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Abolitionists were part of a political movement of abolitionism that existed between the 18th and 19th centuries and sought to make slavery illegal in the United States and the British West Indies. The origins of this movement can be traced back to Europe and United States during the Enlightenment Period before becoming a very vocal and effective anti-slavery movement. The movement succeeded, in ensuring that slavery was made illegal in the British Empire which included the United States. The activities of the abolitionists are greatly credited with the eventual abolishment of Slavery.(Bergman, Peter M 698)
In the 1830s, American abolitionists, led by Evangelical Protestants, gained momentum in their battle to end slavery. Abolitionists believed that slavery was a national sin, and that it was the moral obligation of every American to help eradicate it from the American landscape by gradually freeing the slaves and returning them to Africa.. Not all Americans agreed. Views on slavery varied state by state, and among family members and neighbors. Many Americans—Northerners and Southerners alike—did not support abolitionist goals, believing that anti-slavery activism created economic instability and threatened the racial social order.(Cantor, G 372)
But by the mid-nineteenth century, the ideological contradictions between a national defense of slavery on American soil on the one hand, and the universal freedoms espoused in the Declaration of Independence on the other hand, had created a deep moral schism in the national culture. During the thirty years leading up to the Civil War, anti-slavery organizations proliferated, and became increasingly effective in their methods of resistance. As the century progressed, branches of the abolitionist movement became more radical, calling for the immediate end of slavery. Public opinion varied widely, and different branches of the movement disagreed on how to achieve their aims. But abolitionists found enough strength in their commonalities—a belief in individual liberty and a strong Protestant evangelical faith—to move their agenda forward.(Cantor, G 372)
Stanton’s Declaration of Sentiments
Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a staunch abolitionist, who studied philosophy and logic and gained invaluable experience when working with her father who was a judge. By studying through the various cases her father was dealing with she experienced firsthand how women suffered discrimination at the hands of the law. (Whitton, M. O. 120)
She composed the Declaration of Sentiments which was studied in July 1848 when over 300 men and women met in Seneca Falls, New York for the First Womens’ Rights Convention. There, the Declaration was debated and refined. The public release of the Declaration of Sentiments triggered dialog among many women also interested in equal rights and women’s suffrage. The Declaration was also met with strong criticism and anger. The Declaration is one of the roots of the suffrage movement that ultimately resulted from the 19th Amendment being added to the Constitution. (Whitton, M. O. 120)
Injustices that men committed against women
According to the declaration man was accused of various injustices against the woman and they include:
- Man has never permitted the woman to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise including compelling her to submit to law in the formation of which she had no voice. Having deprived her of this first right as a citizen, the elective franchise, thereby leaving her without representation in the halls of legislation, he has oppressed her on all sides. (Griffith, E 12)
- Man has continued to withhold from the woman, her rights which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men, both natives and foreigners. These rights include the right to her property and the wages she earns. (Griffith, E 22)
The declaration went further ahead to declare some solutions to some of these injustices and they included:
- That all laws which prevent the woman from occupying her rightful position in the society should be ignored because of the lack the force the authority and force. This is because according to the declaration the woman was as equal as her male counterpart as the Creator had intended. (Griffith, E 14)
- The declaration also resolved that the women of America ought to be enlightened in regard to the laws under which they live, that they may no longer publish their degradation by declaring themselves satisfied with their present position, nor their ignorance, by asserting that they have all the rights they want. (Griffith, E 16)
Bergman, Peter M.: The Chronological History of the Negro in America. NY: Harper & Row, 1969. p698.
Cantor, George: Historic Landmarks of Black America. Detroit: Gale Research, Inc., 1991. 372p.
Griffith, Elisabeth, “In Her Own Right: The Life of Elizabeth Cady Stanton.” Oxford University Press, Great Britain, 1985 12-32.
Whitton, Mary Ormsbee. These Were the Women: New York: Hastings House, 1954. 120-147.