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The independent, idealistic, and often deeply pious thought that had spurred so many immigrant journeys to the New World also prompted a great many antislavery sentiments among individuals and larger groups. Religion, politics, and philosophy all spurred antislavery activism at various times and in various places. Yet southerners would later mobilize these same forces to defend slavery during the nineteenth century. Antislavery activists were always a minority within American society, encountering heavy opposition from the majority that either supported slavery outright or wanted to avoid making slavery a divisive political issue.

In terms of leadership positions, money, and raw numbers (since there weren't that many free blacks in the country) whites dominated the abolitionist movement of the 1830s. Some white activists wanted black runaway slaves to censor their comments about northern racism and simply deliver speeches on the horrors of slavery in the South. White female abolitionists occasionally wrote speeches that they attributed to black female abolitionists, essentially using black women as their vehicle for attempting to forward the antislavery cause.

The Liberator's circulation was never large, but Garrison achieved wide influence by allowing his articles to be excerpted in much more popular newspapers. Garrison himself was unflinching in his commitment to the cause, even after he was dragged through the streets of Boston by a hostile mob in 1835. He disapproved of the small religious sects that had formed to oppose slavery, under the grounds that the American Anti-Slavery Society, which he co-founded in 1833, should not be weakened through splintering into denominations.

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