Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy




Rural Agricultural Technological and Environmental History

First Advisor

Kathleen M. Hilliard


This dissertation explores the efforts of abolitionists in the antebellum United States to recruit children to join in their battle against slavery. From the very beginnings of this movement, abolitionists understood that reaching adults would be virtually impossible and turned to children, whom they considered to be natural enemies of slavery, to become the catalyst which they believed would inspire people across the nation to combat slavery and successfully seek its end. Abolitionists constructed a new model of childhood which viewed children not as people who needed to be taught obedience, but people who needed to be instructed in ways that they could change their world for the good of the slaves. To this end, abolitionists taught children several ways to join the fight against slavery and proposed a childhood in which every area of life was devoted to the antislavery cause. Abolitionists provided a wealth of materials to train these children theologically to hate slavery and love the slaves, and also contrasted the steady expectations of middle-class children to the nightmares slaves lived out every day. “Children With a Cause” will show that children did indeed join the abolitionist movement, even as it changed over the years from 1831-1859. The dissertation will also make clear that children ultimately faced insurmountable obstacles that they could not overcome. This dissertation, then, provides a new look at a new form of childhood as well as an examination of abolitionist strategies over the years as the reformers encountered the changing social, political, and economic realities of antebellum America.

Copyright Owner

Erik A Stumpf



File Format


File Size

248 pages

Included in

History Commons