Date of Award


Degree Type

Master's Essay - Restricted

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Robert P. Hay


The debate on the abolitionists has centered on their motivations; they have been impugned or lauded depending upon the author's frame of reference. The judgment of history has acted as an erratic pendulum in its interpretation of abolitionism. The causes for these erratic swings in interpretation can be found in the changing social and racial attitudes in the United States. The nationalist historians after the Civil War were inclined to view the abolitionists as moral heroes. The fourth and fifth decades of the twentieth century witnessed a revision of abolition history. An influx of Southern scholars into the profession of history, a residue of hostility towards blacks and a reaction to anything which resembled the fanaticism of European totalitarianism led to a denigration of abolitionism. After World War II racial injustice was being timidly addressed, and historians demonstrated a new sympathy for the abolitionist movement. By the late fifties and sixties the abolitionists had been rehabilitated.