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[Detail] Experience and personal narrative of Uncle Tom Jones...1858

From Slavery to Freedom: The African-American Pamphlet Collection, 1822-1909, offers primary source materials relating to a variety of historic events from the nineteenth century. Speeches, essays, letters, and other correspondence provide different perspectives on slavery, African colonization, Reconstruction, and the education of African Americans. Additional materials provide information about the political debates of legislation relating to slavery in the United States and its territories, such as the Wilmot Proviso and the Compromise of 1850.


William Lloyd Garrison was considered a radical in the abolitionist movement. Publisher of the anti-slavery newspaper, The Liberator, and co-founder of the American Anti-Slavery Society, Garrison called for the immediate end to slavery, believing in the equality of the races and in the ability of free African Americans to successfully assimilate into white society. This philosophy put him at odds with abolitionists who doubted the notion of racial equality and who sought to gradually end slavery.

Although he called for a peaceful approach to abolishing slavery, Garrison’s criticism of the Constitution as a pro-slavery document and his inclusion of women in the abolitionist movement prompted some members of the American Anti-Slavery Society to leave in 1839 and form the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. Pamphlets from this male-only organization offer a more moderate approach to abolitionism with pieces such as “Shall We Give Bibles to Three Millions of American Slaves?” and “Facts for the People of the Free States,” an 1846 pamphlet that chronicles the murder of slaves in the South, describes the relationship between politicians and slavery, and offers “Presidential Testimonies” on the values of liberty.

Contrast the tone of this new group and its publications with the original American Anti-Slavery Society by searching on American Anti-Slavery Society for publications including Wendell Phillips’s “The Philosophy of the Abolition Movement.” This 1853 speech describes the abolitionists fighting against desperate odds: “The press, the pulpit, the wealth, the literature, the prejudices, the political arrangements, the present self-interest of the country, are all against us.” (page 9). Garrison’s own rhetoric is available in speeches such as his 1860 “The ‘Infidelity’ of Abolitionism,” which proclaims:

The one great . . . all-conquering sin in America is its system of chattel slavery . . . at first, tolerated as a necessary evil . . . now, defended in every slave State as a most beneficent institution . . . controlling . . . courts and legislative assemblies, the army and navy, Congress, the National Executive, the Supreme Court--and having at its disposal all the offices, . . . to extend its dominion indefinitely.

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  • How do the ideas and tone of the American Anti-Slavery Society pamphlets differ from those of the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society?
  • What are Garrison's objections to slavery? What problems does he attribute to it?
  • What steps do you think Garrison would have considered necessary to end slavery?

In addition to providing a chronology of slavery laws throughout United States history, the collection of New York Herald articles reprinted in “History of American Abolitionism,” distinguishes between two types of abolitionists:

[T]hose who are actuated by sentiments of philanthropy and humanity, but are at the same time no less opposed to any disturbance of the peace or tranquility of the Union…. [and those] who, in the language of Henry Clay, are ‘resolved to persevere at all hazards, and without regard to any consequences, however calamitous they may be.’”

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The Religious Society of Friends began working against slavery within their organization in the late-seventeenth century. A search on Society of Friends, offers materials such as “A Brief Statement of the Rise and Progress of the Testimony of the Religious Society of Friends, Against Slavery and the Slave Trade” and “The Appeal of the Religious Society of Friends…on Behalf of the Coloured Races.” Both pamphlets chronicle the group’s efforts “to plead with their fellow-citizens who yet held slaves, and to labour in a meek and gentle spirit, to bring others to that sense of mercy and of justice, to which the Lord in his goodness had brought them,” (page 8).

  • What are the similarities and differences between the Religious Society of Friends, the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, and the American Anti-Slavery Society?

Additional pamphlets from female abolitionists are represented in the “Women Authors” section of the special presentation, Collection Highlights, while searches on abolition and anti-slavery yield other materials from abolitionist groups using a variety of techniques to end slavery.

  • What is the background of each abolitionist group?
  • What were each group's various objections to slavery?
  • How did each group define its goal and the steps it considered necessary to end slavery?
  • Were these goals based on economic, political, social, moral, or philosophical reasons?
  • Did each group distinguish between the interests of the slaves and the interests of the nation?
  • Which groups were willing to abolish slavery at the cost of “any disturbance of the peace or tranquility of the Union”?
  • Which groups were unwilling to do so?
  • How are these attitudes reflected in the subject matter and tone of their pamphlets?
  • Which methods do you think were the most effective?
  • Which methods do you think were the most realistic?