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Abolition Movement in America

Updated on May 6, 2015
James A Watkins profile image

James Watkins is an entrepreneur, musician, and writer. James enjoys people, music, film, and books. He is a lifelong student of history.

Christians Against Slavery


The Christian tradition has always been against slavery. That is why slavery slowly disappeared across Christendom—Europe—in the early Middle Ages. Christendom became the first part of the world where slavery—an accepted institution as old as history itself—was ever abolished.


Christianity was the national religion of America. With some exceptions, Christians viewed slavery as an offense against God and against the nation. Christianity and slavery were incompatible. The Second Great Awakening sounded the death-knell of slavery in America.


The British had set the slaves free throughout its Empire in 1833. But in America the context was far different. The British freed 800,000 slaves who lived on islands in the West Indies—thousands of miles away from Britain—and the British Government compensated the owners of the slaves with 50 million dollars from the British Treasury (about half their market value).


The citizens of the American South had 3,000,000 slaves living among them. Furthermore, the slave owners were never offered any compensation. In fact, the slaves had been transported and sold to the South by Yankees and Europeans, who now demanded it set them free without compensation.


SAMUEL JOHN MILLS
SAMUEL JOHN MILLS
LIBERIA WAS FOUNDED BY BLACK AMERICANS AND THE AMERICAN COLONIZATION SOCIETY
LIBERIA WAS FOUNDED BY BLACK AMERICANS AND THE AMERICAN COLONIZATION SOCIETY

American Colonization Society


Samuel John Mills helped found the American Colonization Society in 1818. This organization found support from Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Marshall, Daniel Webster, Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, and other prominent citizens.


The idea was to abolish slavery in America by transporting African slaves back to Africa, where they would be given assistance to settle and thrive, and thereby "transfer to Africa the blessings of religion and civilization."


Samuel John Mills sailed to Africa to select an area for the settlement of freed black slaves. Mills negotiated with African chiefs and bought the land that soon became the nascent nation of Liberia. But he died of a fever on his way home, at only thirty-five years old.


The capital of Liberia—Monrovia—was named after U.S. President James Monroe. Many northerners saw deportation as the only way to quickly end slavery. They understood that southerners did not want millions of slaves set free in their midst who would pose a danger to their society.


It was not believed that blacks could ever achieve economic equality with whites, and that this would cause unending friction. It was universally understood that blacks were stronger physically but weaker intellectually. And they appeared to be prone to violence and sexual promiscuity.


There were a lot of white folks who thought it best for blacks to have their own country and see what they would make of it. Whites had forged an awesome nation out of a wilderness. Perhaps blacks could forge a great nation on the edge of the wilderness of Africa.


Many black ministers and free mixed-race men supported the "Back to Africa" idea. But after the offer was made by the American Colonization Society, the majority of blacks wanted no part of returning to a life in the jungle amongst wild animals. The black Americans who did decide to move to Liberia notably looked down on the native Africans as primitive savages.


African-American abolitionist David Walker wrote An Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World in 1829, which helped radicalize the abolition movement, and resoundingly rejected the whole "Back to Africa" concept. Though Blacks did go to Liberia by the thousands, most of them wanted to become full-fledged American citizens and enjoy the enormous benefits of living in the greatest country ever to appear on the earth.


WILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON
WILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON
THEODORE WELD
THEODORE WELD
GERRIT SMITH
GERRIT SMITH
FREDERICK DOUGLASS
FREDERICK DOUGLASS

The Abolition Movement in America


The American Anti-Slavery Society was founded in 1833 to persuade Americans that "slavery is a heinous crime in the sight of God." Most Northerners wanted the South to set the slaves free, but rioted against the idea of granting Negroes equal rights in their own communities.


William Lloyd Garrison, son of a drunken sailor who had abandoned his family to poverty when William was twelve—but also the son of a pious Baptist mother—is a well known leader of the abolition movement. Garrison grew up to become an alienated, self-righteous, angry man. Garrison said of the slaves: "He who denies them an opportunity to improve their faculties, comes into collision with Jehovah, and incurs a fearful responsibility."


