Students analyze the early and steady attempts to abolish slavery and to realize the ideals of the Declaration of Independence.

Abolition of Slavery Movement

How effectively did Frederick Douglass’ 1845 autobiography respond to the claims from the 1830s that slavery was a “positive good?” Download Primary Source Set: Abolition of Slavery Movement 

With the assistance of targeted literacy support strategies, students will read and analyze excerpts from Calhoun’s speech and Douglass’ autobiography. They will determine the claims each historic figure made and the evidence they used to support their claims.

US Abolitionism


Students examine the national abolitionist movement that arose during the nineteenth century. Although the abolitionist movement is quite popular with students seeking to connect these early activists to rights movements of the next century, it is extremely important that students learn about abolitionists in their own contexts. Abolitionists were considered the most radical reformists by both Southerners and Northerners; their arguments about the immorality of slavery were never popular with the vast majority of Americans.

Abolition of Slavery Movement

Frederick Douglass, born a slave in 1818, would become one of the most visible and outspoken black abolitionists of the 19thcentury. He grew up in a rapidly expanding United States, whose very expansion stoked debate over the existence of slavery. White slavery advocates began a new vein of argument in defense of slavery: it was no longer an “evil,” but “a positive good.” In his famous 1837 speech to Congress, John C. Calhoun made his “positive good” claim, arguing both blacks and whites benefitted from the institution of slavery, especially as it was constructed in the South.