In 1894, at the age of 17, Ahn became a member of the Tongnip Hyophoe "Independence Association," which promoted independence from Japan and worked to reform domestic affairs and reduce dependence upon foreign countries. But the group's activities were interrupted by the conservative ruling class, so, Chai-pil, leader of the group, went into exile in the United States. This strengthened Ahn's belief that Koreans themselves were to blame their failures and thus victory must come from within. He returned to his home town and established the Chomjin School, the first private modern school established in Korea.
Among the first Koreans to emigrate to United States in 1902 were Ahn Chang-Ho and Rhee Syngman, who was later to become the first president of the Republic of Korea. Once in United States, Ahn Chang-Ho established groups within the Korean community in support of the independence of the Korean people. In 1903, Ahn organized a fraternity that became the Kungminhoe (Korean National Association), which inspired Korean immigrants toward a movement for national independence. The group published a newspaper called "Kongnip Shinmun."
Upon learning of the Japanese protectorate treaty enforced on Korea in 1906 following the Russo-Japanese war, Ahn returned home in 1907. He organized an underground independence group in Pyong--An Province called Shinmin-Hoe (New Peoples' Association). The Shinmin-Hoe was associated with Protestant organizations and was dedicated to promoting the recovery of Korean independence through the cultivation and emergence of nationalism in education, business, and culture.