Since before the American revolution, pastors, former slaves, free African-Americans and others appalled by slavery fought the horrific practice. These men and women from wildly different backgrounds united together over a common cause.

Many of the grassroots tactics they used to oppose slavery are still used by activists today. Here are some of those tools.


Around the country, passionate activists joined together to form abolitionist societies.

The American Anti-Slavery Society was one of the foremost abolitionist organizations. Working together, the organization raised money, published pamphlets and newspapers and held events with speakers like Frederick Douglass.


Especially in the 1830s and 1840s, petitions became a key tool of anti-slavery activists. Organizers used them to lobby Congress and other elected officials, and also to spread awareness about slavery and generate opposition to it.

Abolitionists were so effective at gathering petitions and submitting them to Congress that lawmakers in the house instituted a “gag rule” that prevented lawmakers from discussing any petitions or resolutions related to slavery.

Pamphlets, Newspapers and Novels

Lobbying lawmakers was one approach to ending slavery, but activists knew they needed to generate public outcry. Abolitionist movements throughout the country produced countless pamphlets, broadsides and other written materials directed at different audiences.

Some were calls to ministers from fellow clergymen. Others were by former slaves telling their stories about how they were mistreated. Still others were directed at women or businessmen.

Abolitionists societies also began publishing newspapers like The Liberator and Frederick Douglass’s The North Star. The papers were filled with articles about the conditions slaves had to face and editorials demanding lawmakers take action to end slavery.

Works of fiction helped change public sentiment as well. Uncle Tom’s Cabin became the best-selling book of the 1800s.


Abolitionist societies knew that changing the laws permitting slavery started with changing the hearts and minds of fellow Americans.

Anti-slavery organizations hosted events throughout the country, from churches to meeting halls to homes. Former slaves like Frederick Douglass spoke about their experience. Pastors laid out the moral case against slavery.

These events helped educate Americans and allowed activists to gather signatures for petitions to lawmakers.

Using these techniques and more, opponents of slavery were able to educate and mobilize apathetic northerners and even change the hearts and minds of southerners.


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