WILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON
William Lloyd Garrison was born Dec. 10, 1805 and died May 24, 1879. He was the most prominent American abolitionist in the country until Frederick Douglass. He was a journalist, and social reformer. He is best known as the editor of the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator, and was one of the founders of the American Anti-Slavery Society. He promoted “immediate emancipation” of slaves in the United States. Garrison was also a prominent voice for the women’s suffrage movement.
At age 25, Garrison joined the Abolition movement. For a brief time he became associated with the American Colonization Society, an organization that believed free Blacks should emigrate to a territory on the west coast of Africa. Although some members of the society encouraged granting freedom to slaves, the majority saw the relocation as a means to reduce the number of free Blacks in the United States and thus help preserve the institution of slavery. By late 1829–1830 Garrison rejected colonization, publicly apologized for his error, and rejected all who were committed to it.
Garrison began writing for and became co-editor with Benjamin Lundy of the Quaker Genius of Universal Emancipation newspaper in Baltimore, Md. Garrison’s experience as a printer and newspaper editor allowed him to revamp the layout of the paper and freed Lundy to spend more time travelling as an anti-slavery speaker. Garrison initially shared Lundy’s gradualist views, but, while working for the Genius, he became convinced of the need to demand immediate and complete emancipation. Lundy and Garrison continued to work together on the paper in spite of their differing views, agreeing simply to sign their editorials to indicate who had written it.
In 1831, Garrison returned to New England and founded a weekly anti-slavery newspaper of his own, The Liberator. In the first issue, Garrison stated: “I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or to speak, or write, with moderation. No! No! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest—I will not equivocate—I will not excuse—I will not retreat a single inch—AND I WILL BE HEARD. The apathy of the people is enough to make every statue leap from its pedestal, and to hasten the resurrection of the dead.”
Initial circulation of The Liberator was relatively limited; there were fewer than 400 subscriptions during the paper’s second year. However, the publication gained subscribers and influence over the next three decades, until, after the end of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery nation-wide by the Thirteenth Amendment, Garrison published the last issue on Dec. 29, 1865, writing in his “Valedictory” column, “Commencing my editorial career when only twenty years of age, I have followed it continuously till I have attained my sixtieth year—first, in connection with The Free Press, in Newburyport, in the spring of 1826; next, with The National Philanthropist, in Boston, in 1827; next, with The Journal of the Times, in Bennington, Vt., in 1828–9; next, with The Genius of Universal Emancipation, in Baltimore, in 1829–30; and, finally, with the Liberator, in Boston, from Jan. 1, 1831, to Jan. 1, 1866; at the start, probably the youngest member of the editorial fraternity in the land, now, perhaps, the oldest, not in years, but in continuous service, unless Mr. Bryant, of the New York Evening Post, be an exception. The object for which the Liberator was commenced—the extermination of chattel slavery—having been gloriously consummated, it seems to me specially appropriate to let its existence cover the historic period of the great struggle; leaving what remains to be done to complete the work of emancipation to other instrumentalities, (of which I hope to avail myself,) under new auspices, with more abundant means, and with millions instead of hundreds for allies.”
In 1831, Garrison founded the New-England Anti-Slavery Society. The next year, he co-founded the American Anti-Slavery Society. That same year, 1833, Garrison also visited the United Kingdom and assisted in the anti-slavery movement there. Garrison had a strong influence on the ideas of Susan Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Lucy Stone and other feminists who joined the society. He intended that the Anti-Slavery Society should not align itself with any political party and that women should be allowed full participation in society activities. These positions were seen as controversial by the majority of Society members and there was a major rift in the Society. In 1839, two brothers, Arthur Tappan and Lewis Tappan, left and formed a rival organization, the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society which did not admit women. A segment of the Society also withdrew and aligned itself with the newly founded Liberty Party, a political organization which named James G. Birney as its Presidential candidate. By the end of 1840, Garrison announced the formation of a third new organization, the Friends of Universal Reform, with sponsors and founding members including prominent reformers Maria Chapman, Abby Kelley Foster, Oliver Johnson, and Bronson Alcott (father of Louisa May Alcott).
In 1853, Garrison credited Reverend John Rankin of Ohio as a primary influence on his career, calling him his “anti-slavery father” and saying that Rankin’s “…book on slavery was the cause of my entering the anti-slavery conflict.”
Garrison made a name for himself as one of the most articulate, as well as most radical, opponents of slavery. His approach to emancipation stressed non-violence and passive resistance, and he attracted a vocal following. While some other abolitionists of the time favored gradual emancipation, Garrison argued for “immediate and complete emancipation of all slaves.” On July 4, 1854 he went so far as to publicly burn a copy of the Constitution condemning it as “a Covenant with Death, an Agreement with Hell,” referring to the compromise that had written slavery into the Constitution.  His earlier alliance with the famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass disintegrated over their incompatible views regarding the Constitution: Douglass insisted that the document could be interpreted as anti-slavery, whereas Garrison was convinced that slavery had tainted its essence.
Garrison was an important contributor to the suffrage movement.
His outspoken anti-slavery views repeatedly put him in danger. Besides his imprisonment in Baltimore, the government of the State of Georgia offered a reward of $5,000 for his arrest, and he was the object of vituperation and frequent death threats.
After the abolition of slavery in the United States, Garrison continued working on other reform movements, especially temperance and women’s suffrage.
The resolution prompted sharp debate, however, by critics—led by his long-time ally Wendell Phillips—who argued that the mission of the AAS was not fully completed until Black Southerners gained full political and civil equality. Garrison maintained that while complete civil equality was vitally important, the special task of the AAS was at an end, and that the new task would best be handled by new organizations and new leadership. With his long-time allies deeply divided, however, he was unable to muster the support he needed to carry the resolution, and the motion was de
feated 118–48. Garrison went through with his resignation, declining an offer to continue as President, and Wendell Phillips assumed the Presidency of the AAS.