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William Lloyd Garrison

WILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON, one of the earliest, the most persistent, and consistent of American abolitionists, was born at Newburyport, Massachusetts, on the 12th of December, 1804. His mother was a native of the Province of New Brunswick, of English stock, born in the faith of the established church, beautiful, spirited, and gay. At the age of eighteen, she was led by curiosity to attend the meetings of some itinerant Baptists, was converted and became a member of that church. For this her parents closed their hearts and their doors against her, and she was indebted to an uncle for a home until her marriage. She was a woman of marked individuality, earnest convictions, enthusiastic temperament, and possessed a native gift of eloquence in prayer and exhortation, which was frequently exercised in public, as was allowed by the custom of that denomination. His father, Abijah Garrison, was master of a vessel, engaged in the West India trade, and was possessed of considerable literary ability and taste. Unfortunately, however, he became a victim to in-temperance ; and, under its baneful influence, abandoned his family. His wife, thus left with her children, in utter poverty, adopted the calling of a nurse; and, in 1814, went to Lynn, Massachusetts, and William was placed with Gamaliel Oliver, a Quaker shoemaker of that town, to learn the trade. So small for his age, was be, that his knees trembled under the weight of the lapstone; and his mother finding, at the end of a few months, that the business would not agree with her boy, sent him back to Newburyport. There he was placed at school, and taught the usual routine of New England district schools, at that time—reading, writing, ciphering, and a little grammar. He lived in the family of Deacon Ezekiel Bartlett; and, as art equivalent for his board, employed himself, when out of school, in assisting the deacon in his occupation of wood-sawyer, going with him from house to house. In 1815, he accompanied his mother to Baltimore, where, after a year spent in the capacity of "chore-boy," he returned to Newburyport. In 1818, he was apprenticed to Moses Short, a cabinet-maker of Haverhill, Massachusetts, but finding the trade very repugnant to his feelings, he finally succeeded in persuading his employer to release him, and in October of the same year, became indentured to Ephraim W. Allen, editor of the "Newburyport Herald," to learn the art of printing. He had, at last, found an employment congenial to his tastes, and speedily became expert in the mechanical part of the business. His, mind, also, developed into activity ; and, when only sixteen or seventeen years of age he began to contribute to the columns of the paper, upon political and other topics—carefully preserving, however, his incognito. On one occasion, the apprentice, who thus had the pleasure of setting his own contributions in type, was the amused and flattered recipient of a letter of thanks from his master, wh o urged him to continue his communications.

 A considerable time elapsed before Mr. Allen became aware that the correspondent, whose communications he so valued and eagerly welcomed, was his own apprentice. The ice once broken, however, young Garrison launched out somewhat more extensively in the literary line, his contributions being accepted, with much favor, by the "Salem Gazette, "the "Haverhill Gazette," and the "Boston Commercial Gazette," especially by the latter, the editor of which, Samuel L. Knapp, was a man of marked culture and good taste. A series of Garrison's articles, published in the "Salem Gazette," over the signature of "Aristides," attracted much attention in political circles, and were highly commended by Robert Walsh, then editor of the "National Gazette" (Philadelphia), who attributed their author-ship to the venerable Timothy Pickering. 

In 1824, during the somewhat protracted absence of Mr. Allen, the "Herald" was edited by Garrison, who, also, superintended its printing. About the same time, his enthusiastic nature became so interested in the cause of the Greeks, then struggling for their freedom, that he was strongly inclined to seek admission to the Military Academy at West Point, with a view of preparing himself for a military career. In 1826, at the close of his apprenticeship, he became proprietor and editor of a journal in his native town, entitled "The Free Press;" and toiled arduously, putting his articles in type without committing them to paper. The enterprise, however, proved unsuccessful, and he sought and obtained employment, for awhile, as a journeyman printer, in Boston ; where, in 1827, ho became the editor of the "National Philanthropist," the first journal ever established for the advocacy of the cause of "total abstinence." Before the close of its first year, the journal changed proprietors ; and during the next year, 1828, he joined a friend in the publication of " The Journal of the Times," at Bennington, Vermont. This journal supported the claims of John Quincy Adams to the presidency, and was devoted in part to the interests of peace, temperance, anti-slavery, and kindred reforms; but it failed of a sufficient support, and was discontinued. During his residence at Bennington, Mr. Garrison's influence, in regard to slavery, was felt not only in that place, but, also, throughout the entire State, and led to the transmission, to Congress, of an anti-slavery memorial, which was more numerously signed than any similar paper ever before submitted to that tribunal. This subject, indeed, had now fairly enlisted the full interest of Mr. Garrison's mind, and he delivered an address before a religious and philanthropic assembly, held on the 4th of July, 1829, in the Park street church, Boston, which excited general attention by the boldness and vigor of its tones.