Less well known today is Theodore Dwight Weld, son of a pastor, and a disciple of the great preacher Charles Grandison Finney. Weld's book Slavery as It is, published in 1839, sold over 100,000 copies and was the most influential book in the abolition movement.


The most influential abolitionist of all may have been this little remembered minister Theodore Weld. He was a brilliant orator who preached a simple message: Slavery is a sin. Weld surely created the mass constituency for the abolition movement.


There were many nearly forgotten heroes, such as Samuel A. Smith, a white carpenter from Richmond, Virginia, who packed the slave Henry Brown into a crate and shipped him to freedom. Smith served eight years in prison for his efforts. Many Quakers played risky roles in the Underground Railroad and sheltered fugitive slaves in their homes.


The wealthy Gerrit Smith gave mountains of his money to buy freedom for slaves, what he called "ransom." He also bankrolled temperance societies and Sunday Schools for the poor.


Gerrit Smith owned a huge chunk of land near Lake Placid, New York. He published an offer of 40 acres of free land to any Negro family that wanted it. He had room for up to 3,000 Negro families; but only 30 accepted Smith's incredibly generous offer. Those who did accept named that settlement Timbucto.


John Brown was another fiercely angry man. Brown lived in poverty, failed in every business he tried, and had a daughter tragically scalded to death when she was a child.


John Brown moved to Timbucto and tried to live "as a negro." When that didn't work out, he decided to smuggle arms into Virginia and lead a band of black guerillas against the U.S. Government. He would later go to the gallows for his crimes.


Frederick Douglass—who was half-white—was an angry, proud fighter for freedom. No American of his era was more eager to sit for portraits of himself, and the camera loved him. His voice was even more impressive.


Frederick Douglass was awakened to his purpose as a youth when he heard a Methodist minister preach that all men, slave or free, were equal in the eyes of God. Douglass later married a white feminist, which started an alliance between black men and white feminists—both against their "common oppressor" the white man—that continues to this day.


After slavery ended, President Andrew Johnson wrote: "I believe that man can be elevated; man can become more and more endowed with divinity; and as he does he becomes more God-like in his character and capable of governing himself. Let us go on elevating our people, perfecting our institutions, until democracy shall reach such a point of perfection that we can acclaim with truth that the voice of the people is the voice of God."


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      John Nalundasan Riingen 6 months ago

      Sad to note historically how Whites exploited not only the women of African descent but all of the African men and their children as well. Racism is still present and active today, (2017) in obvious and subtle ways.

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      James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago

      suzettenaples— Well, I am glad that you did (come over to read this article also).

      Thank you very much for this nice note. I am especially grateful to receive your lovely laudations. I appreciate the visit and your comments. And you are most welcome indeed. :D

      James

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      Suzette Walker 5 years ago from Taos, NM

      After reading about Wilberforce, I thought I should also read this one, too. Some of these abolitionists I had never heard of. Of course I know about Frederick Douglass and John Brown, but it is good to know about the other lesser known abolitionists. Another great article and well-researched. Thank you for sharing all your knowledge!

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      James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago

      CommChangeInc— You are most welcome. No worries. I appreciate the alert. Good luck with your project. Thank you for coming back by.

      Faithfully Yours,

      James

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      CommChangeInc 5 years ago from Boston, Massachusetts

      James- First of all, thank you for removing the image. Second, please excuse me for posting the same comment twice and including that you said Walker was an ex-slave, you did not make that statement.

      In regards to the image I have spoke with some folks who have assured me that the picture is James W.C. Pennington. The group working on the Walker Memorial Project includes Community Change, the Boston African American Historical site, several local historians and Peter Hinks who wrote what many say is the definitive biography on Walker.

      Plus, I recently found the following link to the cover of a biography on Pennington with this image: http://www.hartsem.edu/events/american-backbone-li...

      Also, we are contacting all of the sites that we can find that are using this image as Walker. So I appreciate that you pointed out some other websites using the image.

