William L. Garrison

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William Lloyd Garrison, 1805-1879

William Lloyd Garrison was a prominent American advocate of the abolition of the institution of slavery.

Garrison was born in 1805 in Newburyport, Massachusetts. He received a limited education as a child, but he supplemented his schooling by working for various newspapers. He had several articles published in the Salem Gazette, before opening his own newspaper, the Newburyport Free Press, in 1826. That paper failed, and Garrison took a position as assistant editor of the Genius of Universal Emancipation. That newspaper was published in Baltimore, Maryland, by abolitionist Benjamin Lundy.

In 1831, Garrison started his own newspaper and called it the Liberator. This paper's purpose was to educate people, many of whom had never seen a slave, about the cruelty of slavery. He hoped to recruit new members to the abolition movement. Garrison continued to publish this newspaper for the next thirty-five years. He only ceased publication in 1865 after the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The amendment ended slavery in America.

In 1833, Garrison helped establish the American Anti-Slavery Society with fellow abolitionists Arthur Tappan, Lewis Tappan, and Theodore Dwight Weld. Garrison served as president of the American Anti-Slavery Society from 1843 to 1865. This organization sent lecturers across the North, including to Ohio, to convince people of slavery's brutality. Garrison, himself, gave several lectures in Ohio and also was instrumental in the establishment of the Western Anti-Slavery Society.

In 1840, the American Anti-Slavery Society split. Garrison and his supporters called for the creation of a new government that disallowed slavery from the very beginning. He said that the current United States Constitution was an illegal document because it denied African Americans their freedom. If the South would not agree to a new nation that outlawed slavery, Garrison argued that the North should secede from the United States and form its own country.

Other members of the American Anti-Slavery Society contended that Garrison's views were too radical. They agreed that slavery was wrong but they also thought that the United States Constitution had created a legitimate government under which the people had the right to end oppression. Rather than threatening to break apart the United States, these abolitionists hoped to elect people of their beliefs to political offices so that they could make laws outlawing slavery. To achieve this end, these abolitionists formed a political party, the Liberty Party. Over time, the Liberty Party was replaced by the Free-Soil Party and then the Republican Party. This division between abolitionists remained until the end of the American Civil War in 1865

In the decades leading up to the American Civil War, Garrison was the most well-known abolitionist in the United States. Many Southern slave owners despised him. The Georgia legislature placed a five thousand dollar bounty on his head, payable to anyone who brought the abolitionist to the state for prosecution. He received numerous death threats from white Southerners. Many Northerners also disagreed with his message. Mobs often attacked Garrison when he gave speeches. Despite the opposition that he faced, Garrison remained committed to fighting for an end to slavery. He urged President Abraham Lincoln to make the Civil War a war to end slavery and applauded the president for issuing the Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862. . He also argued for equal rights for African Americans with white people. Garrison became less vocal as a supporter of the rights of African Americans following the adoption of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

Garrison also participated in the women's rights movement and other efforts to reform American institutions. During the 1830s, he argued that women deserved leadership positions in the abolitionist movement due to the many contributions that they had already made to securing freedom for African Americans.

William Lloyd Garrison died on May 24, 1879, in New York.

See Also


  1. Mayer, Henry. All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Challenge of Emancipation. New York, NY: St. Martin's Press, 1998.  
  2. Merrill, Walter. Against Wind and Tide: A Biography of William Lloyd Garrison. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1965.  
  3. Ruchames, Louis, and Merrill, Walter, eds. The Letters of William Lloyd Garrison, 1805-1879. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970-1979.  
  4. Stewart, James Brewer. William Lloyd Garrison and the Challenge of Emancipation. Arlington Heights, IL: Harlan Davidson, Inc., 1992.  
  5. Thomas, John L. The Liberator, William Lloyd Garrison: A Biography. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, and Company, 1963.