Garrison, William Lloyd

views updated May 17 2018

Garrison, William Lloyd 1805–1879






Born in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on December 12, 1805, William Lloyd Garrison would eventually become the leading white radical abolitionist and critic of racial prejudice of the antebellum era. Garrison was the founder and editor of the Liberator, an abolitionist newspaper that he published weekly, without fail, from 1831 until the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865, which abolished slavery. Garrison also co-founded the American Anti-Slavery Society (AAS) in 1833, which he led for many years. Both the Liberator and the AAS were dedicated to the eradication of racial prejudice and the immediate emancipation of slaves.


Born the third and youngest child of a devout evangelical Baptist mother and mariner father, the young Garrison grew up in a region economically devastated by the 1807 Jeffersonian Embargo against trade with Europe. Unable to find work and ultimately turning to drink, Garrison’s father abandoned his wife and children, and the family struggled to make ends meet. After receiving a common school education, the young Garrison struggled unsuccessfully with a series of apprenticeships and clerkships in both Massachusetts and Maryland when the editor of the Federalist Newburyport Herald, Ephraim Allen, agreed to take him under his wing at the age of thirteen. Garrison discovered that he possessed an insatiable appetite for the books on hand at Allen’s press, from the Bible to the works of William Shakespeare, John Milton, Hannah More, Sir Walter Scott, and Lord Byron. Possessed of his mother’s evangelical piety, his era’s Romantic sensibility, and his newfound skills as a printer, Garrison set out to make his mark.

In 1826 Garrison moved to Boston where he fell in with a group of young evangelical reformers who found meaning above the muck and mire of partisan politics by endeavoring to remake the world through their benevolent and philanthropic enterprises. Steering clear of drink, which had enslaved both his father and elder brother, Garrison began editing the National Philanthropist, a temperance newspaper that he infused with the sort of intemperate language and sense of urgency that raised hackles among an older generation of genteel reformers. It was at this point that Garrison met a tireless and unassuming Quaker saddlemaker by the name of Benjamin Lundy who was in Boston to raise money for his Baltimore-based newspaper, the Genius of Universal Emancipation, a oneman outfit dedicated to the gradual abolition of slavery. In 1829, upon Lundy’s invitation, Garrison left Boston for Baltimore to help edit the Quaker’s antislavery paper.

As the new co-editor of the Genius, Garrison pushed the newspaper in a more radical direction. While Lundy’s editorials continued to endorse the notion of gradual emancipation and financial compensation for slaveholders, Garrison increasingly promoted the “immediatism” most fully articulated by the English Quaker abolitionist Elizabeth Heyrick and shared by many of the young printer’s free African American neighbors in Baltimore. Garrison and other radicals demanded an immediate end to slavery and refused to make any deals with slave-holders, whom they considered both unjust and sinful.

In 1830 Garrison’s uncompromising stance and unrelenting critique both landed him in prison for libel and threatened the financial stability of the Genius, but the month and a half he spent in jail only steeled his resolve and during this time he began to style himself a prophet and martyr for the emerging radical abolitionist cause. While the relationship between Lundy and his younger partner remained cordial, Garrison returned to Boston where he founded his own antislavery newspaper, the Liberator, which was dedicated to attacking slavery and racial prejudice, and whose principal financial backer at the time was James Forten, a successful black sailmaker and civic leader in Philadelphia. In his inaugural issue on January 1, 1831, Garrison audaciously proclaimed: “I am in earnest— I will not equivocate—I will not excuse—I will not retreat a single inch—AND I WILL BE HEARD.” Most of his subscribers were blacks, but copies were passed from hand to hand among both races throughout the East Coast. True to his word, Garrison never ceased issuing the weekly newspaper until he witnessed the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery on December 18, 1865. Eleven days later, Garrison published the final issue of the Liberator, number 1820.


In order to unleash the transforming power of radical abolitionism, Garrison believed that he first needed to debunk the dominant but misguided black “colonization” program that had won the support of many of the nation’s leading politicians, ministers, and philanthropists. Deportation of free blacks was promoted through the American Colonization Society (ACS) with chapters in the North and South. Blacks in Baltimore, the erudite William Watkins among them, convinced Garrison of the impracticality, the immorality, and most significantly, the racial prejudice of colonization. Garrison pointed out that free black emigration would leave the remaining slave population bereft of their closest allies. Most importantly, colonization plans rested upon the premise that America could not absorb free blacks. In short, despite the antislavery motives of some colonizationists, Garrison argued that their program was functionally proslavery. In his lengthy pamphlet, Thoughts on African Colonization (1832), Garrison also reprinted the speeches and resolutions of free blacks who had condemned the racial prejudice implicit in the ACS program, thereby providing blacks with a larger audience for their views.