      Thanks,

      Michael

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      James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago

      CommChangeInc— Hello Mr. Marston. Thank you for visiting my Hub. I appreciate your fine comments. I removed the picture but I want to be sure that you are sure it is of the wrong man.

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      James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago

      Michael— Thank you for reading my article and for your comments.

      I removed the picture as you requested. But are you certain of what you are saying? I got the picture from Northcarolinahistory.org and they say it is David Walker. blkhistory.com also uses this photo as does ncpedia.com and at least ten other websites—all identifying the man pictured as David Walker.

      You wrote: 'In your post you also mention that Walker was an ex-slave, "Both men, as ex-slaves and abolitionists, spoke out to their brethren about Christianity and its place in their lives," but Walker was never a slave.'

      I have re-read my article three times and I cannot find where I made the statement to which you object. I must be blind. Where is it exactly in my text?

      I appreciate your guidance. Good luck with your project.

      James

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      CommChangeInc 5 years ago from Boston, Massachusetts

      My name is Michael Marston, I'm an intern at Community Change, Inc. in Boston, a non-profit focusing on structural racism.

      There is a group of people, including historian Peter Hinks, involved in the David Walker Memorial Project who are tying give Walker the credit due as well as memorialize him in Boston. They are in the process of putting together a website and have been looking for images. In doing a google image search for Walker's Appeal, I came across an image with David Walker's name. Clicking on that image brought me to your hubpage post. As far as we know, there are no images of David Walker so you can imagine our surprise in finding that image. They were quickly were able to determine that that image is of James W. C. Pennington - http://academic.sun.ac.za/forlang/bergman/real/ami

      We haven't had the time to discover the source of the image, but given the potential for mis-information, we are hopeful that the image can be removed from your site.

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      Michael 5 years ago

      My name is Michael Marston, I'm an intern at Community Change, Inc. in Boston, a non-profit focusing on structural racism. There is a group of people, including historian Peter Hinks, involved in the David Walker Memorial Project who are tying give Walker the credit due as well as memorialize him in Boston. They are in the process of putting together a website and have been looking for images. In doing a google image search for Walker's Appeal, I came across an image with David Walker's name. Clicking on that image brought me to your hubpage post. As far as we know, there are no images of David Walker so you can imagine our surprise in finding that image. They were quickly were able to determine that that image is of James W. C. Pennington - http://academic.sun.ac.za/forlang/bergman/real/ami...

      We haven't had the time to discover the source of the image, but given the potential for mis-information, we are hopeful that the image can be removed from your site.

      In your post you also mention that Walker was an ex-slave, "Both men, as ex-slaves and abolitionists, spoke out to their brethren about Christianity and its place in their lives," but Walker was never a slave. The wikipedia page, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Walker_(aboliti... was put together by the group mentioned above and is a good resource for information about Walker. If you have not already, I encourage you to check it out!!

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      James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago

      Kaie Arwen— I am so glad that you enjoyed this article (from start to finish) and saw fit to lavish praise upon it. Why, you have made my day! :D

      I agree with you about the gifts God gives us. It is our job to use these gifts in service to Him and to our fellow man (or woman).

      Thank you ever much for your ongoing affirmation and encouragement. You warm the cockles of my heart!

      Jimmy Joe Ray Bob Junior

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      Kaie Arwen 5 years ago

      A most fascinating and educational read.............. I enjoyed it from start to finish. You've been given a gift to teach those things that are so easily pushed to the byway....... continue to use that gift, as everything God gifts us with is precious and has a purpose. I myself............. well, I cherish every one! Kaie

      0:-)

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      James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago

      Roger Baillargeon— Welcome to the HubPages Community! I look forward to reading your articles, Roger.

      I am honored that you would provide a link to this Hub. Thank you very much for that and for your kind words. I appreciate this visitation from you.

      Faithfully Yours,

      James

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      Roger Baillargeon 5 years ago from Quebec, Canada

      Hi James...

      I think your hub ( Abolition Movement in America) can be helpful to the community and it is my pleasure to post the link on my Hubpage.