His "mission"—as the Germans would say—had found him, and a larger sphere of usefulness was opening before him. During the previous year (1828) he had become acquainted at Boston with one Benjamin Lundy, a Quaker and an abolitionist, who had been publishing, in Baltimore, since 1824, "The Genius of Universal Emancipation" (established in 1821), "an anti-slavery paper which was read only by a few people in the city and adjacent country, mostly of his own faith, and which the southern people thought was not of sufficient consequence to be but down."  The Baptist and the Quaker met and "struck hands" on this one common ground—their duty to the slave. So, in the autumn of 1829, Garrison went to Baltimore and joined Mr. Lundy in the editorship of the Genius; making, in the first number issued under the new auspices, a distinct avowal of the doctrine of immediate emancipation. Mr. Lundy was a gradual emancipationist and a believer in colonization, which Mr. Garrison entirely repudiated ; but, as each of them appended his initials to his articles, the difference of opinion interposed no obstacle to a hearty co-operation. But the zeal of the new editor produced an unwonted excitement among the supporters of slavery, while his denunciation of the colonization project aroused an equal amount of hostility among the friends of tie paper. "From the moment," says Garrison (in a speech at Philadelphia, 1863), "that the doctrine of immediate emancipation was enunciated in the columns of the Genius, as it had not been up to that hour, it was like a bombshell in the camp of the subscribers themselves; and from every direction letters poured in, that they had not bargained for such a paper as that, or for such doctrines, and they desired to have no more copies sent to them. "Lundy seems to have borne patiently with the ruinous "rumpus" which his partner had raised; but an event soon occurred which occasioned a dissolution of the firm. It so happened that the ship Francis, belonging to a Mr. Francis Todd of Newburyport, Massachusetts, came to Baltimore, where she took in a cargo of slaves for the Louisiana market. It roused all the righteous indignation of Mr. Garrison, who denounced it as an act of "domestic piracy," and declared his intention to "cover with thick infamy all who were engaged in the transaction. "Baltimore had patiently stood Lundy and his Genius for some years, but it could not brook this ferocious attack upon a business which was not only legitimized by use in their city but "by which they had their gain." Garrison was prosecuted for libel, indicted and convicted at the May term (1830) of the city, court, for "a gross and malicious libel" against the owner and master of the vessel, though the Custom House records proved that the number of slaves transported really exceeded the editor's statement. In spite of the able de-fence of his counsel, Charles Mitchell, who occupied a position at the Baltimore bar second only to that of William Wirt, he was fined fifty dollars and costs of the court. Mr. Todd, in a civil suit, afterward obtained a verdict against him for one thou-sand dollars-but the judgment, probably on account of his well known poverty, was never enforced. During his imprisonment he was considerately placed in a cell recently vacated by a man who had been hung for murder—but he experienced much kindness from the jailer and his family—and was visited frequently by Lundy and a few other Quaker friends. The northern press, generally, condemned his imprisonment as unjust, the South Carolina Manumission Society protested against it as an infraction of the liberty of the press, and his letters to the different newspapers, as well as several sonnets which he inscribed upon the walls of his cell, excited considerable attention in various quarters. After a forty-nine days' confinement he was released by the payment of the fine by Mr. Arthur Tappan, a New York merchant, whose generosity anticipated, by a few days, a similar purpose on the part of Henry Clay, whose interest had been awakened by a mutual friend. To Daniel Webster, also, Mr. Garrison was indebted, soon after his release, for sympathy and encouragement.

