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The New International Encyclopædia/Garrison, William Lloyd

GAR'RISON, William Lloyd (1805-79). The leader of the radical Abolitionists in the anti-slavery struggle in the United States. He was born at Newburyport, Mass., December 10, 1805. As an apprentice in the Newburyport Herald office (1818-25) he became an expert printer, and, while yet a boy, foreman, and contributor to that and other newspapers; and in 1826 was editor of the Newburyport Free Press. Soon afterwards, as a journeyman in Boston, he met and was deeply influenced by Benjamin Lundy (q.v.), a pioneer Abolitionist. After a year spent in editing the National Philanthropist, a Boston temperance paper, and the Journal of the Times, at Bennington, Vt., he joined Lundy at Baltimore, in September, 1829, in conducting the Genius of Universal Emancipation. The views of the two associates differed widely, for Lundy favored gradual abolition and colonization, which Garrison opposed. This phase of activity was short-lived, for editorials urging immediate emancipation presently repelled subscribers. The public mind, however, long indifferent to the evils of slavery, began to be aroused, though the agitation found foes more readily than friends. In April, 1830, Garrison was convicted of libel. After seven weeks in jail his fine was paid by Arthur Tappan, of New York, and the reformer turned to lecturing in Northern cities with a vehemence and fire not previously brought to this task. From this time dates the birth of a public sentiment which was to make slow headway against difficulties and opposition, and finally to triumph through a civil war.

In January, 1831, appeared in Boston the Liberator, a small sheet, soon to be enlarged and conducted weekly by Garrison till the end of 1865. The first number gave its keynote: “I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject I do not wish to think, or speak, or write with moderation.” Such a tone compelled attention, and the editor was widely denounced as a ‘wild enthusiast,’ as a ‘fanatic,’ and as a ‘public enemy.’ Apathy gave place to excitement, in the North as well as in the South. Hundreds of letters threatened Garrison's life; in December, 1831, Georgia offered $5000 for his arrest and prosecution, and on October 21, 1835, a mob, led or incited by reputable Bostonians, broke up one of his meetings, and dragged him through the streets until he was rescued with difficulty by the police, who placed him in jail to insure his safety. In January, 1832, Garrison, with eleven associates, founded the New England Anti-Slavery Society, the parent of similar organizations. In this year he published Thoughts on African Colonization, denouncing that futile scheme of the moderate opponents of slavery. In 1833 he went to England to confer with the British emancipators, and on his return supplied a platform for the American Anti-Slavery Society, founded in December of that year in Philadelphia. Of this he was president from 1843 to 1865. He was again in England in 1840 and 1846. Meanwhile the American Abolitionists divided. The moderate wing, which favored political action and objected to participation of women in their meetings, parted from their former comrades in 1840, and contributed to form the Liberty and Free-Soil parties. The extremists, who obtained or soon gained control of the societies, were more logical in disregarding the distinction of sex no less than that of color, and more ‘thorough’ in disowning a Government which acknowledged and protected ‘the sin’ of human bondage. In 1840 Garrison denounced the United States Constitution, to the horror of most, as “a covenant with death and an agreement with hell.” He hailed the secession of South Carolina and the guns fired on Fort Sumter as the end of ‘the pro-slavery Union.’ Many wrought with him in urging the President to recognize the situation as it was. With the Proclamation of Emancipation their triumph came, and with the end of the war their leader's occupation was gone. With other eminent guests of the Government he saw the flag replaced over Sumter. No longer a lonely protagonist, his age was provided for in 1868 by a ‘national testimonial,’ through admirers of his altruistic labors, and his last years were spent in less arduous journalistic and reforming services, with honor at home and abroad. He died in New York, May 24, 1879. Of his Sonnets and Other Poems (1843), some had been penciled on the walls of his Baltimore cell in 1830. Selections from his writings and speeches appeared in 1852. Consult: The exhaustive biography by his sons, W. P. and F. J. Garrison, William Lloyd Garrison, 1805-79: the Story of His Life Told by His Children (4 vols., New York, 1885-89), and an essay by Goldwin Smith, The Moral Crusader, William Lloyd Garrison (New York, 1892).