Slavery Society"). The AAS mailed as many people as they could to spread their message, which sparked outrage and fear especially in the South. The South took very badly to the postal campaign of the AAS. They burned the mail and effigies of abolitionists. It was very popular with many of the white people in the city. (Wyly-Jones). Because of the South’s bad reaction to their postal campaign, the AAS decided to focus on petitioning Congress. Women especially spearheaded the petitions. Congressmen got annoyed with this by 1836. Controversially, Congress passed gag rules which “automatically tabled any petition mentioning slavery”. In 1840, there was a schism in the Society and it lost a fair amount of support from blacks, churches, and financial support. However, it continued to circulate agents until the Civil War. ("American Anti-Slavery Society"). As one can see, the American Anti-Slavery Society was an important leader in abolishing slavery. Despite it’s demise, the AAS helped raise awareness of the Abolitionist Movement to the next level. Next, a president will be discussed who helped abolish slavery.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln, taken on February 5, 1865, by Alexander Gardner. From Wikipedia.

Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, in Kentucky. He grew up in a very rural, wild environment. He had a commitment to gaining knowledge as he was growing up. Before being President, he spent eight years in Illinois legislature and worked in the courts for some time, among other things. He had four boys with his wife, Mary Todd. In 1860, he became the Republican nomination for President. He grew the Republican Party larger than it was before. He was also able to get most Northern Democrats affiliated with the Union cause. He made his famous Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, officially freeing all slaves in the Confederacy. The following is an excerpt from his famous speech at the Gettysburg Military Cemetery.

"that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain--that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom--and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Lincoln was re-elected in 1864, which was a close call, and if he didn’t get a second term, it is likely the Civil War would have ended prematurely. The Civil War did end shortly after his re-election, the North winning. He was shot by John Wilkes Booth in Ford’s Theatre, on April 14, 1865. This made prospects of peace with the North and South unlikely, but of course it did eventually come. ("Abraham Lincoln”). Before he was assassinated, Lincoln had said that he wished his Emancipation Proclamation was made Constitutional. On December 6, 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified. If it wasn’t for Abraham Lincoln’s great efforts to end the institution of slavery, it’s demise would have probably been slower and more gradual.

Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. (“An act of justice”). It declared all slaves free, but only those in rebellious (seceding) states, so not any loyal Northern States. Also, this order was barely enforceable until the North won the Civil War. (“Emancipation Proclamation.”) Regardless, the Proclamation was important from a moral perspective, as now the Civil War was being fought to truly end slavery, not just to crush the Southern rebellion. (“An act of justice”). Below is the Thirteenth Amendment.

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation. ("Thirteenth Amendment”).

The Thirteenth Amendment was powerful in it’s simplicity; there would be no loopholes for people to keep slavery going from now on.

Civil War

The Civil War was a battle between the North (Union) and the South (Confederacy). It was a battle for Secession, the South wanted it because they still wanted slaves whereas the North did not. It started on April 12, 1861, when the Confederacy started an assault on Fort Sumter which was held by the Union. The Union was not well prepared for the attack. Two days after this, President Lincoln called for 75,000 troops to help crush the Southern “insurrection”. The Confederacy was finally beaten on April 9, 1865, only days before Lincoln was shot. A total of 620,000 troops of both sides were killed in the Civil War. (“American Civil War Ends”). It was a bloody, gruesome battle, but slavery was finally abolished. It was inevitable, and the loss of life on both sides was tragic, but the fact that it was the final nail in the coffin of slavery was a great thing.


Slavery was an unfortunate human rights abuse in the United States of America, and it was a shame such an otherwise revolutionary country had such an institution. Fortunately, there were abolitionists who saw it through, through thick and thin, to get rid of slavery. The American Anti-Slavery Society was a society that helped organize abolitionists that until that point were not unified. It helped them use their passion for abolition in a focussed way, because they worked together on the same issues, instead of being spread out and not working on the same thing. The continued circulation of tracts and such by the society increased awareness of their cause, and this no doubt helped lead to the Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln was instrumental in bringing about Abolition. He spearheaded the Civil War, whose purpose was twofold: to stop the secession of the South, and to abolish slavery. Lincoln, regardless of the War, also wanted to get rid of slavery anyways, issuing the Emancipation Proclamation and pushing for the Thirteenth Amendment. The Civil War was an unfortunate, bloody battle, but it was practically inevitable, and with the North’s victory came the freeing of all slaves. So, slavery was abolished, after much kicking and screaming from the South. It was a hard fight for the freedom of slaves, and would have been impossible without the efforts of all these factors.

See More

Abraham Lincoln
Thirteenth Amendment
Civil War

Works Cited

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