free essays
Free essays

Reform Movement in 1800-1865 Unit


ReformMovement in 1800-1865



Slavery is one of the darkest histories of human civilization inregards to human freedoms. Slavery was widely practiced in Britainand its colonies. With the occupation of the Americas by the Britishsettlers, the Americas were introduced to slavery. Slaves weresourced from Africa where they were taken forcefully or throughbought through collaboration with some African traditional leadersand tribal chiefs. The trade’s largest sources were in West Africaand along the coast of east African coast on main coastal towns. Theslaves were then transported by ship in inhuman conditions across theAtlantic or the Indian Ocean depending on where they were sourced anddelivered to work in plantations in British colonies. The trade wasat its highest peak towards the end of the 18th century(McNeese, 2009).

Annexation of America by British colonialists set the stage forslavery in America. The British settlers established huge plantationsand used slaves as free labor. This ignited the push for more slavesfrom Africa thereby expanding the trade. With the long voyages, manyslaves died on transit. The few that survived were auctioned in slavemarkets across the southern states to work in sugarcane, tobacco andcotton plantations. The first batch of 20 African slaves in Americalanded in Virginia in 1619 aboard a Dutch ship to work in plantations(Schneider &amp Schneider, 2007). Working conditions in theseplantations were horrible. Corporal punishment was the order of theday and diseases afflicted the slaves. Many of them died as a resultof the inhuman conditions, diseases and flogging. The worseningsituation pushed Congress to ban importation of slaves from Africa in1808 (McNeese 2009). As slaves were indoctrinated into Christianity,they became enlightened and educated and thus opposed slavery andstarted the reformation movement with supports from some white folks((Snay, 1989).

Development ofreformation movement

Following pressure from reformists, religious leaders and politiciansMissouri banned slavery in the northern side of the southern borderthrough the Missouri. Supported by such laws, many slaves were boldand rebelled against their masters with vey dire consequences. Thiswas because policing was very poor and slave holders could flout therules willingly. One of the most recognized martyrs of slavery,Gabriel Posser who was hanged alongside other slave rebels werehanged for organizing a revolt in 1800, increased the momentum amongslaves for the antislavery movement (Davis, 2006)

The alignment of slaves provided a concrete direction to thereformation movements. Some of these slaves became enlightened on theessentials of human freedoms and consequently increased their pushfor reforms in laws relating to freed slaves and even slaves. One ofthe notable contributors was Nat Turner, a freed and literate slave,who organized a slave rebellion in 1831 in Southampton County,Virginia. The rebels managed to kill 55-65 whites mainly women andyoung children at a time when their maters were away (Carroll, 2012).The rebellion was quashed almost immediately with all the rebelsincluding Turner being hanged. To instill fear and prevent any futurerebellion, the white man’s militia operating in Southampton Countykilled over a hundred innocent slaves. This made the slaves none ofthem was safe.

The abolitionist movement had many faces. One face was a group ofchurches that were opposed to slavery. Another face was that ofadvocates of human rights who recognized that all were equal. ElijahParish Lovejoy was one white abolitionist who was the editor of anabolitionist newspaper who pushed for reforms. However, he was killedby a pro-slavery mob Illinois (Carroll, 2012). With the law againstslavery though mildly, slave holders had resulted to forming gangsand militias that ensured slavery would continue. Their main argumentwas based on the economic impact of the loss of slave labor. Othersargued that no one was ready to compensate the plantation owners forthe money spent of purchasing slaves. As a result, abolitionists werefrequently victims of these militia groups. By the 1950’s, works onthe underground rail network had commenced. This was used bythousands of slaves to escape to Canada and other abolitionist statesin the US (McNeese, 2009). Other abolitionist took a violentopposition attacking government facilities in their push forabolition. Through their efforts, the slaves were liberated by theemancipation proclamation by President Lincoln in 1963.

Factors thatcontributed towards the reform movement

One significant event that shaped reform movement was the war of1812. This war was fought between the colonialists on one hand andthe people of the Americas. The war was mainly caused by the push byAmericas to have trade restrictions removed and resisting the move byBritain to annex Canada (Davis, 2006). The war lasted 32 months.During this war, the both sides of the war recruited slaves withpromises of freedom after the war, a strategy that had also been usedduring the American revolutionary war. Some slaves chose to pursuefreedom by their own means in the chaos of war hence were neutral. Atthe end of the war, some of the slaves loyal to the British wererewarded with freedom and settled in Trinidad, Nova Scotia, NewBrunswick and other Caribbean islands. For the freedom of theseslaves, the British government had to reimburse some of the slaveowners in amounts totaling $1,204,960 in line with the Treaty ofGhent (Schneider &amp Schneider, 2007).

The 1812 warmarked a significant milestone in the antislavery movement. The freedslaves served as inspiration and motivation to the slaves still heldat the various plantations. The freed slaves also providedaccommodation and resources to runaway slaves and helped them tostart life afresh by either housing them, feeding them and evenemploying them or assisting them in their search for employment. Forsome freed or escaped slaves, they worked hard as free men topurchase the freedom of other slaves especially family members andloved ones.

Religion playedan integral role in the antislavery movement. Initially Christianpreachers were opposed to slavery and preached against it. However,given that majority of the land owners were slave holders, theypersuaded the church preachers to accommodate slavery in theirpreaching. Accordingly, religion was used to scale down theantislavery movement which had gained momentum. This was achieved byciting many verses from both the new and Old Testament that mentionedslavery. Some verses such as Colossians 4:1 gave instructions on therelationship between slaves and their masters. Although religion didnot oppose slavery, which was opposed by law, the preachers played anintegral role in calling for humane treatment of slaves by theirmasters (Snay, 1989). To enable them to read the Bible, some slavemasters even allowed some slaves to learn reading and writing.

Situation at1865

This year markedthe end of the civil war with the defeat of the rebelling state. Theyear saw the desires of the emancipation proclamation was made onJanuary 1st 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln attained.The proclamation had announced freedom of slaves in states that wererebelling against the union in their push to retain slavery. OnJanuary 31st 1865 the law abolishing slavery, the 13thamendment, was passed and adapted in December 6th sameyear. It read “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except asa punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been dulyconvicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subjectto their jurisdiction” (Schneider &amp Schneider 2007, p. 423.)This year saw thousands of slaves freed. However, this did not meanthat segregation or treatment of ex-slaves as second citizens ended.This year of freedom ushered in a new era of racial discriminationagainst African Americans.


Carrol. J.(2012). Slave insurrections in the United States, 1800-186.New York: Courier Dover


Davis, D. (2006),Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World.London:

OxfordUniversity Press

McNeese, T.(2009). The abolitionist movement: ending slavery. New York:Infobase.

Schneider, D. &ampSchneider, C. (2007). Slavery in America. New York: Infobase.

Snay, M. (1989).&quotAmerican thought and Southern distinctiveness: The Southernclergy and the

sanctificationof slavery&quot, Civil War History (1989) 35(4): 311–328