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Essay: Advancing equality for women, immigrants, and African Americans

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  • Published: 14 July 2022*
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Through activism, war, and forced exposure, freedom expanded to more groups during the Abolition of Slavery and the Progressive Era because conflict was the engine of progress to create social change during these moments in American history. Women, immigrants, and African Americans were given more liberty during these periods due to the events that took place. Previous ideologies shaped the beginning of America, but in order for changes to take place, activism was a primary means. The market revolution sparked new innovations in technology and expansion, causing new changes in ideologies about people in society. Independent household producer families created everything they needed to live, but with the United States developing a world presence, economic means had to change to create more output, leading to an increase in pro slavery ideology in the south. This proved that slavery was not going to be stopped anytime soon, unless people decided to take a strong opposition to the institution. Domestic ideology explained how a woman’s place in society should be raising a family in the home, but that ideology was about to expand when women felt a need for a greater role in society. The advancement of new ideologies needed to be pushed in an activist manner in order for society to be awakened to the new ideas.

In the 18th century slavery was becoming a primary tool to boost the economy in the South. Southern plantations were full of many slaves who endured abuse, manual labor, and no mention of freedom. Slaves began to resist, especially through violence, which got people talking and created a new movement towards abolition. The first uprising from slaves began in New York City. In 1712, slaves decided to set fire to some houses that were located on the edge of the city. They also murdered several white people who came to see what was happening (Foner 147). Later on in the century, the Stono Rebellion was a bigger uprising in South Carolina. This started to concern slave-holders and the public because violence was on the rise. This event ultimately created a tighter version of the slave code. It also led to a prohibitive tax that was placed on the import of slaves (Foner 148). Slaves running away from their masters was also another form of resistance. Many slaves went to Florida because there were many areas that were uninhabited (Foner 146). Slaveholders again got very concerned and started posting advertisements for the return of runaway slaves at this time. However, improvement began to be seen when the states that were north of Maryland decided to emancipate their slaves. It did not eradicate slavery completely in those areas, but children born into slavery could be freed after serving into adulthood (Foner 244). This was a step in the right direction, even if it was it was not fully giving freedom to slaves yet.

By the 19th century, it was clear that slavery was not going to die out like it was thought to in the 18th century, so people felt a strong need to fight against it. Abolitionists started taking a stance on slavery due to the events that had occured during the 18th century. White figures, such as William Lloyd Garrison, recognized that freedom should be given to all peoples due to what is written in the Declaration of Independence. Garrison wrote in his newspaper, The Liberator, about how people shall incorporate blacks into society after immediate abolition. In a document, “William Lloyd Garrison Calls for the Immediate Abolition of Slavery,” he stated, “I will be as harsh as the truth, and as uncompromising as justice” (Garrison 32). His harshness was crucial because many people at this time were moderate on the issue and thought that gradual abolition was the right answer. He originally believed in gradual abolition, but now he felt that slavery was an evil in society and constantly wrote about the neccessities in freeing slaves. People in the south saw him as a threat, but people in the north saw his views as extreme. Even though many northerners felt he was extreme, they had economic reasons in ending slavery and therefore joined the movement. They did not want the south to leave the union because that would cause the country to be split between an industrial north and the rural south. This ultimately led to the breakout of the civil war.

During the civil war slaves were fighting for the union, and more than 180,000 black men were fighting in the army (Foner 534). Slaves fled the south and went to the union in order to fight for their cause (Foner 531). This was an example of how many people fought for their own rights and were willing to die for their cause. Slaves and former slaves also spoke out firsthand about ending slavery. Fredrick Douglass gave a speech in Boston titled, “What the Black Man Wants,” in 1864 which explained how he wants suffrage for African Americans. Civil rights were of upmost importance for him. He believed in justice and he even stated, “Let him live or die by that” (Douglass 85). He wants to fight for equality and wants the civil war to continue until every free southern man has suffrage (Douglass 84). Even before Lincoln admitted that the abolition of slavery was a goal for the war, the public opinion was that the war was, “the freedom war,” (Foner 530). People were even calling this the Second American Revolution due to all the changes to society that occurred after the war and they then saw slavery as a goal and a reason for the war to take place (Foner 536). In Lincoln’s second inaugural address in March of 1865, he explains how God desires to free slaves by saying, “If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offeneses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove” (Lincoln 80). He admits that it is necessary to remove slaves now that this war has been fought, proving that societal changes come from the prospect of war and violence.

After the abolition of slavery proved that violence can create real change, advocates for more humane treatment of marginalized groups arose during the progressive era. During the progressive era, women’s rights were fought for heavily, but first the issue of immigration was brought up. Due to greater industrialization in the United States, immigrants fled to the country for better opportunities. Many immigrants did better monetarily than they did in the countries they came from, the wages were low and the hours were long (Foner 697). The working conditions were also not up to the standard they should have been at. Middle and upper class women became essential supporters for the rights of immigrants. They saw the concern with unfair wages, oppression towards those groups, and seclusion that they were enduring and they related. This is an example of how marginalized groups can fight for each other and allow for liberty to be expanded. In the document, “The Subjective Necessity for Social Settlements,” Jane Addams wants to improve the lives of the poor. She comes up with a way for the urban poor to be connected with the middle class by putting wealthier women in poor areas to create changes. Liberty is expanded to immigrants because they went in directly and fought for what they wanted. They built playgrounds, kindergartens, and improved the daily lives of the poor immigrants, especially women and children. During this time, the need for education was expanding in importance, especially because by the year 1900, at least 80,000 women had a college education (Foner 720). She explains what she sees her settlement house movement as doing when she says, “The Settlement then, is an experimental effort to aid in the solution of the social and industrial problems which are engendered by the modern conditions of life in a great city” (Addams 151). In these modern conditions she describes, unequal treatment to groups is a monumental flaw in the United States, and people have to directly work on making changes instead of just waiting for lawmakers to see what needs to be fixed on their own.

Similarly to the issue of immigrant rights, liberty needed to be expanded to women in the form of the right to vote. Women did not have the right, but questions were arising about why that is, especially when Jane Addams ditched the idea that it was to offset the votes of blacks and immigrants. By 1920, over 8 million women had been earning wages in the work force and feminism was fighting against the traditions of how women were supposed to act in society, especially sexually (Foner 710-12). For example, the birth control movement, led by Margaret Sanger, was put forth so that women could have sexual relations without being forced to have children from it (Foner 713). These feminist movements were happening because women began to take a stand and push their views on the public by creating institutions such as clinics where birth control was distributed without waiting for men to make the call. Addams and other like-minded women were involved in the National American Woman Suffrage Association and they campaigned in the United States to gain the right to vote (Foner 721). Their presence was forced through their campaigns and they took on a militant mindset in order to fight for their right (Foner 722). In Jane Addams article, “Why Women Should Vote,” she explains that women need to vote in order to expand domestic ideology and protect her family and her children’s education (Addams 193). She does not believe that women need to take over a man’s job in politics, but women should have a say in matters that involve them (Addams 195). She closes by explaining how if women have responsibility for their children and their education, “then she must bring herself to the use of the ballot – that latest implement for self- government” (Addams 195). The right to vote is a major expansion in liberty to women, and over 25 states allowed women to vote in elections that were local in 1900 because of this movement that became so monumental in history (Foner 721).

After the abolition of slavery and progressive era’s movements to expand liberty to women and other marginalized groups such as immigrants, liberty was expanded to more people than just the traditional white male. Even though equality in society was not fully reached during these times, small victories such as the woman’s right to vote in local elections proved that changes could be made when minority groups stood up for themselves and fought for the changes they wanted to see in society. Ideologies were shifted because of the use of activism and even violence in some cases because initial resistance showed that they could not continue on with society as they had in the past. Only then would movements such as the settlement house movement and the abolition of slavery movement create a public need for change because of the protests, speeches, and rebellions that took place. These events caused the mindsets of politicians to be shifted. Lincoln, for example, changed his ideology about slavery over time because of all the violence and backlash it was beginning to cause. Sometimes, the politicians had to realize that if they kept with their original mindsets, only more damage was to come. This does not mean that they just handed out liberty and equality to all groups at once, but small steps towards equality were occuring during the 18th, 19th, and 20th century that allowed the United States to develop into the country that it is today. Full equality among sexes, races, ages and more groups still is not reached even in the 21st century, but more movements and violence have shown that changes are coming.


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