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Access Type

Open Access Thesis

Document Type


Degree Program


Degree Type

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded



During the early 1830’s, the nascent American Antislavery Society needed support at the local level. This thesis argues that college and seminary students were a crucial demographic that helped garner support for, and spread, abolitionism. Examining the proliferation of radical abolitionism at three locations, Lane Seminary, Andover Theological Seminary, and Amherst College, reveals that students developed intellectual and moral arguments to justify their abolitionist sentiments. Typically, student abolitionists rhetorically battled with faculty, administration, and other students, who all supported colonization, over competing solutions to the problem of slavery. At all three locations, faculty and administration sought to suppress student abolitionism for a number of reasons, chief among them was the adherence to contemporary racial prejudices. Despite faculty restrictions, student abolitionists remained active in the movement in various capacities and were pivotal actors that helped spread abolitionism. Centering these locations in the historical narrative of the antebellum era illuminates the power dynamics at institutions of higher learning and how concepts of race, freedom, citizenship, and free speech were intellectually debated. In turn, students were resolved to engage with the foremost problem facing society, racial slavery, and believed immediate emancipation and racial equality were the solutions. This history complicates the current trend in the historiography that focuses on the complicity of America’s universities with the institution of racial slavery and reveals that the history of student activism in the United States can be traced back to antebellum era campuses.


First Advisor

Sarah Cornell

Second Advisor

Manisha Sinha

Third Advisor

Barbara Krauthamer