As a founder of the New England Anti-Slavery Society in 1832, and the larger American Anti-Slavery Society (AAS) the following year, Garrison embraced what might be called a politics of moral suasion. He believed that a radical transformation in public opinion regarding slavery and racial prejudice was necessary before politicians and their parties could be convinced to act justly. Garrison lambasted not only the rabidly anti-black prejudice of most working-class Democrats, but also the racial politics of the members of the Free Soil and Republican Parties, who not only sought to keep the Western territories free of slavery, but of blacks as well.

Garrison advocated not only for equality among the races, but for equality among the sexes as well, a position that ultimately led to a split in the abolitionist movement. Garrison’s support of women’s rights prompted more cautious abolitionists, including the evangelical New York philanthropists Arthur and Lewis Tappan and the antislavery presidential aspirant James G. Birney, to organize a breakaway organization called the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society (AFAS) in 1840.

In the 1840s and 1850s Garrison came to see the U.S. Constitution as profoundly proslavery, going so far as to call it a “covenant with death,” and burning the document before a large crowd. Thinking of government as inherently authoritarian, he publicly advocated a philosophy of “nonresistance,” or non-participation in the institutional aspects of politics, which also meant a rejection of voting. He also preferred disunion to a continued union with slaveholding Southerners. But as the Civil War came, he worked to transform the bloody conflict between the states into a struggle for the liberation of enslaved African Americans.


In 1865 Garrison resigned from the presidency of the AAS, and called for the dissolution of the antislavery organization. He parted company with the organization, but continued to devote himself to the promotion of black civil rights, women’s suffrage, and temperance. Garrison died in 1879, three years after the death of his wife, and was survived by his five children.

SEE ALSO Abolition Movement.



Garrison, William L. 1832. Thoughts on African Colonization. Boston: Garrison and Knapp. Reprint, 1968. New York: Arno Press.


Laurie, Bruce. 2005. Beyond Garrison: Antislavery and Social Reform. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Mayer, Henry. 1998. All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Stauffer, John. 2002. The Black Hearts of Men: Radical Abolitionists and the Transformation of Race. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Anthony A. Iaccarino

William Lloyd Garrison

views updated May 29 2018

William Lloyd Garrison

William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879), American editor, reformer, and antislavery crusader, became the symbol of the age of aggressive abolitionism.

William Lloyd Garrison was born on Dec. 10, 1805, in Newburyport, Mass. His father deserted the family in 1808, and the three children were raised in near poverty by their mother, a hardworking, deeply religious woman. Young Garrison lived for a time in the home of a kindly Baptist deacon, where he received the bare rudiments of an education. He was later apprenticed to a shoemaker, a cabinetmaker, and finally to the printer and editor of the Newburyport Herald.

Editor and Printer

Garrison borrowed money in 1826 to buy part of the Newburyport Free Press; it soon failed. He worked as a printer in Boston and in 1827 helped edit a temperance paper, the National Philanthropist. Seeing life as an uncompromising moral crusade against sin, and believing it possible to perfect a Christian society by reforming men and institutions, Garrison fitted easily into the evangelical currents of his time. In 1828 a meeting with Benjamin Lundy, the Quaker antislavery editor of the Genius of Emancipation,called his attention to that cause. Since 1828 was a presidential election year, Garrison accepted editorship of a pro-Jackson newspaper in Vermont, in which he also supported pacifism, temperance, and the emancipation of slaves. After the election, Garrison accepted a position with Lundy on the Genius in Baltimore.

Garrison's Brand of Abolitionism

The antislavery movement at this time was decentralized and divided. Some people believed slavery should be abolished gradually, some immediately; some believed slaves should be only partly free until educated and capable of being absorbed into society, others that they ought to be freed but settled in colonies outside the United States. There were those who saw slavery as a moral and religious issue; others considered abolition a problem to be decided by legal and political means. Garrison, like Lundy, at first favored gradual emancipation and colonization. But soon Garrison opposed both means as slow and impractical, asking in his first editorial in the Genius for "immediate and complete emancipation" of slaves.

