School Improvement in Maryland
Clarifications: Each clarification provides an explanation of an indicator/objective to help teachers better understand the skills and/or concepts.

Standard 5.0 History

Topic C. Conflict between Ideas and Institutions

Indicator 4. Analyze how the institution of slavery impacted individuals and groups in Maryland

Objective b. Describe the anti-slavery movement in Maryland


During the first half of the 1800s, Maryland's slave population declined while its free black population grew. Some of these free blacks were former slaves who had been emancipated by their owners for a variety of reasons. The increasing numbers of planters switching from tobacco agriculture to wheat found using enslaved labor no longer made financial sense. Some of these planters sold their slaves, but others freed them, often by will or on their deathbeds and motivated by religious fervor and the American Revolution's rhetoric of equality. Despite these instances of emancipation, however, very few Marylanders were true anti-slavery advocates, or abolitionists. For the most part, people didn't even question slavery. It was simply a part of life. Some people did have moral qualms about slavery, but they feared the consequences of freeing large numbers of enslaved people and believed that the region's economy and culture were dependent upon slavery.

In 1817, a group of men that included Francis Scott Key founded the American Colonization Society, which advocated the emigration of free blacks to Liberia in Africa. They believed that emigration would simultaneously offer free blacks more freedom and a better life than they would have in the United States and eliminate the potential problems that growing numbers of free blacks could pose for white society. Interestingly, it was not a purely antislavery organization. Some members wanted to abolish slavery and believed that colonization would both provide freed blacks with better lives and encourage slaveowners to free their slaves confident that the freed people would not contribute to any social disorder. Others, however, believed that colonization would actually strengthen the slave system by removing free blacks who could assist slaves in escape attempts and serve as models for slaves hoping to gain their freedom. In 1832, after hearing of the poor treatment of Maryland colonists in Liberia, the Maryland chapter split off and formed its own separate organization, the Maryland State Colonization Society, which expressed its desire to help bring about the end of slavery. This Society did send several hundred Maryland African Americans to their colony in Liberia, which was relatively successful. The vast majority of African Americans, however, had no desire to transplant themselves from their homes to a rough settlement on a continent they had never seen.

By and large, abolitionists opposed the colonization scheme also, advocating complete emancipation of the slaves and the extension of rights to them as American citizens. Maryland had few abolitionists, and they were unable to make much progress in furthering antislavery sentiments. In 1789, Baltimore gentlemen founded the Maryland Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery and the Relief of Poor Negroes and Others Unlawfully Held in Bondage. For a couple of years, this Society had a membership of over two hundred and was able to get abolition bills introduced in the Maryland General Assembly. Their efforts were not successful, however, and the society disbanded. During the 1820s, a Quaker abolitionist named Benjamin Lundy published his antislavery newspaper, The Genius of Universal Emancipation, from Baltimore. He persuaded a young William Lloyd Garrison to move to Baltimore and serve as the paper's co-editor. Garrison was so outspoken in his criticism of slavery and attacks on Maryland slaveholders that he was tried, found guilty of libel, and imprisoned in 1829. Shortly thereafter, he and Lundy left Maryland, ending serious antislavery agitation in the state. Maryland did produce several notable abolitionists, although they did not conduct their activities within the state. Two of the most influential African American abolitionists, Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, escaped from slavery in Maryland.

Resources for Objective 5.C.4.b: