The Leaders of the Abolition Movement

essential Question

what was the impact of early abolitionists leaders?

Benjamin Franklin

Like most citizens of his time, Benjamin Franklin owned slaves and viewed them as inferior to white Europeans. His newspaper the Pennsylvania Gazette advertised the sale of slaves, frequently published notices of runaways and antislavery ads from Quakers. Then, Franklin visited Dr. Bray’s schools for black children. Previously he thought people of African descent were inferior because they could not be educated. After touring a school for black children Franklin gradually changed his mind. In 1763 Franklin wrote that African shortcomings and ignorance were not inherently natural but come from lack of education, slavery, and negative environments. He also wrote that he saw no difference in learning between African and white children.

In 1787 Franklin became the President of the Philadelphia Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage, often referred to as the Abolition Society. The Abolition Society focused not only on abolishing slavery but also on education, moral instruction, and employment. The Abolition Society was the first in America and inspired the formation of abolitionist societies in other colonies. In Address to the Public, in a letter dated November 9th, 1789, Franklin wrote wholeheartedly against the institution of slavery. He argued that slaves were treated as brute animals beneath the standard of the human species.

On February 3rd, 1790, less than three months before his death, Franklin petitioned Congress to end slavery. When the petition was introduced to the House and the Senate it was immediately rejected by pro-slavery congressmen from the southern states. By this time Franklin’s health was fragile and on April 17 he passed away at age 84.

John Quincy Adams and His Proposed Constitutional Amendment

John Quincy Adams was the first House member to champion abolition and emancipation. His courage fin acing attacks by southerners and their congressmen earned him designation as the most courageous congressman in American history.

In 1836 Congress passed the "Gag Rule" which prevented the House of Representatives from discussing any anti-slavery petitions and that all petitions, memorials, or resolutions regarding slavery should automatically be tabled and that no further action be taken upon them. Despite this rule, Adams presented petitions against slavery to Congress. He said “I hold the resolution ("Gag Rule") to be a direct violation of the Constitution of the United States.” For the next four Congresses, Adams fervently fought against the gag rule, declaring it a restriction on free speech. Adams finally mustered enough votes to repeal it on December 3, 1844.

In 1839, he introduced a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery. Unfortunately, it was defeated and received little support. However, in 1864, his idea would become a reality when the 13th Amendment was passed and ended slavery in the U.S.

In 1841, he defended a group of enslaved Africans who rebelled on the slave ship Amistad and enabled them to return home, and gave hope to the abolition movement. Adams proposed an entirely new legal approach to emancipation, arguing that the Africans were freemen who had been kidnapped and that killing the captain and mate of the Amistad had been a legitimate act of self-defense against their kidnappers.

John Brown and the armed resistance

NEWSELA "The Abolitionists: John Brown"

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Harriet Tubman

The Underground Railroad

Theodore Weld

Theodore Weld was an influential abolitionist, minister, teacher, and editor. He was married to Angelina Grimké, another well-known abolitionist. He is most famous for leading a campaign to send antislavery petitions to Congress (1841-1843) and founded a school where both white and black students attended together in 1854.

William Lloyd Garrison

William Lloyd Garrison spoke out forcefully against slavery. He started an important abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator which called for immediate emancipation (liberation of slaves), and no payment to slaveholders.

Frederick Douglass

NEWSELA "The Abolitionists: Frederick Douglass"

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Discussion Questions

  • How would you rank John Quincy Adams, John Brown, Harriet Tubman, the Underground Railroad, Benjamin Franklin, Theodore Weld, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, from biggest impact to least biggest impact? Why?

Activity 1: How did Abolitionist leaders work to end slavery.

Using the information from this lesson, answer the question in a thinking map. Complete this assignment digitally or on paper. It will be collected in your portfolio.

Extension Activity

Famous Speeches: Frederick Douglass' "The Hypocrisy of American Slavery"

Famous Speeches: John Brown's Address to the Court

Primary Sources: Conductor on the Underground Railroad Part One

Primary Sources: Conductor on the Underground Railroad Part Two