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Division in the Antislavery Movement Previous Next
Digital History ID 4578



By the late 1830s, moral persuasion had not only failed, it had produced a violent counter-reaction. In the face of vicious attacks, the abolitionists grew increasingly divided over questions of strategy and tactics.

One group of abolitionists looked to politics as the most promising way to end slavery and proposed creating an independent political party dedicated to ending slavery. The Liberty Party, founded in 1840 under the leadership of Arthur and Lewis Tappan, two wealthy New York businessmen, and James Birney, a former Alabama slaveholder, called on Congress to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia, end the interstate slave trade, and cease admitting new slave states to the Union. Political abolitionists formed the Free Soil party in 1848 and the Republican party in 1854.

Another group of abolitionists, led by William Lloyd Garrison, turned in a more radical direction. They withdrew from membership in churches that condoned slavery and refused to vote and hold public office. They sought to link antislavery to such reforms as women's rights, world government, and international peace.

At the 1840 annual meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society, abolitionists split over such questions as women's right to participate in the administration of the organization and the advisability of nominating abolitionists as independent political candidates. Garrison won control of the organization and his opponents walked out. From that point on, no single organization could speak for abolition. The fragmentation of the abolitionist movement worked to the advantage of the cause. Moderates could vote for political candidates with abolitionist sentiments without being accused of holding radical abolitionist views.

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