John Marszalek: How pervasive was the abolitionist movement and did it influence any of the southern states to secede?


The number of abolitionists in the nation as a whole or in the North alone was small.  Most northerners, let alone southerners, saw those opposed to the continuation of slavery as trouble-making radicals, and attacks upon them were often brutal. Northerners like southerners were racists. They might oppose slavery in principle, but they did not believe in the equality of black and white. Americans, generally, were white supremacists, no matter their view of slavery.

 The abolitionists themselves were anti-slavery but not necessarily believers in equality.  Perhaps this can best be noted in the fact that abolitionist groups dissolved after the Civil War, arguing that now that slavery had been destroyed, there was nothing left for them to do.

 To southerners, anyone who said anything about hindering slavery in any way, was, at the least, a closet abolitionist.  Thus, the existence of the abolitionist movement was a major irritant to the South and played an important role in the movement toward secession. John Brown’s 1859 raid only convinced many southerners even more that abolitionists were indeed a violent threat to the southern way of life. The Mississippi justification of secession, for example, reads:  “There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.”

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