Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, is sometimes regarded as one of the most critical individuals involved with the abolitionist movement. He used his power as President to see that he could do whatever he could to end slavery in America. For instance, he played a vital role in the Emancipation Proclamation and the issuing of the Thirteenth Amendment. He viewed slavery as something that was war-powered and believed that it could only be stopped by the same. Lincoln felt that slavery gave the nation a bad reputation, and he wanted to turn that around. At the same time, he had his plan for ending slavery, which he called his “double consciousness of consciousness.” At one point, Lincoln deliberately ignored the courts and acted on his behalf, doing what he felt was just and necessary. All in all, Lincoln had both a political and personal plan for the abolition of slavery. Still, it was more personal than anything and something that he accomplished using his position as the most powerful man in the country.
Harriet Beecher Stowe 1811-1896
Abolitionist author, Harriet Beecher Stowe rose to fame in 1851 with the publication of her best-selling book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which highlighted the evils of slavery, angered the slaveholding South, and inspired pro-slavery copy-cat works in defense of the institution of slavery.
Stowe was born on June 14, 1811 in Litchfield, Connecticut, the seventh child of famed Congregational minister Lyman Beecher and Roxana Foote Beecher. Her famous siblings include elder sister Catherine (11 years her senior), and Henry Ward Beecher, the famous preacher and reformer. Stowe’s mother died when she was five years old and while her father remarried, her sister Catherine became the most pronounced influence on young Harriet’s life. At age eight, she began her education at the Litchfield Female Academy. Later, in 1824, she attended Catherine Beecher’s Hartford Female Seminary, which exposed young women to many of the same courses available in men’s academies. Stowe’s proclivity for writing was evident in the essays she produced for school. Stowe became a teacher, working from 1829 to 1832 at the Hartford Female Seminary.
In 1832, when Stowe’s father Lyman accepted the position of president of the esteemed Lane Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio, she went with him. There, she met some of the great minds and reformers of the day, including noted abolitionists. Smitten with the landscape of the West, she published her first book, Primary Geography, in 1833, which celebrated the diverse cultures and vistas she encountered. In 1836, she met and married Calvin Stowe, a professor at the Lane Seminary. He encouraged her writing, they had seven children, and weathered financial and other problems during their decades-long union. Stowe would write countless articles, some were published in the renowned women’s magazine of the times, Godey’s Lady’s Book. She also wrote 30 books, covering a wide range of topics from homemaking to religion in nonfiction, as well as several novels.
The turning point in Stowe’s personal and literary life came in 1849, when her son died in a cholera epidemic that claimed nearly 3000 lives in her region. She later said that the loss of her child inspired great empathy for enslaved mothers who had their children sold away from them. The passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which legally compelled Northerners to return runaway slaves, infuriated Stowe and many in the North. This was when Stowe penned what would become her most famous work, the novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Originally serialized in the National Era, Stowe saw her tale as a call to arms for Northerners to defy the Fugitive Slave Act. The vivid characters and great empathy inspired by the book was further aided by Stowe’s strong Christianity.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin was released as a book in March 1852, selling 300,000 copies in the US in the first year. It was later performed on stage and translated into dozens of languages. When some claimed her portrait of slavery was inaccurate, Stowe published Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a book of primary source historical documents that backed up her account, including the narratives of notable former slaves Frederick Douglass and Josiah Henderson. Southern pro-slavery advocates countered with books of their own, such as Mary Henderson Eastman’s Aunt Phillis’s Cabin; Or, Southern Life as It Is. This work and others like it attempted to portray slavery as a benevolent institution, but never received the acclaim or widespread readership of Stowe’s.
Stowe used her fame to petition to end slavery. She toured nationally and internationally, speaking about her book and donating some of what she earned to help the antislavery cause. She also wrote extensively on behalf of abolition, most notably her “Appeal to Women of the Free States of America, on the Present Crisis on Our Country,” which she hoped would help raise public outcry to defeat the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act.
During the Civil War, Stowe became one of the most visible professional writers. For years, popular folklore claimed that President Abraham Lincoln, upon meeting Stowe in 1862, said, “So you’re the woman who wrote the book that started this great war.” That quote, published in a 1911 biography of Stowe by her son Charles, has been called into question, as Stowe herself and two others present at the meeting make no reference to it in their accounts (and Charles was only a boy at the time of the meeting).
In 1873, Stowe and her family moved to Hartford, Connecticut, where she remained until her death in 1896, summering in Florida. She helped breathe new life into the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, and was involved with efforts to launch the Hartford Art School, later part of the University of Hartford. By Debra Michals, PhD | 2017.
Born into slavery on Maryland’s extern shore in 1818, Frederick Douglass spent several years in Baltimore, where he learned to read. Douglass viewed his newfound literacy as the key to knowledge, and “the pathway from slavery to freedom,” as he wrote in his first autobiography. In 1838, he escaped to the North, settling in the abolitionist stronghold of New Bedford, Massachusetts. After reading William Lloyd Garrison’s newspaper The Liberator, and hearing him speak at an anti-slavery meeting, Douglass joined forces with Garrison, traveling across the North to tell his story and advocate for the eradication of slavery. In 1845, he published his autobiographical Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, which won him national fame — and brought him to the attention of his former owners. To avoid recapture, Douglass fled to the United Kingdom, where he spent two years lecturing. As Douglass’s Narrative became a bestseller, he was treated by his British hosts not just as an equal, but as a celebrity.
Shortly after his return to the U.S. in 1847, Douglass moved to Rocheter, new York, a final stop for northbound fugitive slaves on the Underground Railroad. Rochester (and upstate New York) was a hotbed for political abolitionism and was a boom town — upstate New York in antebellum America was the California of the 20th century. There Douglass established his own newspaper, The North Star. He did so without the blessing of his mentor and friend Garrison. The printer felt abandoned and betrayed. The rift between the two men grew deeper as Douglass questioned Garrison’s philosophies — particularly his commitment to nonviolence and his insistence that abolitionists ignore politics.
When the Civil War began, Douglass hoped the goal of the war would be to end slavery. But as late as August of 1862, Lincoln announced his primary goal was to save the Union “and is not either to save or destroy slavery.” Douglass was therefore overjoyed when Lincoln announced the following month that he would emancipate the slaves in rebel-held territory.
After Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, Douglass helped recruit black soldiers to fight in the Union Army. In the post-war years, Douglass continued his relentless campaign for civil rights, working to help freedmen in the South. He died in 1895 after serving in a number of government posts, including as a consul general and minister to Haiti.