Freed from his chains, the dauntless champion of the op-pressed issued a prospectus for an anti-slavery journal to be published at Washington, and with the design of exciting a deeper and more wide-spread interest in his proposed enterprise, he prepared a course of lectures on slavery, which be delivered in Philadelphia, New York, New Haven, Hartford, and Boston. In Baltimore, he failed to obtain a hearing. In Boston, all efforts to procure a suitable public place for his lectures having failed, he boldly announced, in the daily prints, that if no such place could be obtained within a certain specified time, he would address the people on "The Common." The only hall placed at his disposal was by an association of infidels; and Mr. Garrison accepted the offer, and there delivered his lectures; taking care, however, to distinctly avow his belief in Christianity, as the only power which could break the bonds of the enslaved. These lectures were largely attended, and were instrumental in awakening an increased interest in the subject. His experiences as a lecturer convinced him that Boston, rather than Washington, was the best location for an anti-slavery paper ; and that a revolution of public sentiment at the North must precede emancipation in the South. It was in Boston, accordingly, that he issued (January 1st 1831) the first. number of the "Liberator," taking for his motto, "my country is the world; my countrymen are all mankind;" and declaring, in the face of an almost universal apathy upon the subject of slavery, "I am in earnest; I will not equivocate; I will not excuse; I will not retract a single word, and I will be heard." And again: "On this question my influence, humble as it is, is felt at this moment to a considerable extent, and shall be felt in coming years--not perniciously, but beneficially--not as a curse, but as a blessing; AND POSTERITY WILL BEAR TESTIMONY THAT I WAS RIGHT."

Yet this earnest young man, who so defiantly threw down the gauntlet to the world, was without means, or promise of support from any quarter, and his partner in the proposed enterprise, Mr. Isaac Knapp, was as poor as himself. Fortunately they were both afforded employment in the office of the "Christian Examiner," the foreman of which was a warm personal friend of Garrison—and were thus enabled to exchange their labor for the use of the type, Mr. Garrison working laboriously at type-setting all day, and spending the night in his editorial capacity. The initial number was at length issued, and the young men waited anxiously to see what encouragement they should receive. The first cheering return for their labors was the receipt of fifty dollars, with a list of twenty-five subscribers, from James Forten, a wealthy colored citizen of Philadelphia, and they east aside all doubt as to their future. At the expiration of three weeks they were enabled to open an office for themselves; but, for nearly two years, their very restricted resources obliged them to reside in the office, making their beds upon the floor, and subsisting upon the plainest and humblest fare. In all sections of the country, both North and South, the "Liberator" attracted general attention, finding sympathy in some quarters, while in others it was denounced as fanatical and incendiary. The Hon. Harrison Gray Otis, then mayor of Boston, having been urged, by a southern magistrate, to suppress the journal by law, if possible, wrote in reply that his officers had "ferreted out the paper and its editor, whose office was an obscure hole, his only auxiliary a negro boy, his supporters a very few insignificant persons of all colors." Almost every mail, at this period, brought threats, of assassination to Mr. Garrison, if he persisted in publishing his sheet; and in December, 1831, an act was passed by the Legislature of Georgia, offering a reward of $5000 to any one who should arrest, bring to trial, and prosecute to conviction, under the laws of that State, the editor and proprietor of the obnoxious journal. His friends, becoming alarmed for his safety, urged his arming himself for defence; but being a non-resistant he was conscientiously restrained from following their advice.

On the 1st of January, 1832, he, with eleven others, organized "The New England (afterwards the Massachusetts) Anti-Slavery Society," upon the principle of immediate emancipation , and this was the parent of the numerous affiliated societies by which, for many years, the anti-slavery question w as so persistently kept before the public eye. In the spring of the same year, he published a work, entitled "Thoughts on African Colonization," etc., setting forth, at length, the grounds of his opposition to that scheme. Immediately after (1833), he went to England as an agent of the New England Anti-Slavery Society, for the purpose of securing the co-operation of the people of Great Britain, in measures for the promotion of emancipation in the United States, and as opposed to the colonization scheme. He was cordially received by Wilberforce, Buxton, and their noble associates; and, as the result of his statements and influence, Wilberforce, and eleven of his most prominent coadjutors, joined in the issue of a protest against the American Colonization Society, whose plans they pronounced delusive. and a hindrance to the abolition of slavery. While in England, through his influence also, Mr. George Thompson, one of the most prominent of the anti-slavery champions in Great Britain. was induced to visit the United States as an anti-slavery lecturer.

Shortly after Mr. Garrison's return to America, "The American Anti-Slavery Society" was formed at Philadelphia, upon the principles advocated by him, and the "Declaration of sentiments" issued by the Society, an elaborate manifesto of its principles, aims and methods, was also prepared by him. Public interest in the subject had, by this time, deepened into excitement, and this, intensified to the highest degree, developed a mobocratic spirit; so that, for two or three years, the assembling of an anti-slavery meeting, almost anywhere in the free States, provoked riotous demonstrations, dangerous alike to property and life. Mr. Thompson (before referred to) arrived here from England, in 1834; but so great was the excitement occasioned by his presence here, that he found it prudent to re-turn across the Atlantic, leaving his promised work unfinished.

