History & Research

William Lloyd Garrison

By on February 3, 2015

To meet the theme of modern-day abolition with my writing and research, I’m reblogging a post from a few years back. Since my novel centers around two teenage abolitionists in 1860, I wanted to know more about the ideas and practices of some of the major players in the movement, and the popular reception of those ideas.

William Lloyd Garrison has become one of my heroes, and as we fight slavery today, we can learn from and be inspired his passion and conviction, and of others like him.

*Updated: 6/20/14*

Since posting this, the American Experience released a documentary on 19th century abolitionists, and Garrison was one of those featured. I HIGHLY recommend it.

Here’s a clip with Garrison:

You can watch it in its entirety online here.

*original post: March 8, 2012*

It’s been a little while since I’ve posted an update on my writing, and that’s mostly because I’ve gone back to the drawing board and have buried myself in research, which actually is proving to be much more interesting this time around. Thought I’d post some little historical snippets in my next couple of entries.

I just finished reading about William Lloyd Garrison, editor of the abolitionist paper The Liberator which ran from 1831 to 1865. This guy was fascinating, and his passion inspiring. My reading also gave me a good feel for the all-around anti-slavery atmosphere, especially in the North, before the Civil War. I’ve already known just how hostile the South was to the idea of emancipation for the slaves, but I was a bit surprised at the resistance to it in the North, as well. (Thank you, oversimplified history textbooks.)

Here are some interesting facts and quotes I gleaned while reading:

Abolition and anti-slavery, while somewhat interchangeable, were considered two different ideas back then. Anti-slavery activists generally wanted to halt the expansion of slavery into the territories and new states. Abolitionists on the other hand, as the name would suggest, wanted to abolish it completely, across the country. “Immediatists” was a word used often to describe the most “radical” of abolitionists, as they wanted slavery gone at once, rather than have it die off gradually. This was Garrison’s position.

William Lloyd Garrison, 1805-1879

Garrison was also an advocate of rights for women. He sat in protest with abolitionist women in London who were not allowed to take their full part in the anti-slavery convention. Rock on, William.

He was also convinced that the Constitution was largely at fault for protecting slavery, and publicly burned it on more than one occasion in demonstration, calling it a “pro-slavery” document. (Whoa!)

He strongly believed that mixing abolition with politics would corrupt their cause, and declared that their aim should be that of trying to change people’s hearts, that it was a moral issue first. The idea sort of hits close to home today, too…

Change the religious sentiment of the North on the subject of slavery and the political action of the North will instantly co-operate with it.

It has never been a difficult matter to induce men to go to the ballot-box; but the grand difficulty ever has been, and still is, to persuade them to carry a good conscience thither, and act as free moral agents, not as the tools of the party.

As to the cause of the Civil War (I will never accept that it was not about slavery, and neither would Garrison) he had this to say:

What shall be said, then, of those who insist upon ignoring the question of slavery as not involved in this deadly feud, and maintain that the only issue is, the support of the government and the preservation of the Union? Surely, they are ‘fools and blind’; for it is slaveholders alone who have conspired to seize the one, and overturn the other. As long as the enslavement of a single human being is sanctioned in the land, the curse of God will rest upon it. That it may go well with us, let us break every yoke! It alters nothing to say, that the South is guilty of unparalleled perfidy and treason. Granted! By why overlook the cause of all this? That cause is SLAVERY!

While a mob in Boston chased and beat and threatened to tar and feather the then 29-year-old editor, Garrison is recorded as saying, “Oh, if they would only hear me five minutes, I am sure I could bring them to reason!”

And finally, one of my favorite quotes, to show the passion of the man:

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 the truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write with moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose house is on fire, to give 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.

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