Lesson Plan 3: The Anti-Slavery Movement

By Jennifer Erbach

PLEASE NOTE: The GIS/map resources that this lesson plan links to are not operational at this time. We hope to be able to fix this soon.

Students as a class will create and write a constitution for an anti-slavery society.

Students will investigate the demographics of slavery, the treatment of slaves, the colonization movement, and women in the abolition movement, and present their findings to the class.

Prior to this lesson, students should read the following:

Proceedings of the Ill. Anti-Slavery Convention: Held at Upper Alton on the Twenty-sixth, Twenty-seventh, and Twenty-eighth October, 1837 (Constitution and Declaration of sentiments).


"The Formation of Anti-Slavery Societies in the Antebellum North,"by Julie Roy Jeffrey, Ph.D., Goucher College (about 2 min in length). (To save the video, right click here and click on 'Save Target As...')

Spend a few minutes as a class reviewing the assigned reading from the "Proceedings of the Ill. Anti-Slavery Convention."

Part I:

Imagine that it is 1837. The members of your class have read the constitution and declaration of sentiments that were recently agreed upon by the Illinois Anti-Slavery Society at their convention. Finding yourselves in general agreement with these ideas, you have met here today to form your own anti-slavery society.

As a class, create a constitution for your newly formed society. The constitution should have a one paragraph preamble stating the beliefs of the society as regards slavery and abolition. The body of the constitution should address the following:

  • What is the purpose of this society?
  • How will the society members achieve that purpose?
  • Who will be eligible for membership in this society? Will you allow women to join? Free African-Americans?

Part II:

Now that your society has been formed, you will need to inform yourselves about the "peculiar institution" of slavery. Therefore, the President of the society (instructor) will appoint several subcommittees to study a particular topic related to slavery and abolition.

Group A: The demographics of slavery
Group B: The treatment of slaves
Group C: The colonization movement
Group D: Women and the abolition movement 

Each group will be provided with materials from the Lincoln/Net database (listed below) to gather information on their topic.

Part III:

Each group will outline the information they've gathered about their topic on poster board or easel paper, and will present the information to the rest of the society. Students will also hand in a written report (approx. one page) that answers the discussion questions assigned to each group.

State Standards Addressed: 16.A.5a Analyze historical and contemporary developments using methods of historical inquiry (pose questions, collect and analyze data, make and support inferences with evidence, report findings). 16.D.4a (US) Describe the immediate and long-range social impacts of slavery.

Group Questions & Materials:

Group A

Where were the highest concentrations of slaves? Of free blacks? What changes, if any, occurred in the populations of slaves and free blacks from 1840-1860? In what areas did slaves outnumber whites? How might this have affected the conditions of slaves living in these areas? What changes, if any, occurred in the ratio of slaves to whites 1840-1860? What changes occurred in the country regarding areas where slavery was allowed between 1850 and 1860? Be able to explain why these changes occurred using information from your textbook.


  • "Free Black Population Density by County" (1840, 1850, 1860)
  • "Slave Population Density by County" (1840, 1850, 1860)
  • "Slaves as a % of Total Population by County" (1840, 1850,1860)
  • "Free States, Slave States, and Territories" (1850, 1860)

Group B

Describe the treatment of slaves as it was witnessed and described by white observers. What are their reactions? Would you consider their testimonies to be credible? Why or why not? Discuss the various aspects of the slave experience as described in the narratives of former slaves.

Several brief testimonies of white southerners opposed to slavery can be found in the appendix of James Williams, An American Slave; Who Was For Several Years a Driver on a Cotton Plantation in Alabama. Use:

  • Discussion in Lane Seminary, 2d Mo., 1834
  • Testimony of John Rankin
  • Testimony of Asa A. Stone

The Library of Congress also has a vast database of slave narratives compiled in the 1930's. Several brief excerpts that provide good insight into aspects of the slave experience can be accessed at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/snhtml/snvoices00.html 

  • John W. Fields: education
  • Sarah Frances Shaw Graves: hiring out slaves
  • William Moore: religion
  • Walter Rimm: runaways
  • Sarah Grudger: slave traders (don't use the shooting stars narrative provided--click on read the rest of this narrative then on view page images and use segment on slave "specalaters" starting on the bottom of 354-355.)

Group C

Provide a brief history of the American Colonization Society. What were the goals and purposes of the Colonization Movement? Who favored colonization of African-Americans? Why? Who was opposed to colonization? Why? How were Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln connected to this movement?

Video clips:


Group D

What role did women play in the anti-slavery movement? Compare the reasons the founders of "The Female Anti-Slavery Society of Chatham Street Chapel" gave for forming their society to those set forth in the constitution and declaration of sentiments of the Illinois Anti-Slavery Society. Why did they feel that women ought to become involved in the anti-slavery movement? What role did free black women play in the anti-slavery movement? What was the significance of the national women's anti-slavery conventions during the late 1830's, and what was the importance of free black women attending those conventions?


Video clips:

Notes for the Instructor:

  • Time required for this lesson should be about two 40-50 minute periods or one block period, as well as an assigned reading outside of class.
  • The video clips in this lesson come from Lincoln/Net. Make sure the computer has speakers. If your classroom does not have a computer, you may need to reserve one or two computers in your school library or lab for groups C and D to use.
  • Teachers may want to consider the learning styles of their students when placing them in one of the four groups. Strong visual learners would benefit from Group A, and strong auditory learners would benefit from Group C. Gifted students and/or those working at a somewhat higher level than the rest of the class would benefit from Group D, which contains material that is more challenging (due to length and content).