Critics & Crusaders: A Century of American Protest

By Charles A. Madison | Go to book overview

THE ABOLITIONIST BACKGROUND

CONTRARY TO COMMON ASSUMPTION the movement for the abolition of Negro slavery in the United States began in the South rather than in the North. The wave of freedom crested by the Declaration of Independence, and especially the increasing economic disadvantages of cotton-raising prior to Eli Whitney's invention of the gin in 1793, caused many of the leading Southerners to deprecate the system of slave labor as a moral and economic blight upon the young republic. Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Henry, to mention only the most eminent Virginians, believed that slavery was contrary to the genius of American liberty. "I can clearly foresee," Washington once said, "that nothing but the rooting out of slavery can perpetuate the existence of our union by consolidating it in a common bond of principle."

This anti-slavery sentiment in the South increased with the years, particularly among the poorer whites, and found strong expression from the pulpit and in print. By the end of the 1820's four-fifths of the emancipation societies and an even greater proportion of their membership were to be found in the plantation states. North Carolina alone contained more than ten times as many enrolled Abolitionists as all of New England and New York. It should be said, however, that at the time these Northern states had no more than 300 members -- kindly souls who seconded the Southern formula for the liberation of slaves by means of gradual emancipation and African colonization.

The establishment of Garrison crusading Liberator in 1831 and

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