by David Brion Davis

Abolitionism emerged in America as part of a massive fusion of reform movements related to religious revivals and dedicated to the goal of creating a righteous society capable of fulfilling America’s high ideals.[1] In part, the religious revivals and emergence of a reform-oriented “Benevolent Empire” was a response to drastic economic and social changes related to what historians term “the market revolution” and “the transportation revolution.” In the generation following the War of 1812, improved roads and especially canals opened up markets and profits that were beyond the previous dreams of many enterprising farmers, skilled artisans, and manufacturers. But the rapid economic growth and urbanization devastated many other Americans who could no longer hold their own against more efficient and productive competitors. In the eyes of many religious leaders, faced with geographic mobility and the breakup of traditional communities, it appeared that the United States had become increasingly dominated by materialism and greed. But while this new “Great Awakening” was partly a reaction to unsettling economic and social change, the revivalists and reformers were also addressing fundamental questions about the meaning of human life, justice, and the ability to rise above sin.More »


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Featured Primary Sources

Henry Weeden to Watson Freeman, December 4, 1850 (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

An African American protests the Fugitive Slave Law, 1850

Creator: Henry Weeden Curriculum Subjects: Economics Grade Levels: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13+
John Quincy Adams to Roger S. Baldwin, November 11, 1840 (Gilder Lehrman Co

John Quincy Adams and the Amistad case, 1841

Creator: John Quincy Adams Curriculum Subjects: Government and Civics Grade Levels:
“$2,500 Reward!,” Mississippi Co., Missouri, broadside, August 23, 1852. (Gi

Runaway slave ad, 1852

Creator: Curriculum Subjects: Grade Levels: 9, 10, 11, 12, 13+
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Teaching Resources

A Look at Slavery through Posters and Broadsides

Curriculum Subjects: Art Grade Levels: 6, 7, 8

Abraham Lincoln on Slavery and Race

Curriculum Subjects: Grade Levels: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13+
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Abolitionism: A Grassroots Movement

Speaker(s): Lois E. Horton Duration: 1 minute 35 seconds

Abolitionist Views: Integration vs. Colonization

Speaker(s): Lois E. Horton Duration: 2 minutes 35 seconds

African American Abolitionists

Speaker(s): Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham Duration: 59 minutes 42 seconds
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