In the early nineteenth century, American society underwent a series of significant social and economic reforms. Primarily, the abolitionism of slavery in North America led to the development of wage labor and production (Locke and Wright 222). At the same time, such a boom in industrialization and market revolution in the North fueled the preservation and intensification of slavery on the plantations of the South (Locke and Wright 199). At the same time, many laborers in the North were forced to work for low wages, which created class inequality and poverty. Americans began to sell their goods in general in cash, including farmers. This process was actively promoted by the transport and communication revolutions, which became the basis for a new market economy.
In the North, the process of abolitionism proceeded at an accelerated pace and allowed free Black people to create their own communities. They could own businesses and land, and they had the right to vote, which greatly expanded their opportunities. However, “the slave population continued to grow, from less than 700,000 in 1790 to more than 1.5 million by 1820” (Locke and Wright 206). This fact was facilitated by the expansion of the need for cotton production, which led to more plantations in the South and increased demand for slaves. The abolitionist process was gradual and unhurried, but by the 1830s, anti-colonial sentiments were growing among the free Blacks of the North and middle-class religious people (Locke and Wright 270). From 1831 to 1837, the abolitionists carried out active propaganda and agitation, urging slave owners to free slaves, as well as preparing petitions for Congress (Locke and Wright 271). However, the group met with extensive opposition from the American public.
Abolitionism was considered by many a threat to the American idea of self-governance because of the disunion that the movement could create. Both in the South and in the North, activists caused rejection and reaction in society. In the North, white Americans trashed abolitionist printing presses and even killed their members (Locke and Wright 272). In the South, slave owners actively eradicated abolitionist ideas throughout the region. In 1836, the Democrats and Whigs in the Congress promoted the adoption of the gag rule, “prohibiting all discussion of abolitionist petitions in the House of Representatives” (Locke and Wright 272). Gradually, this reaction of society weakened the movement of abolitionists, which began to diminish its activities.
While the remaining activists began to defend the idea that the US Constitution was built on the principles of slavery, the new movements did differently. The Liberty Party was formed in 1839, and its members argued that the abolition of slavery should take place within the framework of political processes, and the Constitution is the source of such changes (Locke and Wright 272). However, many party members left because of the empowerment of women, which was seen as a violation of traditional moral principles. At the same time, in the 1840s, opposition to abolitionism in the form of Northern and Southern white Americans forced the movement to seek new ways of bringing about change beyond agitation and political activism. Thus, the abolitionists began to develop resistance by helping many fugitive slaves to create networks of struggle against the American slave system.
However, the tension soon reached a critical point, which could lead the American society to a cataclysm. After the Fugitive Slave Act was passed in 1850, many armed uprisings in defense of the fugitive slaves broke out, bringing people to an understanding of the magnitude of the problem (Locke and Wright 274). The abolitionist movement began to gain strength and become a major political threat. Although the abolition of slavery will only happen during the Civil War, the efforts of this group have brought attention to the problem and laid the foundation for change. Moreover, the abolitionist movement has made many Black leaders recognizable, which has strengthened their position in the struggle.
Locke, Joseph L. and Ben Wright. The American Yawp. Stanford University Press, 2019.