Garrison's militancy got the paper and himself into trouble. Successfully sued for libel, he spent 44 days in jail, emerging in June 1830 with plans for an abolitionist paper of his own. Encouraged by Boston friends, he and a partner published the first number of the Liberator on Jan. 1, 1831, bearing the motto, "Our country is the world—our countrymen are mankind," adapted from Thomas Paine. Attacking the "timidity, injustice, and absurdity" of gradualists and colonizationists, Garrison declared himself for "the immediate enfranchisement of our slave population." Promising to be "as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice," he warned his readers, "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 Liberator, which never had a circulation of over 3,000 and annually lost money, soon gained Garrison a national abolitionist reputation. Southerners assumed a connection between his aggressive journalism and Nat Turner's 1831 slave rebellion in Virginia and tended to see him as a symbol of unbridled Northern antislavery radicalism; Georgia, in fact, offered $5,000 for his arrest and conviction. Garrison, for his part, continued to pour invective not only on slaveholders but on those who failed to attack the system as violently as he; Northerners who equivocated were guilty of "moral lapses," Southerners were "Satanic man stealers." His bitter attacks on the colonizationists, summarized in Thoughts on Colonization (1832), and his running battle with the New England clergy (whose churches he called "cages of unclean birds") for their refusal to condemn slavery unconditionally probably lost more adherents for the antislavery cause than they gained. Garrison introduced discussions into his paper of "other topics … intimately connected with the great doctrine of inalienable human rights," among them women's rights, capital punishment, antisabbatarianism, and temperance (he also opposed theaters and tobacco). Thus by the late 1830s abolition was but one portion (albeit the most important) of Garrison's plan for the "universal emancipation" of all men from all forms of sin and injustice.

Organizing the Movement

Recognizing the need for organization, Garrison was instrumental in forming the New England Antislavery Society (later the Massachusetts Antislavery Society) in 1832 and served as its secretary and salaried agent. He visited England in 1833, returning to help found the national American Antislavery Society. In September 1834 he married Helen Benson of Connecticut, who bore him seven children, five of whom survived. When his friend George Thompson, the British abolitionist, visited Boston in 1835, feeling ran so high that a "respectable broadcloth mob," as Garrison called it, failing to find Thompson, seized and manhandled Garrison. Garrison's refusal to consider political action as a way of abolishing slavery (he felt it would delay it) and his desire to join the antislavery movement to other reforms gradually alienated many supporters. In 1840 his stand seriously divided the American Antislavery Society and led to formation of the rival American and Foreign Antislavery Society.

In 1844 Garrison adopted the slogan "No union with slaveholders," arguing that since the Constitution was a proslavery document, the Union it held together should be dissolved by the separation of free from slave states. Yet, despite his reputation, Garrison was a pacifist and did not believe in violence. He thought Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin important chiefly as a novel of "Christian non-resistance," and though he respected John Brown's aim, he did not approve of his method. He wanted, he wrote, "nothing more than the peaceful abolition of slavery, by an appeal to the reason and conscience of the slaveholder."

Civil War

Garrison supported the Civil War for he believed it an act of providence to destroy slavery, and his son served as an officer in a Massachusetts African American regiment. Critical at first of President Abraham Lincoln for making preservation of the union rather than abolition of slavery his chief aim, Garrison praised the President's Emancipation Proclamation and supported his reelection in 1864—as Wendell Phillips and some other abolitionists did not. Garrison favored dissolution of the American Antislavery Society in 1865, believing its work done, but he lost to Phillips, who wished to continue it. Garrison wrote his last editorial on Dec. 29, 1865, "the object for which the Liberator was commenced—the extermination of chattel slavery—having been gloriously consummated," and retired to Roxbury, Mass., writing occasionally for the press. He died on May 24, 1879.

Despite his reputation, Garrison's influence was restricted to New England (where it was not unchallenged), and his brand of immediatism was never the majority view. When the main thrust of abolition after 1840 turned political, pointing toward the Free Soil and Republican parties, Garrison remained outside, and in terms of practical accomplishment, others did more than he. Yet it was Garrison who became the general symbol of abolitionism. He was influential in relating it to issues of free speech, free press, and the rights of assembly and petition and to the powerful religious evangelism of the times. In his harsh and tactless way, he forced popular awareness of the gap between what the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution said and what the nation did, constantly challenging the country to put its ideals into practice.

Further Reading

The biography written by Garrison's sons, Wendell Phillips Garrison and Francis Jackson Garrison, William Lloyd Garrison (4 vols., 1885-1889), though not wholly trustworthy, is essential. Oliver Johnson, William Lloyd Garrison and His Times, with an introduction by John Greenleaf Whittier (1880), is unduly admiring. Ralph Korngold's study of Wendell Phillips and Garrison, Two Friends of Man (1950), is excellent. Russel B. Nye, William Lloyd Garrison and the Humanitarian Reformers (1955), is a useful short biography. Walter M. Merrill, Against Wind and Tide (1963), and John L. Thomas, The Liberator: William Lloyd Garrison (1963), are good recent studies. George M. Fredrickson, ed., William Lloyd Garrison (1968), is a three-part work comprising a selection of Garrison's writings, articles expressing opinions of him by his contemporaries, and articles by modern writers appraising his work. □

Garrison, William Lloyd

views updated May 14 2018


William Lloyd Garrison, publisher of the anti-slavery newspaper The Liberator and founder of the American Anti-Slavery Society, was one of the most fiery and outspoken abolitionists of the Civil War period.

