American Portraits

A Self-Evident Truth: Angelina Grimké and Justice

In this lesson, students will consider the perspective of Angelina Grimké regarding the injustices of slavery. They will consider ways in which they can promote or fight for justice in their own lives.

Founding Principles

Equality image


Every individual is equal to every other person in regards to natural rights and treatment before the law.

Individual Responsibility image

Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.

Liberty image


Except where authorized by citizens through the Constitution, the government does not have the authority to limit freedom.


As the session was called to order, the roar of the bustling crowd quieted. The year was 1838, and in the packed State House of Massachusetts, the mixed audience of men and women, legislators and citizens, silenced their voices to hear hers. Angelina Grimké had come to deliver anti-slavery petitions and to demand justice for all Americans. She would be the first woman to ever speak before a legislature. Her testimony would last three days….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

How can you promote justice for yourself and others?

Virtue Defined

Justice is the capacity to determine and preserve our common rights.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will consider the perspective of Angelina Grimké regarding the injustices of slavery. They will consider ways in which they can promote or fight for justice in their own lives.


  • Students will evaluate the injustices of slavery in the United States.
  • Students will analyze Angelina Grimké’s beliefs about the injustices of slavery and why she believed it should be abolished.
  • Students will analyze methods by which they can promote justice in their own lives.
  • Students will apply their knowledge of justice to their own lives.


Angelina Grimké was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1805. Unlike many in her community, Angelina was an ardent abolitionist. When her Presbyterian church did not accept her views, Grimké converted to the Quaker religion. Soon after her conversion, Angelina moved to Philadelphia. There, she became more heavily involved in the anti-slavery movement along with her sister, Sarah.

The Grimké sisters spoke at abolitionist meetings across the country, and Angelina even spoke before the Massachusetts legislature. Angelina published An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South in 1836, in which she called for southern women to stand up against slavery as it violated the natural rights promised by the Declaration of Independence as well as the teachings of the Bible. Angelina married another abolitionist and, along with her sister, the three continued to fight against slavery until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment.


  • Abolitionist
  • Presbyterian
  • Quaker
  • Natural rights
  • Thirteenth Amendment
  • Involuntary
  • Prominent
  • Condemnation
  • Episcopal
  • Pamphlet
  • Justification
  • Attributes
  • Hebrew
  • Prophets
  • Rebuked
  • Endure
  • Testimony
  • Dignity
  • Providence
  • Calumny
  • Fraud
  • Mandate
  • Scathing
  • Conveying
  • Pulpit
  • Resolve

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

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Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • What was Angelina Grimké’s role in the abolition movement? How did her role differ from other anti-slavery advocates about whom you have learned?
  • What was Angelina Grimké’s purpose for delivering the testimony to the Massachusetts legislature?
  • Why did Grimké believe that speaking against slavery was important?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

  • Birney, Catherine. The Grimké Sisters: Sarah and Angelina Grimké, the First American Women Advocates of Abolition and Woman’s Rights. New York: Haskell House, 1970.
  • Grimké, Angelina Emily. Appeal To The Christian Women of the South. New York: New York Anti-Slavery Society, 1836.
  • Henry, Katharine. “Angelina Grimké’s Rhetoric of Exposure.” American Quarterly 49.2 (1997).
  • Lerner, Gerda. The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina. New York: Schocken Books, 1977.
  • Lumpkin, Katharine Du Pre. The Emancipation of Angelina Grimké. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1974.
  • Perry, Mark. Lift Up Thy Voice. New York: Viking, 2001.

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