Events Leading Up to the American Civil War for Kids - Abolitionism (1688-1865) Illustration

Slavery in America for Kids - Abolitionism (1688-1865)


Abolitionism is a movement to permanently abolish or end a practice or institution.  An abolitionist is a person who favors the abolition (end) of a practice or institution. From 1688-1865, there was a non-violent Abolitionist Movement in America to end slavery. Abolitionists came in many colors - white and black. Some abolitionists worked to bring to the attention of the American people the grave injustices of slavery by using the publication of pamphlets, books, essays, newspaper articles, and with debate and conversation. Although it was illegal to do so, some abolitionists helped runaway slaves who were attempting to escape to freedom.

In the North, success of the movement was slow, but state by state, their goal was realized. In the state of Vermont, slavery was prohibited by state constitution. Other Northern states began adding laws that reduced slavery. Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey passed laws that stated future newborn slaves would be freed on their 28th birthday. By 1810, about 75% of the slaves in the North had been freed.

In the South, however, things were very different. Slavery was part of the economic system. It was a way of life and part of the culture of the South. Southern states had no intention of freeing millions of slaves. To the South, slavery was a question of states rights, rights protected by the U.S. Constitution. To keep the peace, Congress passed a new law, the Missouri Compromise of 1820. The Missouri Compromise divided the country into an equal number of free states (North) and slave states (South).

The question of slavery continued to dominate politics for decades. By 1860, things had really heated up. In the North, a new political party had formed, the Republican Party. Many abolitionists had joined the Republican Party. The Republican candidate for president was Abraham Lincoln, someone who had stated he opposed slavery on moral grounds. Southern states were worried. They believed Lincoln, if elected, might ignore their states rights. Lincoln, himself, kept stating throughout his campaign, that he would not abolish slavery. He did not believe it was his legal right to do so. In truth, in order to abolish slavery on the federal level, overriding states rights, Congress would need to pass an Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and Congress was not in agreement on the issue of slavery. 

In November, Abraham Lincoln was elected president. In December 1860, South Carolina seceded from the Union. By 1861, eleven (11) Southern states had seceded and formed a new country. When South Carolina asked Congress to please remove U.S Army troops from their state and their country, the Confederate States of America, Congress refused. Shots were fired. The Civil War began. 

For the next two years, abolitionists tried to convince Lincoln to use his power with Congress to end slavery. In 1863, Lincoln bypassed Congress, and used his special presidential powers in times of war to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves in non-Union controlled areas. Although the Emancipation Proclamation was a very clever piece of law, it did not free a single slave.

Two years after that, however, at the end of the Civil War in 1865, the Republican dominated Congress passed the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ending slavery in America forever.

Abolitionist Movement (history channel)

Slavery in America

The Liberator - "AND I WILL BE HEARD"

Fugitive Slave Laws

Harriet Tubman (former slave, abolitionist)

Frederick Douglass (former slave, abolitionist)

John Brown

The Emancipation Proclamation (1863)

The 13th Amendment (1865)

See Also:

Causes of the Civil War for Kids

The Civil War for Kids, Index

Civil War Interactive Games & Activities for Kids

Civil War Presentations in PowerPoint format

Civil War Video Clips

Civil War Clip Art for Kids and Teachers

Civil War, Free iPad & iPhone apps

American Civil War Lesson Plans for Teachers