Garrison was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on December 10, 1805. In 1808, Garrison's father abandoned his family leaving them close to destitute. At age 13, after working at a number of jobs, Garrison became an apprentice to Ephraim Allen, editor of the Newbury-port Herald.

Garrison later moved to Boston where he became editor of the National Philanthropist in 1828. At that time, Garrison became acquainted with the prominent Quaker Benjamin Lundy, editor of the Baltimore-based antislavery newspaper, the Genius of Universal Emancipation. In 1829, Garrison became co-editor of Lundy's publication and began his vigorous advocacy for abolishing slavery. Shortly thereafter, Garrison was sued by a merchant engaged in the slave trade. He was convicted of libel and spent seven weeks in prison, an experience that strengthened his conviction that all slaves should be set free.

After his release from jail in 1830, Garrison returned to Boston where he joined the American Colonization Society, an organization that promoted the idea that free blacks should emigrate to Africa. When it became clear that most members of the group did not support freeing slaves, but just wanted to reduce the number of free blacks in the United States, Garrison withdrew from membership.

In January 1831, Garrison founded The Liberator, which he published for 35 years and which became the most famous antislavery newspaper of its era. Although he was a pacifist, Garrison struck a formidable stance in the very first issue in which he proclaimed, "I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation … I will not retreat a single inch—AND I WILL BE HEARD." The Liberator, which never had a paid circulation greater than three thousand became one of the most widely disseminated, consistent, and dominating voices of the abolition movement.

Antislavery advocates of the day, or abolitionists, were widely divergent in their views of

how and when slavery should be ended and what should happen to freed slaves after emancipation. Garrison was part of a group which believed that abolition of slavery must happen as quickly as possible. Those who sought "immediatism," however were divided on how to achieve this goal. Garrison, though searing in his language and unyielding in his beliefs, believed only in civil disobedience, and opposed any method of active resistance.

In 1832, Garrison founded the country's first immediatist organization, the New England Anti-Slavery Society. The following year, in 1833, he helped organize the American Anti-Slavery Society. He wrote the society's constitution and became its first corresponding secretary. He befriended fellow abolitionist and writer frederick douglass, and made him an agent of the Anti-Slavery Society. Over the next several years Garrison came to reject the teachings of established churches and the government of the United States, which he viewed as supporting slavery. Increasingly hewing to a philosophy of moral absolutism, Garrison embraced not only the cause of nonviolent resistance, but temperance, women's rights, and Christian perfectionism.

In 1840, Garrison's views precipitated a split in the Anti-Slavery Society between the minority who supported his radical beliefs and the majority who disapproved of his views regarding religion, government, and the participation of women in the struggle for emancipation. When Garrison's supporters voted to admit women, a group seceded from the society and formed the rival American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. Another group, interested in continuing to seek reform through political activity, later left to start the Liberty party.

Over the next two decades, Garrison's influence declined as his radicalism became more pronounced. In the 1850s, The Liberator hailed John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry while denouncing the compromise of 1850, the kansas-nebraska act, and the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in dred scott v. sandford. He continued to support secession of the anti-slavery states and publicly burned a copy of the U.S. Constitution at an abolitionist rally in 1854.

"I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation…. I am in earnest—I will not equivocate—I will not excuse—I will not retreat a single inch—and I will be heard."
William Lloyd Garrison

After the Civil War began, Garrison put aside his pacifism to support President abraham lincoln and the Union Army. He welcomed the emancipation proclamation and the passing of the thirteenth amendment,

which outlawed slavery. In 1865, Garrison published the last issue of The Liberator, although he continued to advocate for women's rights, temperance, and pacifism. Garrison died on May 24, 1879, in New York City.

further readings

Cain, William E., ed. 1995. William Lloyd Garrison and the Fight Against Slavery: Selections from the Liberator. Boston: Bedford Books.

Mayer, Henry. 1998. All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery. New York: St. Martin's Press.


Brown, John; Temperance Movement.