      Regards, Roger B.

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      James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago

      Levertis Steele— Thank you for coming back by with more excellent comments. I agree with you about compensation for descendants—anybody's descendants.

      You wrote: "I thought that history has it that most southern whites were poor and could not buy slaves."

      That is true. I think maybe 3 percent of all Southerners had even one slave.

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      James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago

      Paraglider— Hello Dave!

      Privilege does hold sway. I do appreciate the story you shared with us. I am sure such happenings have been repeated countless times throughout history around the world. As Solomon said: "There is nothing new under the sun."

      Thank you for this visit, my erudite friend. I always enjoy your excellent remarks. Good to hear from you on this one.

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      James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago

      Sueswan— Hello! You make a mighty good point.

      Thank you very much for the voted up, up, and awesome! I am glad you enjoyed this article, Sue.

      james :-)

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      Levertis Steele 5 years ago from Southern Clime

      You said, "And when I hear about our "collective guilt" I wonder about the descendents of the 330,000 men that died in the Union Army who freed the slaves. Do they deserve some compensation?"

      "Collective guilt" is not a subject that attracts my attention. It is a little silly. I thought that history has it that most southern whites were poor and could not buy slaves.

      The soldiers and their immediate families deserved compensation, but not their descendants. That would open a can of worms for descendants of fallen soldiers of other wars.

      Slavery had to be "justified," endorsed, and made lawful. It WAS somehow. So, the responsible party is the Federal Government.

    • Paraglider profile image

      Dave McClure 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Hi James - I'm sure you'll appreciate the relevance (to slave owner compensation) of what I'm about to say:

      A huge area of central Doha was recently evacuated and demolished as part of the city reconstruction project. The papers all reported 'very generous compulsory purchase terms have been agreed'. Yes indeed. The dozen or so Qataris who owned the district of Musheireb were handsomely compensated. The several thousand displaced tenant shopkeepers and small businessmen received.. nothing, or in some cases compulsory repatriation. 'To him that has, shall it be given. From him that has not, shall it be taken away, even that which he has'. Isn't that what the 'good' book says?

      Nothing changes. Privilege still holds sway.

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      Sueswan 5 years ago

      Hi James,

      I enjoyed this article very much.

      The slaves and not their owners should have been compensated.

      Voted up, up and awesome.

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      James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago

      fi fi— Thank you. Thank you very much. :)

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      James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago

      Hello, hello,— You are quite welcome, my dear. I LOVE history too, as I know you do. Thank you for the compliments. :-)

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      James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago

      Gypsy Rose Lee— You are a good soul. I am glad you enjoyed reading this Hub. As you observed:

      "there are many great Black writers, educators, doctors, lawyers among other professions"

      There certainly are.

      Thank you for your excellent remarks. I surely appreciate the visitation from you. :-)

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      James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago

      Hubertsvoice— Thank you!! Thank you very much! :D

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      James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago

      Levertis Steele— It is good to "see" you here. Thank you for taking the time to read my latest article. Your comments are most excellent. I see you have published your first Hub! I will be over to read it soon. Welcome officially to the HubPages Community.

      I am glad you like my choice of topics and I appreciate your gracious compliments.

      I enjoyed reading your reportage on the background behind the Black History Movement. Well said.

      You wrote: "No owner deserved compensation."

      Well, that is certainly the way it looks from our postmodern perspective. At the time though, the slaveowners had invested hundreds of millions worth of real gold and silver. The British compensated them in order to get them to agree to abolition, willfully and without war or violence. The American Civil War cost over ten billion of dollars to wage—far more than the amount of "compensation" that might have ended slavery sooner and without over one million casualties. The physical devastation, almost all of it in the South, was enormous: burned or plundered homes, pillaged countryside, untold losses in crops and farm animals, ruined buildings and bridges, devastated college campuses, and neglected roads all left the South in ruins.

