• 1822

    Demark Vesey leads slave revolt in South Carolina

    Republic of Liberia is founded in Africa
  • 1826

    American Temperance Society is founded

  • 1831

    Nat Turner leads slave rebellion in Virginia

    William Lloyd Garrison begins publishing The Liberator
  • 1833

    Garrison and Theodore Weld found American Anti-Slavery Society

  • 1834

    Female Moral Reform Society forms in New York

  • 1836

    House of Representatives passes “Gag Resolution”

  • 1837

    Abolitionist Elijah P. Lovejoy is killed

    Oberlin College opens as a coeducational institutionMary Lyon founds Mount Holyoke Seminary for women
  • 1840

    Liberty Party is formed

  • 1843

    Dorothea Dix crusades for prison and insane asylum reform

  • 1845

    Frederick Douglass publishes A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

  • 1848

    Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention is held

  • 1854

    T. S. Arthur publishes Ten Nights in a Barroom and What I Saw There

    • Key People

    • Susan B. Anthony

      Ardent women’s rights advocate and suffragette

    • Elizabeth Cady Stanton

      Feminist and women’s rights advocate; organized Seneca Falls Convention along with Susan B. Anthony

    • Frederick Douglass

      Freed slave who was a leader in the abolitionist movement

    • William Lloyd Garrison

      Radical abolitionist; published magazine The Liberator

    • Horace Mann

      Public education advocate; pushed for education reforms in Massachusetts

    • Dorothea Dix

      Massachusetts schoolteacher who campaigned for publicly funded asylums to help the mentally ill

    The Rise of Social Reform

    The revivalism that spread across the country during the antebellum era also gave rise to numerous social reform movements, which challenged Americans to improve themselves and their communities. Because revivalism and reform went hand in hand, many prominent reformers were women. Denied roles in politics or in the new market economy, women found that they could make a difference through championing social change. These women reformers often fought for a variety of causes at the same time: for instance, the women’s suffrage movement was closely tied to the abolitionist movement.


    The abolitionist movement sought to eradicate slavery in the United States. Prominent leaders in the movement included Theodore Weld, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Elijah P. Lovejoy, and William Lloyd Garrison, among others. Garrison, a radical abolitionist who called for immediate emancipation, became infamous when he started an antislavery newspaper, The Liberator, in 1831. His articles were so vitriolic that warrants for his arrest were issued in the South. Garrison and Weld also founded the American Anti-slavery Society in 1833.

    Anti-Abolitionism in the North

    Although the North was the hotbed of the abolitionist movement, not all northerners were abolitionists: many felt ambivalent toward emancipation or were downright against it. Trade unions and wage workers, for example, feared that if slavery were abolished, they would have to compete with free blacks for jobs (an argument also used by pro-slavery southerners). Most public figures and politicians shunned abolitionists for their radicalism and unwillingness to compromise. Even the “Great Emancipator” Abraham Lincoln, though more open to abolitionism, was wary of radical abolitionists.

    Slave Uprisings

    The antebellum period was marked by several major slave uprisings. In 1822, a former slave named Denmark Vesey planned to lead eighty slaves in a revolt in Charleston, South Carolina. Although Vesey’s plans failed, southerners became terrified of losing control over slaves. In 1831, another slave, Nat Turner, led a bloody slave uprising in Virginia.

    Abolitionist Propaganda and Politics

    Because William Lloyd Garrison published the first edition of The Liberator the same year as Turner’s uprising, many southerners jumped to the conclusion that Garrison had incited the rebellions with his antislavery rhetoric. Furthermore, former slave Frederick Douglass became a celebrity in the North when he published his experiences in A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass in 1845.

    As the abolitionist movement grew, it became more of an organized political force. The movement grew to be so noisome that the House of Representatives actually passed a gag resolution in 1836 to squelch all further discussion of slavery. Several years later, in 1840, the abolitionists organized into a party, the Liberty Party.

    Popular pages: The Pre-Civil War Era (1815–1850)