Study Guide

Abolitionists in The Hypocrisy of American Slavery

By Frederick Douglass

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Douglass directly addresses abolitionists early on:

But I fancy I hear some of my audience say it is just in this circumstance that you and your brother Abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. (36)

Douglass anticipates that some members of his audience will try to defend themselves—to say they aren't hypocrites because they're abolitionists, too. But Douglass says they aren't doing enough. He accuses them of doing too much finger-wagging at slaveholders and not enough actual work to end slavery.

The American abolitionist movement grew out of ideas about liberty and humanity advanced during the Enlightenment and the American Revolution, and it got a real shot in the arm from the Second Great Awakening, a religious revival. However, like all movements, abolition suffered from internal strife because various groups believed in taking different actions and positions to achieve the ultimate goal of ending slavery.

The Garrisonians, or those who followed William Lloyd Garrison, believed that the church and the state were irrevocably corrupted by slavery. Garrison read the Constitution as a pro-slavery document and encouraged his followers to opt out of voting and church membership.

Then there were the religious abolitionists, who felt that slavery was essentially anti-Christian and that established churches could be enlisted in the fight against it.

And then there were the political abolitionists, who read the Constitution as an anti-slavery document and argued that the federal government could legislate for the entire country on that basis.

Finally, there were the radical and militant abolitionists, like John Brown of Harpers Ferry fame, who were fine with bringing slavery to an end through violence.

Ultimately, though, all of these factions came together to support the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 and to pressure him to acknowledge emancipation as a goal of the Civil War.

After the war, many abolitionists kept fighting the good fight by remaining active in equal rights movements for women and people of color.

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