The Slavery Debate

"Anti-Slavery!" c. 1855

While Lincoln occupied a middle ground on the slavery issue, others held sharply different views. Proslavery advocates, such as Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, defended slavery as a moral good and upheld Southerners’ constitutional rights to own slaves and extend the system westward. Opposing this view was a small but dedicated group of northern reformers known as abolitionists who considered slavery immoral and called for its immediate end. They were led by William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips, who also endorsed equal citizenship rights for blacks and disunion with the South. Their motto became “No Union with Slaveholders.”

By 1840, some 100,000 Northerners had joined abolitionist societies. Women and blacks played a key role, organizing meetings, publishing pamphlets, and delivering lectures.   Frederick Douglass, a former slave from Maryland, joined the movement and published a popular autobiography detailing his life as a slave. A powerful orator, Douglass traveled the lecture circuit and became a leading spokesman for black freedom; he also published the North Star, a weekly newspaper with national distribution and considerable influence.