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.