Essay: Take a Stand on Slavery


In the 1820s, 1830, and 1840s, the Second Great Awakening helped to inspire a reformist impulse across the nation. As History in the Making points out, one of those movements centered on an effort to abolish slavery in the United States; of course, the desire to eliminate slavery did not go unchallenged. In this activity, you will examine the views of antislavery (abolitionist) and proslavery writers in the antebellum years. This essay will help you better understand a controversy that permeated American life in the years leading up to the Civil War. (Meets Course Learning Objectives: 1, 8, 15, and 16)

Primary Sources

Read the following pro- and anti-slavery documents

·  Pro-Slavery

o  George Fitzhugh Advocates Slavery

o  Diseases and Peculiarities of the Negro Race

o  James Henry Hammond Advocates Slavery

o  Excerpts from Edmund Ruffin’s, “The Political Economy of Slavery”

·  Abolitionists

o  David Walker’s Appeal

o  Frederick Douglass, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”

o  The American Antislavery Society: Declaration of Sentiments


Part 1: Essay

Focus Questions:

1.  What stereotypes do these documents promote about African-Americans?

2.  How do these men justify slavery? Or what points do they make about the need to abolish slavery? Should the emancipated slaves remain “on-soil,” that is, in the United States?

3.  How do these men envision civilized society and slavery’s place in it? What remarks do the abolitionists make about the conditions under which the slaves worked and lived? The pro-slavery writers?

4.  What are your impressions about the attitudes these men had about slavery, whether they were slavery proponents or abolitionists?

5.  In what ways are the arguments of these men reflective of racial prejudice?


For your essay, you must read the primary sources listed above and examine the descriptions of, and defense or attack of slavery offered in the documents. After selecting one side of the debate, you must write a two to three page essay (between 500 and 750 words) that addresses the focus questions. Your essay should have an introduction, supporting paragraphs, and a conclusion. In the supporting paragraphs, you should include specific examples  or support of your position (quotations or paraphrases) from the primary sources for this activity.

You must also follow the conventions of grammar, style, and citations covered in a freshman level composition course. Regarding grammar and style, you should proofread your work carefully because spell and grammar check do not catch all errors. FYI: It is best to write about the past in the past tense as the events you discuss have long since ended. If you struggle with grammar and spelling, you have the option to submit your essay to Smarthinking Online Tutoring for assistance. Regarding citations, you must provide citations for all of the information that you looked up in your sources and you must include a works cited page for those sources.