In October 1835, a mob, composed of persons who were described in the journals of the day as "gentlemen of property and standing," broke up a meeting of the Female Anti-Slavery Society, at Boston, and Mr. Garrison, who was announced as one of the speakers of the occasion, was seized and, partially denuded of his clothing, was violently dragged through the streets to City Hall; where, as the only means of saving his life, he was committed to jail by the mayor, on the nominal charge of being "a disturber of the. peace !" He was, however, released the next day, and sent, under protection of the civic authorities, to a place of safety in the country, leaving pencilled upon the walls of the cell which he had occupied, the following inscription : "William Lloyd Garrison was put into this cell on Wednesday afternoon, October, 21, 1835, to save him from the violence of a "respectable and influential" mob, who sought to destroy him, for preaching the abominable and dangerous doctrine, that all men are created equal, and that all oppression is odious in the sight of God. Hail, Columbia ! cheers for the Autocrat of Russia, and Sultan of Turkey 1 Reader, let this inscription re-main, till the last slave in this land be loosed from his fetters!"

In the discussion of the peace question which followed these scenes of violence, Mr. Garrison took a prominent part as a champion of non-resistance ; and, in 1838, led the way in the organization of the "New England Non-resistance Society ; "the " Declaration of Sentiments" issued by them, being also his work. About this time, also, arose the question of the rights of women as members of the anti-slavery societies, and Mr. Garrison earnestly advocated their right, if they so wished, to vote, serve on committees, and take part in discussions, on equal footing with men. The American Anti-Slavery Society split upon this question, in 1840 ; and, in the "World's Anti-Slavery Convention," held during the same year in London, Mr. Garrison, as a delegate from that society, refused to take his seat, because the, female delegates from the United States were excluded. During this visit to England, he was invited to Stafford House, by the beautiful and distinguished Duchess of Sutherland, who treated him with marked attention, and at whose request he sat to one of the most eminent artists of the day for his portrait, which was added to the treasures of that palace.

In 1843, he was chosen president of the society, which office he continued to hold until 1865.

In 1843, a small volume of his "sonnets and other poems" was published; and, in 1846, he made his third visit, on anti-slavery business, to Great Britain. In 1852, appeared a volume of " selections," from his "writings and speeches."

Mr. Garrison has, from the first, kept himself, as an abolitionist, free from all political or religious complications, or affinities. Believing most thoroughly, as expressed in the motto of the Liberator, that the Constitution of the United States, in its relations to slavery, was "a covenant with death and an agreement with hell," he has acted with singular and unwavering consistency. It has been well said, * (*By Mrs. Stowe, in the Watchman and Reflector, May 24th, 1866.)  that "while everybody else in the United States had something else to conserve, some side issues to make, some points to carry, Garrison and his band had but one thing to say—that American slavery is a sin ; but one thing to do—to preach immediate repentance, and forsaking of sin. They withdrew from every organization which could in any way be supposed to tolerate or hold communion with it, and walked alone, a small, but always active and powerful body. They represented the pure abstract form of every principle as near as it is possible for it to be represented by human frailty."

In 1861, when the war of the rebellion broke out, Mr. Garrison did not for a moment hesitate to throw the whole weight of his intellectual and moral support in favor of the Government, contrary to the course of many of his fellow abolitionists, and of many of the so-called peace-men, who thought that because they could not take up arms in defence of any cause, they could neither acknowledge the constitutional right of the North to enforce obedience to the laws, and suppress rebellion, nor rejoice in any of its victories. From the very first, Mr. Garrison rejoiced in every triumph of the Federal arms, as a patriot and a philanthropist; and he foresaw the inevitable disruption of slavery, as he had never expected to see it. In all his criticisms upon the course of the administration, he remembered its grave responsibilities, and placed great faith in the personal integrity of President Lincoln. In April, 1865, at the invitation of Secretary Stanton, he visited Fort Sumter, to attend the celebration of its recapture, and went up also, to Charleston, where he addressed a great gathering of the freedmen, who attended him with flowers on his departure. In May, 1865, at the anniversary meeting, in New York, of the American Anti-Slavery Society, of which he was president.—after vainly trying to persuade his associates to disband, on the ground that, slavery being abolished, the society became a misnomer, and ceased to have a reason for existing, while for any service yet to be performed for the freedmen, it was far better to work in unison with the great body of loyalists all over the North, than to continue in their hitherto enforced isolation,—he resigned his office, and withdrew from the society.

