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On the Side of the Oppressors There Was Power

On the Side of the Oppressors There Was Power

Although Illinoisians voted to bar slavery from their state in 1824, abolitionist sentiment did not take root there until the arrival of large numbers of immigrants from the New England states in the 1830s and 40s. Settling principally in the state's northern tier, the new arrivals represented their native region's Evangelical Protestantism in its campaign for the active reform of self and society. Along with campaigns for temperance and Sabbath observation, many reformers took up the cause of abolitionism. One argument opposed slavery on strictly political grounds. In a nation built upon individual liberty, slavery was abhorrent. But evangelical religion also emerged with a new humanitarian sentiment in this period. Where eighteenth century Americans had often turned their heads from, or even found amusement in cruelty and suffering, the new reformers took it upon themselves to put a stop to these phenomena. Thus slavery emerged as a clear example of human cruelty that violated Christianity's rule of love. The illustration above, taken from The Legion of Liberty (1842) clearly depicts slavery as a barbarous institution in which cruel masters beat defenseless bondsmen. This moral argument gave the abolitionist movement additional purchase in a society that increasingly thought of itself as civilized and enlightened.

Image source: Northern Illinois University
©Copyright 2002 Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitization Project