Guest Author - Rebecca Graf
Most reforms took root in social issues as both the religious and the non-religious began campaigns to improve the lives of those who lived in America. The same foundation could be found in the abolitionist movement as the reformers sought to give slaves better lives and the freedom to not be a piece of property but to be a person. Yet the difference between the abolitionist movement and the other reform movements was the explosive political impact. This made the reformers of slavery more in the spotlight and also more dangerous to those on the opposite stance. One of the reasons for that was the huge impact it would have on an entire culture – the South. Those that supported the movement were seen as a threat to the South culturally and politically. It was a pawn in the political game of power as to who would have the most votes and who would wear the belt of power in Washington.
Abolitionists also had a mix of stances on the rights of the black man though they fought for freedom. Few wanted the slave to find complete freedom and equality as the white men of the nation. Most were prejudiced in their own rights and were “tainted by racial prejudice, adopted a paternalistic and condescending attitude toward black abolitionists, and refused to socialize with African Americans.” (1) They called for the end of slavery, but few had a plan to deal with the former slaves and how they would fit into society. As most abolitionists did not see the black man as equal, there was a huge hole in their movement. Unlike the other reform movements, action was limited. With the poor, the reformers activity helped to improve life by offering room and board in exchange for labor. Children were given clothes and food. Some went as far as to implement a poor house and other plans to help with the poverty issue, but many failed. The same can be said by most of the other movements. The reformers actively made changes, both good and bad. When it came to the abolitionists, most of the work was done through speeches, writings, and political movements. A few helped via the Underground Railroad, but most action was found in words.
(1) Steven Mintz, Moralists & Modernizers, (Baltimore: John Hopkins Press, 1995), 140.