Abolition Movement Research Proposal

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¶ … abolitionist movement in American and when did it take place? For many Americans who are only vaguely knowledgeable about the abolitionist movement before and around the time of the Civil War, they may believe that is was a few Caucasians who offered hiding places for runaway slaves. In part, that is true. But according to Pulitzer-Prize-winning historian Steven Hahn, "The abolitionist movement was made chiefly of people of African descent"

(Hahn, 2009). The fact is that in the 1830s and 1840s in the Northern states, such as Wisconsin, Minnesota, New York State, Pennsylvania and elsewhere, blacks were often welcomed into the "public sphere of politics," Hahn states. Conventions and public meetings were often organized by blacks who were former slaves -- and at these meetings blacks pressed their white neighbors and community leaders to fight for justice and to demand and end to slavery at the federal level.

Hahn goes on to mention the fact that blacks were the ones who "subscribed to abolitionist newspapers" and "set up and staffed the Underground Railroad. They knew where to go in order to be hidden and protected, or get employment" (Hahn, p. 18). How does Hahn know that runaway slaves had a pivotal role in the abolitionist movement? He explains on page 19 of the article that there were still slaves working for masters in the North, "even at the time of the Civil War," and so slavery did exist in the north and there were runaway slaves there. The free blacks in the North "…could be kidnapped" under the Fugitive Slave Law (Hahn, p. 19).Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Research Proposal on Abolition Movement Assignment

Hahn gives an example of a group of freed slaves who were living in Pennsylvania, and they were abolitionists, giving shelter and food to other runaway slaves. But slave owners who wanted to get their slaves back would come up into Pennsylvania, armed, and take runaway slaves prisoner to return them to their owners. In 1851, a Maryland slave owner came to Pennsylvania looking for "four runaway slaves with his son and friends and a U.S. Marshal" (Hahn, p. 19). There was a shootout between about 100 blacks and that party of whites. The blacks sent the Maryland slave owner scurrying out of their community. But Hahn has given this as an example of how blacks were a major resource in the abolitionist movement.

What was the Underground Railroad and how did it play a role in the abolitionist movement? The Underground Railroad was a "moral challenge" to the nation to rid itself of the evils of slavery. But moreover it was a "Not a route, but a network; not an organization, but a conspiracy of thousands of people banded together for the deliberate purpose of depriving their southern neighbors of their property [in defiance of the law]"

(Williams-Meyers, 2003, p. 2). Basically the Underground Railroad was a secret underground network of people -- white and black from the East Coast to Wisconsin and Iowa and Minnesota -- who provided safe haven for runaway slaves.

And according to Williams-Meyers, the Hudson River Valley in New York State "Was a natural artery for the clandestine movement of fugitives north to Canada…for settlement far from pursuing slave-catchers" (p. 3). There were dozens of "homes, barns, outhouses and caves" in the Hudson Valley that were used to hide runaway slaves from bounty hunters and slave owners coming up from the south to kidnap blacks, Williams-Meyers continues. At Albany New York, there was a "station" that was part of the "hub" for the runaways coming up from the Washington, D.C., "the southern terminus of the Underground Railroad" (Williams-Meyers, p. 4). South. From Albany the route of the Underground Railroad "radiated east into New England, north into Canada, and west" to Utica and other friendly states.

At Troy New York the Liberty Street Presbyterian Church of Garnet was a main stop on the railroad; fugitives were "supplied with money and forwarded either to Suspension Bridge on the Niagara River, or by way of Vermont" (Williams-Meyers, p. 4).

Is there a primary source with pertinent information about how fugitive slaves were sheltered from the bounty hunters and slave owners from the South? Yes, the Milton House Museum in Milton Wisconsin is a primary source for Underground Railroad information. Built in 1844 by Joseph Goodrich as a stagecoach inn, the Milton House became an important hub on the railroad network. "Runaways entered through the cabin to the rear of the inn and then through a trap door in the cabin's floor to the dirt tunnel that led to the basement of the inn."

The tunnel was only 5 feet high and it was "the only segment of the Underground Railroad that was actually underground." Mr. Goodrich had "no idea" whether the people who stayed at his inn could be trusted or not…so he cared for [the runaways] quietly in the basement where they could ear and rest and get ready for the next stage of their journey," which was usually to Minnesota and on to Canada (Miltonhouse.org).

What was the penalty for those who were part of the Underground Railroad and were caught helping runaway slaves? The "good people around Milton…did not generally advertise their participation in resistance [to the Fugitive Slave Law] in the face of imprisonment in a federal prison and a $1,000 fine" (Miltonhouse.org).

Who was Frederick Douglass and why was he so well-known in abolitionist circles? He was an outspoken leader, journalist, essayist, and advocate for black emancipation. His speeches were powerful and his writing was extraordinarily skillful, especially given the fact that he was born a slave and taught himself much of what he knew. His narrative is polished and at times understated. Did Frederick Douglass leave any written records of what he saw and was subjected to prior to setting himself free as a young man? Yes. Douglass's recollection of the horrific inhumane whippings and beatings he witnessed is powerful; he kept journals that were later published as memoirs. In the book Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave Douglass recounts many incidents of cruelty that he witnessed, including the following incident involving his Aunt Hester, "a woman of noble form, and of graceful proportions, having very few equals…in personal appearance, among the colored or white women of our neighborhood."

Hester had disobeyed her master by leaving the plantation:

"Before he commenced shipping Aunt Hester, he took her into the kitchen, and stripped her from neck to waist, leaving her neck, shoulders, and back, entirely naked. They he told her to cross her hands, calling her at the same time a d-d b-h. After crossing her hands, he tied them with a strong rope, and led her to a stool under a large hook in the joist, put in for the purpose. He made her get upon the stool, and tied her hands to the hook. She now stood fair for his infernal purpose. Her arms were stretched up at their full length, so that she stood on the ends of her toes. He then said to her, 'Now, you d-d b-h, I'll learn you how to disobey my orders!' And after rolling up his sleeves, he commenced to lay on the heavy cowskin, and soon the warm, red blood (amid heart-rending shrieks from her, and horrid oaths from him) came dripping to the floor. I was so terrified and horror-stricken at the sight that I hid myself in a closet…"

Was Douglass also known as a scholar during the years of the abolitionist movement? Indeed, Douglass's writing and public speaking took on a far more intellectual and scholarly tone in his career as a leader of the abolitionist movement. White people who supported the movement to end slavery came to his speeches and were emotionally moved by the passion and intelligence. What kind of speeches did Douglass make? For example, Douglass spoke in Rochester, NY, on the Fourth of July, 1852 and asked, "What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?"

To the slave, Douglass spoke, "your celebration is a sham; you boasted liberty, an unholy license…your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety and hypocrisy -- a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages" (Douglass, quoted by Lamme, p. 4).

Who were among the early abolitionist spokespersons? One of those was Thomas Paine, who was known as a writer and an intellectual but not well-known as an anti-slavery advocate. In fact Paine's first "major political statement" was his demand for the emancipation of the slaves in his book "Rights of Man": "Man has no property in man"

(Kaye, 2006, p. 147) Paine also wrote an article that was published in a Washington D.C. newspaper titled "Oration of Thomas Paine" in 1819, according to author Harvey J. Kaye, which demanded slavery's abolition. Other leaders in the abolitionist movement included William… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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