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Teaching Guide: Exploring American Abolitionism

This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set, The American Abolitionist Movement, in the classroom. It offers discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis tools. It is intended to spark pedagogical creativity by giving a sample approach to the material. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt the resources in this guide for your teaching purposes.

Discussion questions

  1. Consider the photograph of Sojourner Truth and the text of Frederick Douglass’ speech. Why were the voices of former slaves essential to the success of the abolitionist movement?

  2. How were visual images, including objects such as the British medallion, and the popular press used to advance the abolitionist cause?

  3. Using the excerpt from the 1838 printed pamphlet, explain how women fighting for suffrage found common cause with abolitionists.

  4. Using Abolitionism Exposed! as evidence, describe some counterarguments to abolition that were expressed at the time.

  5. What was one argument made for the eradication of slavery by abolitionists? Choose one item from this set that expresses that argument.

Classroom activities

  1. Imagine you live in Massachusetts in 1833. A cousin from South Carolina writes to you to ask about The Liberator, about which she has heard many rumors. Write a letter to her in which you tell her what you know about The Liberator and what you have read in the latest issue. Include your opinions on The Liberator, its abolitionist cause, and its tactics.

  2. Ask students to choose five documents from the gallery above, and to create their own document-based question about abolitionism. Ask students to share their document-based questions with a partner and to discuss how they would respond to the question, using evidence to justify their response.

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