      As you say: "America was then, and still is now, a great nation; but surely you know that it is not logical to think that slaves felt the same sentiment while they were owned and not able to enjoy constitutional rights that were not written for them. There is not anything pleasurable about the royal castle if you are locked in the dungeon."

      I wholeheartedly agree.

      All of your commentary is outstanding. I am grateful that you made these illuminating remarks here.

      You write: "Actions, good or bad, are usually followed by consequences."

      Amen to that.

      I appreciate the link to the article about the conditions in which women lived during colonial times. Of course, all of this history looks far different for us looking back than it did for the souls who lived it.

    • fi fi profile image

      fi fi 5 years ago from Niagara, Canada

      Wonderful piece! So factual, yet never boring, another excellent hub :)

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 5 years ago from London, UK

      A great article, as always, and I learned a lot from it. As you know I love history and learning about it. Thank you.

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      James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago

      Brenda Durham— You are welcome, my dear. I am well pleased that you enjoyed this article. Thank you for reading it, and for your excellent comments.

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      James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago

      Onusonus— How awesome that your wife is related to Gerrit Smith. When I read his story, I had to include it here.

      I am glad you appreciate this article. Thank you, my friend, for visiting and commenting.

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      James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago

      Polly— Thank you for becoming my first visitor! I am glad you enjoyed this article and I surely appreciate the voted up and across!

      I understand your feelings of not wanting to feel personally responsible for what your ancestors "may" have done. In my family tree there are no slave owners—just dirt poor sharecroppers who barely kept their families fed. Until the 1950s anyway.

      And when I hear about our "collective guilt" I wonder about the descendents of the 330,000 men that died in the Union Army who freed the slaves. Do they deserve some compensation?

      I went to an Old Country Buffet today after church and I was proud to be an American. There was a mix of whites, blacks, and Hispanics having lunch—maybe a third of each. And what I noticed was that around the buffet lines EVERYBODY of all persuasions was unfailingly polite and courteous. I head a lot of "excuse me"s and "you go ahead"s.

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      Gypsy Rose Lee 5 years ago from Riga, Latvia

      The only wish I would have had for the freed black slaves would have been for others to accept them and for them to be able to lead free and normal lives. By this I mean that they would have been able to get the needed education sooner, wouldn't have been looked upon as inferior and so on. Now at least we know and understand how wrong this was and there are many great Black writers, educators, doctors, lawyers among other professions. Enjoyed reading this hub.

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      Hubertsvoice 5 years ago

      Very informative and interesting, as are all of your articles that I have read to date.

    • Levertis Steele profile image

      Levertis Steele 5 years ago from Southern Clime

      Well, James, I must say that your choice of topics and writing style is always exceptional, and you have perfected that craft of collaring your readers and dragging them through to the end of your articles, even if they are too tired to read it all. Well done again!

      During my early public school years, my history teachers taught subject matter that you might have labeled "untainted." My main complaint was that blacks had no place in my history books, not even an account of existence in America, not even the s-word, slavery. I believe that was one reason why black history advocates and historians snatched every crumb of black history, from the least to the greatest, and painted it in the "sky" for all blacks and the whole world to see. This has annoyed many people who felt that some black history entries were not important enough to be written in the pages of American history. They never reasoned why blacks felt that it was a must to make all black history noteworthy and deserving of celebration. It was a black thing born out of the anger of being discounted.

      I have quoted and commented on portions of your article:

      "The British freed 800,000 slaves who lived on islands in the West Indies—thousands of miles away from Britain—and the British Government compensated the owners of the slaves with 50 million dollars from the British Treasury (about half their market value)."

      and

      "The citizens of the American South had 3,000,000 slaves living among them. Furthermore, the slave owners were never offered any compensation. In fact, the slaves had been transported and sold to the South by Yankees and Europeans, who now demanded it set them free without compensation.

      The British slave owners were compensated, and the American slave owners were not! The slaves were the ones who were wronged and worked without salary. No owner deserved compensation. They had already reaped free labor and did not compensate the slaves who rightfully deserved and earned it. God compensated Israel with plenty, but He did not compensate Pharoah.

