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Abolitionists Terms

Abolitionist, Abolitionists, Abolitionism

A radical reformer who demanded immediate emancipation (an end to slavery). Usually associated with the post-1831 period, although one could argue that certain groups or individuals qualified as "abolitionists" long before 1831.


A vaguer term than "abolitionist" among American historians, usually indicating a more moderate or theoretical objection to slavery.

Free Soil, Free-soilers, Free-soiler, Free Soil Party

The political position dedicated to banning slavery from all newly acquired western territory, but also referring to the demand that federal government provide free homesteads to western settlers. This was a much more popular position than immediatist abolitionism (that called for an end to slavery everywhere in America and equal rights for all races). Most northern voters were quite racist, but they gravitated toward the free soil concept because they envisioned the lands and opportunities of the West as a chance for their own economic betterment, and they wanted to be able to live and work there free from the competition of slave labor. They also resented the "Slave Power" that the South represented to them, with the inordinate influence of its elected representatives (thanks to the three-fifths clause) and their resistance to measures for internal improvements and the protective tariff (which were usually quite popular in the North and parts of the West). The Free Soil Party formed in 1848, based on these principles, and nominated Martin Van Buren for president and Charles Francis Adams (John Quincy Adams's son) for Vice President. They polled 14% of all northern votes in the election. Most Free Soilers were later absorbed into the Republican Party when it formed in 1854.

Immediatism, Immediatist

The radical branch of the abolition movement that demanded an immediate end to slavery, as opposed to the moderates' call for "gradualism." Activist William Lloyd Garrison was one of the first and most outspoken immediatists, having founded his famous antislavery paper The Liberator to publicize and spread his cause in 1831. Garrison is usually credited with creating the concept, although this remains open to debate: many Quaker activists and black abolitionists had already called for an urgent end to chattel bondage by the time Garrison began publishing his paper. Two years earlier in 1829, a free black man named David Walker published his Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World, an abolitionist document so radical that it alarmed even Garrison. Note: President Abraham Lincoln was not an immediatist. Despite the ironic fact that he would go down in history as "The Great Emancipator," Lincoln never would have identified himself as an abolitionist at all (abolitionism was considered a very radical position, even by the 1850s). He did officially bring about an end to slavery by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, but Lincoln justified that act as a matter of military necessity, and it was in fact an acknowledgment of an ongoing phenomenon: the fact that slaves were claiming their own freedom during the Civil War by escaping behind Union Army lines. Throughout his campaign for the Illinois senate in 1858 and thereafter, Lincoln maintained the "course of ultimate extinction" position in regard to slavery‚ aposition popular with white northerners. That is, he would tolerate the institution in the states where it already existed in 1858, but would draw the line at any further expansion into new states or territories. Lincoln and many other northerners hoped that this limitation of slavery would prevent its perpetual profitability and would therefore ensure its demise, since slave agriculture thrived on opening up new lands for cultivation and ensuring a robust domestic slave trade. Additionally, the future increase in slave population would alter the balance between workforce and the available land to cultivate or the planters' demand for labor. Perhaps most attractively for northern voters (and aspiring landowners), it would also prevent any competition from wealthy planters for the coveted western lands, and would ensure that white northern laborers who migrated westward wouldn't have to compete with slave labor for jobs. Yet the "course of ultimate extinction" argument also implicitly acquiesced in allowing slavery's potentially long-term survival in the South, at least for the foreseeable future. And as Lincoln made quite clear at the war's outset, "if I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that."

Jacksonian, Jacksonians

Refers to the politics of Andrew Jackson and the Democratic Party in the 1820s and '30s (and enduring long after Jackson left office in 1837). The Jacksonians pressed for a more democratic government for all white Americans, regardless of their income, religion, or ethnic background. Jacksonianism is usually associated with a celebration of the common man, and was especially popular in the western frontier regions. It is a very anti-aristocratic political philosophy, and Jackson and his party benefited from the move towards universal male suffrage in the early nineteenth century, when states revoked the property requirements that had been necessary to obtain voting rights in the past.

Quakers, Quaker, Religious Society Of Friends, Society Of Friends

The commonly used term for the faith formally known as the Religious Society of Friends. George Fox began the Quakers in England during the 1650s on the premise that all members could commune directly with God, free from intermediaries such as priests or formal ceremonies, including church services. They were firmly committed to the principle of equality among all men and women, dressing plainly and using the trademark term "thee" in place of formal titles until the mid-nineteenth-century, when those customs were left behind. The Quakers were persecuted for their beliefs, both in England and after many of them came to America in the seventeenth century. The very term "Quakers" was a derisive one that outsiders devised, but it has since become a common expression for the group. They were mavericks in many respects, especially when it came to their early involvement in the budding abolitionist movement (some Quakers began protesting slavery as early as 1688). Notable figures including John Woolman, Anthony Benezet, both Grimké sisters (Sarah and Angelina), and countless rank-and-file Friends actively worked to decisively cut all remaining Quaker ties with slavery and to bring about total emancipation. They facilitated the Underground Railroad network for helping runaway slaves escape to the North, they petitioned Congress to end the slave trade and slavery itself, and they composed the vast majority of members in the Pennsylvania Abolition Society.

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