The abolitionist movement after 1830 had a considerable impact on the history of the
United States. The movement was fervent on their disapproval of slavery, an act that had been
practiced in the country for over 100 years. The abolitionist movement in the US was organized
by persons who did not believe in slavery, and they mimicked the actions of British abolitionists.
The movement began as a religious outcry but was soon transformed into a political issue that
caused a rift in the country as supporters and critics engaged in debates and violent
confrontations. This essay explores the position white women took in the abolitionist movement
and what it meant for them in terms of opportunities and equality.
The abolitionist movement consisted of mostly white religious Americans who viewed
slavery as an abomination. Black men and women who escaped from bondage were also part of
the movement that eradicated slave ownership in the US. Through strategies like sending of
petitions, inundation of the people of the south, and running for political office, the movement
campaigned religiously to eradicate slavery from the United States. Through abolitionism, white
women realized that they, too, were an oppressed people with limited freedom. Women were
treated like property and highly criticized if they spoke against norms happening in the American
Abigail and John Adams played a significant role in the abolitionist movement as Abigail
advised her husband on equality between men and women. In a letter to her husband, Abigail
"Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember
, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention are not paid to the
Ladies, we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by
any laws in which we have no voice or representation." (Foner 106-107)
This statement shows the position Abigail takes on matters of equality, and the reply by John
shows he did not welcome the idea of people lacking their full freedom and he claims, "I am sure
every good Politician would plot, as long as he would against despotism, empire, monarchy,
aristocracy, oligarchy, or ochlocracy [mob rule]. A fine story indeed."(Foner 109) Through these
illustrations, it is clear that there was a change in how the leadership reviewed matters. The
struggle for independence from Britain had raised various concerns on equality, which would
lead to the abolition of slavery and raise concerns on equality.
The abolitionist movement and the civil war created women opportunities to do more
than being ruled and stay at home. Doors of opportunities were opened to women, and they took
advantage of it by filling in positions they previously were not allowed. Mary Livermore toured
hospitals during the war, assessed the injured soldiers' needs, and cared for them. After the war,
she had deep resentment against women's subordination in the legal and political realms, which
led her to organize the first women suffrage convention:
"In marriage, she has been a serf; as a mother, she has been robbed of her children; in
public instruction, she has been ignored; in labor, she has been a menial, and then
inadequately compensated; civilly she has been a minor, and politically she has had no
existence. She has been the equal of man only when punishment, and the payment of
taxes, were in question." (Foner 300-302)
The quote shows the contemptuous manner in which women were treated before the civil war
and why women joined the abolitionist movement.
Through the anti-slavery movement that began in the north, citizenship and equality of
rights were defined. The right to equality for slaves, propertyless men, women, Indians, and
Negroes were defined by the statement that all men are equal. The campaign by the abolitionist
movement and the civil war that ensued, later on, helped provide ground for equality for
oppressed persons in the US. The Black Residents of Nashville asked why they were called upon
to fight in the military but were not allowed voting on the ballot. The slaves expressed their
devotion to the principles of justice and their understanding of the burden of citizenship (Foner
304). They further expressed their view of the American government not being democratic if
some of its citizens were treated like aliens and an inferior class when compared to others. The
abolitionists' used strategies like these to help end slavery, which in turn helped in promoting
equality for all the oppressed persons, including women.
Different strategies were used during the abolitionist movement, which helped in the
vision of equity for all. Robert Owen offered such a strategy in his address of Americans
providing a new way of doing things. He explains that the people human beings should be
committing actions that ensure the happiness of the majority of persons, but instead, man has
become the tormentor of man. He states:
Man, through ignorance, has been, hitherto, the tormentor of man. He is here, in a nation
deeming itself possessed of more privileges than all other nations, and which pretensions,
in many respects, must be admitted to be true. Yet, even here, where the laws are the
most mild, and consequently the least unjust and irrational, individuals are punished even
to death, for actions which are the natural and necessary effects arising from the injurious
circumstances which the government and society, to which they belong, unwisely permit
to exist; while other individuals are almost as much injured by being as unjustly rewarded
for performing actions for which, as soon as they shall become rational beings, they must
be conscious they cannot be entitled to a particle of merit (Foner 226).
Through this address, Owen manages to explain the new system as he has seen it and the
likelihood of its success if equality wins. Such strategies helped reach out to the people around
the united states on the need for equality amongst all factions and races. The seniority of one race
over the others is touched on and becomes the main point of focus as he stresses equality and the
need to make decisions that ensure the majority of persons are satisfied.
The abolitionist movement was a visionary movement that wanted equity for all people.
The movement's central idea was equality in every sphere of life, and reforms needed to be made
to ensure slavery was abolished. White women realized at this time that they too were oppressed,
and this led to their participation in the movement. The role of Abigail and John Adams helped
in the inclusion of women during the movement. Additionally, women like Mary Livermore
stood for what they believed in, and she organized the first woman suffrage convention after the
war. Through taking up opportunities presented during the war, white women found the zeal to
fight for their freedom and their representation in congress. In conclusion, through using these
opportunities and strategies, the abolitionist movement not only helped end slavery, but it
encouraged women to stand up for equality.
Foner, Eric. Voices of Freedom. WW Norton, 2008.