      "They understood that southerners did not want millions of slaves set free in their midst who would pose a danger to their society."

      Hey, I can certainly understand that! That must have felt like Ben Laden coming to America and mingling with the families of the victims of 911. "Who let the dogs out? Who? Who?" All errors of men, no matter the race, have consequences.

      Slaves packing up and boarding Southwest--my favorite airline-and flying back to Africa in the 1800's would have been as sensible as European-Americans flying Delta back to Europe. The time was a little late for that smart idea to surface. Besides, the Wright brothers had not yet been born.

      James, America was then, and still is now, a great nation; but surely you know that it is not logical to think that slaves felt the same sentiment while they were owned and not able to enjoy constitutional rights that were not written for them. There is not anything pleasurable about the royal castle if you are locked in the dungeon.

      "It was universally understood that blacks were stronger physically but weaker intellectually. And they appeared to be prone to violence and sexual promiscuity."

      If these intelligent souls truly believed that blacks were weaker intellectually, they would not have gone through so much trouble denying them education or seeking experts to train them to take the minds of slaves in order to force and maintain ignorance and submissiveness. As for the violence and sexual promiscuity, the slave owners were afraid of retaliation for slavery. Moreover, they are the ones responsible for the origin of that myth about black men and you-know-what. Intellectual weakness and sexual promiscuity were exaggerated because of their fears that grew out of their sinful acts of slavery and their desperation to brainwash their property. This is not to say that there were not some criminal-minded blacks, but their counterparts were also criminals. If anyone should have borne the guilt of slavery, it should have been these smart guys and the government that allowed it at that time.

      As for blacks being stronger physically, that was just a myth and an excuse to justify and alleviate the wrong of slavery and get free labor in the process. If the slave owners had been forced to do all of that plantation work like mules, they would have been strong, too.

      Go back to Africa! How could intelligent men expect a tiger born in captivity and emasculated to want to go back to the wild he has never known? How could intelligent men expect a caged tiger to behave like a normal man who has lived a normal life as a normal human being? I have not read that slaves were re-humanized, de-programmed, or offered counseling after being "freed." The slaves passed most of their brain "trash" on to their children, and some of it has dominoed down to the minds of their descendants of today.

      "Douglass later married a white feminist, which started an alliance between black men and white feminists—both against their "common oppressor" the white man—that continues to this day." [James, you opened up a big barrel of debatable worms here, but you are strong].

      White women were treated like morons by white men who also labeled them as less intelligent than the men, although they protected them from harm and did not significantly threaten their lives when they fought for their simple rights. All blacks, especially the men, were treated like morons and were denied their simple rights. So, I suppose "birds of a feather [think] together." I could not say "flock" because black men were lynched for flocking.

      I do not think that it would be appropriate to say what I really think about the intelligence of those good men, but please allow me a brief moment of silent meditation . . . .

      Actions, good or bad, are usually followed by consequences. All of the errors that the races of men are making today, and they are plentiful, will have consequences tomorrow. Every period in history brings in the new, but the raw, sinful nature of man is still cyclic.

      Colonial Times 1700-1800

      http://www.angelfire.com/ca/HistoryGals/Chloe.html

    • profile image

      Brenda Durham 5 years ago

      Very informative and interesting. While I knew the Christian tradition is against slavery, I didn't know most of the facts of it and who influenced the issue directly. Thanks James.

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      Onusonus 5 years ago from washington

      I noticed you mentioned Gerrit Smith. My wife's great great great grandfather Senator Andrew Warner was close personal friends with him and named his first son after him. He too was part of the free soilers movement.

      Good stuff.

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      Pollyannalana 5 years ago from US

      Very good, I thoroughly enjoyed that. I am glad to see there seems to be peace between blacks and whites in America (although there is always prejudices somewhere) and wonder sometimes if it isn't because the whites are now becoming a minority in this country? I feel we may have unaware moved together with like concerns over our country. I hope so anyway. I never liked feeling responsible for what my ancestors may have done, that I certainly would have not. Voted up an across.