Abolition and Free Soil

Slavery was the most contentious and inflammatory issue Vermonters confronted in this era. Vermont had abolished slavery within its borders in 1777 with the adoption of the state’s constitution. Many Vermonters were initially content to leave the south alone and only supported the Free Soil Movement which prohibited the expansion of slavery into new western territories. Other Vermonters supported colonization, the resettlement of freed slaves to the African country of Liberia.

Abolitionists used illustrations like this one to show the horrendous  conditions under which slaves lived. Immediate abolition of slavery was seen as a radical movement that was divisive to the Union. Abolitionist meetings were sometimes disrupted. In 1832 abolitionist Samuel May was driven off the stage while trying to speak in Montpelier. But attitudes began to change in the 1830s. Antislavery societies supported by some churches, organized throughout the state and worked tirelessly to educate the public about the horrors of slavery. When more churches began to preach the view that slavery was a sin, people were finally convinced of its evils. By the time Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860, the vast majority of Vermonters believed that slavery should be abolished throughout the United States.

This 1840 image shows one of the most heartbreaking conditions of the slave system, a mother being sold and separated from her child.

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