Garrison, William Lloyd (1805-1879)

views updated May 11 2018

William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879)


Abolitionist, reformer

Dedication to the Cause. Garrison was born on 10 December 1805 in Newburyport, Massachusetts, to a poor family. When he was thirteen he became a printers apprentice, leading to a career in journalism. At twenty-one he was coeditor of the temperance paper, the National Philanthropist, that brought him into contact with other reform movements. The Quaker abolitionist Benjamin Lundy convinced him to devote his energies to abolitionism in 1828, and Garrison helped Lundy edit the antislavery paper Genius of Universal Emancipation, which promoted the colonization of freed slaves in Africa.

Leader. Soon Garrison came to reject colonization as an effective method of emancipation, and he broke with Lundy to form his own abolitionist paper, The Liberator. In his new paper Garrison called for immediate emancipation of the slaves without compensation for their owners. He also adopted a militant tone that gained him such notoriety that in the South rewards were offered for his capture and delivery to stand trial. On this subject I do not wish to think, speak, or write with moderation, he wrote in the first issue of The Liberator. I am in earnestI will not equivocateI will not excuseI will not retreat a single inchand I WILL BE HEARD. Through his writing and his leadership in the American AntiSlavery Society, Garrison became the most prominent spokesman for the abolitionist cause. When he visited England in 1833 British abolitionists welcomed him as the leader of the movement in America. But back home many other abolitionists disapproved of his extreme rhetoric, which often provoked mob violence. Others within the American Anti-Slavery Society disagreed with his insistence that moral suasion to change the hearts of individuals was the only route to ending slavery and favored direct political action. The society split in 1840, with Garrison and his followers maintaining control of the weakened organization.

Reformer. In addition to his commitment to abolition Garrison supported other reforms such as temperance and womens rights. His advocacy of the latter was so strong that he refused to participate in the World AntiSlavery Convention in London in 1840 when women were barred from participation. Garrison believed that the equal rights of women were necessary in the fight to abolish slavery, a position that lost him many of his followers. Garrisonianism became a general term for radical reform, pressing well beyond the bounds with which most Americans were comfortable. After the passage of the harsh Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, however, Garrisons position suddenly seemed less radical. By 1859, when other prominent abolitionists were lionizing John Brown for his attempt to start a slave uprising, Garrison only reluctantly supported Browns violent action; the radicalism of the movement had gone beyond that of the man who had once burned a copy of the Constitution for its tacit endorsement of slavery.

End of the Fight. When the Thirteenth Amendment, outlawing slavery, was passed in 1865, Garrison ceased publication of The Liberator, feeling that the fight against slavery was over. But he continued to battle for equal rights for African Americans and women until his death in 1879 at the age of seventy-three.


Walter M. Merrill, Against the Wind and Tide: A Biography of William Lloyd Garrison (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1963);

Russel B. Nye, William Lloyd Garrison and the Humanitarian Reformers (Boston: Little, Brown, 1955).

Garrison, William Lloyd

views updated Jun 11 2018

Garrison, William Lloyd (1805–1879), abolitionist, nonresistant, and feminist.With the publication of the first issue of the Liberator on 1 January 1831, William Lloyd Garrison became the undisputed leader of the U.S. abolitionist movement. Garrison called for the “immediate” and “complete” emancipation of slaves. Yet he was also a confirmed advocate of nonviolence. In 1838, he and other abolitionists formed the New England Non‐Resistance Society. In its “Declaration of Sentiments,” Garrison pledged its members to oppose all preparation and exercise of war and all cooperation with institutions of war.

Although nonviolence was his key stance, Garrison and his abolitionist wife, Helen Eliza Benson, openly supported the Civil War once it had begun since it brought about the end of slavery. Their eldest son, George Thompson, fought with the 55th Massachusetts (Colored) Regiment. Their other sons ( William Lloyd Junior, Wendell Phillips, and teenager Francis Jackson) took philosophically conscientious objection stances, as did their daughter, Helen Frances ( Fanny). Garrison's legacy is most visible in the pacifist‐feminist‐antiracist lives of succeeding generations of the family who participated in post–Civil War freedmen's associations, the 1898 anti‐imperialist impetus, the peace and antiwar movements from 1915 to today, the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the antinuclear and environmental movements.
[See also Pacifism; Villard, Oswald and Fanny Garrison.]


Walter M. Merrill , Against Wind and Tide: A Biography of William Lloyd Garrison, 1963.
James Brewer Stewart , William Lloyd Garrison and the Challenge of Emancipation, 1992.
Henry Mayer , All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery, 1998.

Harriet Hyman Alonso

Garrison, William Lloyd

views updated May 18 2018

Garrison, William Lloyd (1805–79) US abolitionist. In 1831, he started the influential, anti-slavery journal Liberator in Boston. After the Civil War, he concentrated on other reforms, including temperance and women's suffrage.

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