Partly on the same ground, and partly because the paper had never received adequate support, he discontinued the publication of the "Liberator," in December 1865, at the close of its thirty-fifth volume.

He was chosen one of the vice-presidents of the American Freedman's Union Commission; and in May, 1867, his health having been impaired by a serious fall, he made a fourth visit to England, and first visit to the Continent, to join his son and married daughter. In London he was complimented with a banquet by some of the most distinguished men of the kingdom, including John Bright, John Stuart Mill, the Duke of Argyll and Earl Russell, the latter of whom made a handsome apology for his mistaken utterances during our civil war. At various other places in England and Scotland he was publicly entertained in a similar manner for his connection with the anti-slavery cause, and also with the temperance cause, in America; and, at Edinburgh, the freedom of the city was presented to him by the Lord Provost, an honor never before bestowed upon an American, except Mr. Peabody. At Paris he attended and addressed a World's Anti-Slavery Conference, and returned to America in November, 1867, since which he has resided in Boston. During the same year, also, Mr. Garrison's inestimable services to the cause of humanity were gracefully and heartily acknowledged in the form of a testimonial, amounting to about $33,000, raised from the nation at large, by public and private appeals, and presented to him in a strictly private manner.

The letter of the committee who presented this testimonial, contains a grateful tribute to the unflagging zeal of Mr. Garrison in the cause of freedom, and assures him of the truly national character of the testimonial, coming from every quarter of the country, and from all classes of people. Mr. Garrison, in his reply, writes as follows :—"Little, indeed, did I know or anticipate how prolonged, or how virulent would be the struggle when I lifted up the standard of immediate emancipation, and essayed to rouse the nation to a sense of its guilt and danger. But, having put my hand to the plow, how could I look back? For, in a cause so righteous, I could not doubt that, having turned the furrows, if I sowed it in tears, I should one day reap in joy. But, whether permitted to live to witness the abolition of slavery or not, I felt assured that, as I demanded nothing that was not clearly in accordance with justice and humanity, some time or other, if remembered at all, I should stand vindicated in the eyes of my countrymen."

In connection with this, we may quote a few paragraphs from a recent letter of this whole-souled pioneer of emancipation : " I thank you," says he to an old and valued friend, ''for the warm and generous approval of my anti-slavery career, and rejoice with you in the total abolition of slavery, through-out our land. If, as a humble instrumentality, in effecting the overthrow of that nefarious system, I have been prominent, it has not been of my seeking; for, at the outset, I expected to follow others, not to lead; and certainly, I neither sought nor desired conspicuity. Standing for a time alone under the banner of immediate and unconditional emancipation, I naturally excited the special enmity and wrath of the whole country, as the ' head and front' of abolition offending ; and now that the cause, once so odious, is victorious, and four millions of bondmen have had their fetters broken; it is not very surprising that, in this ' era of good feeling,' my labors and merits are immensely overrated. Others have labored more abundantly, encountered more perils, and endured more privations and sufferings; but every one has been indispensable, in his own place, to bring about the good and glorious result ; and it is not a question of comparison as to who was earliest in the field, or who labored the most efficiently, but one of sympathy for the oppressed, and an earnest desire to see their yoke immediately broken. There should be no boasting on the one hand, nor jealousy on the other. Therefore, while disclaiming any peculiar deserts on my part, I think the 'testimonial,' which has been so unexpectedly raised in approval of my anti-slavery career, will not be viewed by any of my co-laborers as invidious, but rather as symbolizing a common triumph, and a common vindication."

Source: Source: Men of Our Day; or Biographical Sketches of Patriots, Orators, Statesmen, Generals, Reformers, Financiers and Merchants, Now on the state of Action: Including Those Who in Military, Political, Business and Social Life, are the Prominent Leaders of the Time in This Country, by L. P. Brockett, M. D., Published by Ziegler and McCurdy, Philadelphia Penna; Springfield, Mass; Cincinnati, Ohio; St. Louis, Mo., 1872   

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