"I speak the truth, painful, humiliating, and terrible as it is; and because I am bold and faithful to do so, am I to be branded as the calumniator and enemy of my country? Sir, it is because my affection for her is intense and paramount to all selfish considerations that I do not parley with her crimes."
An inconvenient truth, which defies the modern race narrative, is that white, Christian men and women of strong faith planted the seeds of black emancipation finally harvested after the American Civil War, where 642,427 Union soldiers, sailors and marines became casualties to preserve the Union and end slavery. What started as a trickle ended as a torrent as the demand from white citizens for black emancipation grew strong enough to carry the Union though the bleakest days of the struggle. William Garrison was ahead of the country on the matter of slavery, but through his work, and that of others who braved censure, beatings and worse, the nation caught up.
Taken from: Mabie, Hamilton, et. al. "The Great Book of American Biography" (Philadelphia: International Publishing Company, 1896). Edited by Gary M. Bohannon.
The long struggle over slavery in the United States developed two characters which were a curious contrast to each other: Calhoun, the man who believed that slavery was divinely right, and who would sacrifice the Union to establish it, and Garrison, the man who believed slavery eternally wrong, and who would sacrifice the Union to destroy it. Calhoun died ten years before the great war by which the long debate was at last ended; but to Garrison it was given to see the final triumph of freedom. History records no more impressive scene than that which took place after the fall of Charleston, when Garrison stood beside the grave of the great advocate of slavery. There were the victor and the vanquished. In these two men were embodied the opposing moral forces whose conflict had brought about the great struggle.
William Lloyd Garrison was born in 1805, in Newburyport, Massachusetts. When he was only three years old, his father, who was a sailor, deserted his family, leaving his wife and two boys in great poverty. Lloyd learned the trade of printing, and when only twenty-one became editor of the Newburyport Free Press. He afterward edited the National Philanthropist, of Boston, devoted to temperance and other reforms, and a paper at Bennington, Vermont. The real work of his life, however, began in 1829, when he joined Benjamin Lundy in publishing the "Genius of Universal Emancipation," in Baltimore.
The theory of gradual emancipation was contemptuously tolerated by the pro-slavery party, as it furnished a sort of safety-valve which kept agitation from reaching too high a pressure. In his salutatory, Garrison declared for immediate and unconditional emancipation. This declaration could not fail to arrest attention in a city like Baltimore, which was the center of slave-traffic, and where slave auctions and the shipment of cargoes of slaves were constantly going on. Every week the Genius had a column of slavery horrors, a large share of which occurred in Baltimore. One Sunday the two reformers were visited by a slave, who had just been flogged with a cowhide; his fault being that he had not loaded a wagon to suit the overseer. On his bleeding back they counted twenty-seven terrible gashes. Garrison noted that he frequently heard in passing houses the sound of the whip, and cries of anguish.
Garrison's engagement on the "Genius" was still recent when he got into trouble with a Mr. Todd, a merchant of his own town of Newburyport, who had allowed one of his ships to be freighted with slaves from Baltimore. Todd was denounced in a flaming editorial, for which Garrison was promptly sued. He was adjudged guilty of libel, and condemned to pay a fine of fifty dollars and costs, amounting in all to about one hundred dollars. Not being able to pay the fine, he was sent to jail. His imprisonment, however, did not depress or discourage him. He was allowed to receive visitors, and had the free range of the prison. His friends outside, among them John G. Whittier, were more troubled than he himself. To their sympathetic letters he responded by contrasting his brief and mild captivity with the cruel and life-long captivity of the slaves; and he asked, if the oppression of one man excited so much sympathy, how much greater ought to be the sympathy excited by the far worse oppression of millions.
Garrison soon resolved to publish a paper of his own in support of immediate abolition—a paper which should have but one voice, and that clear and unmistakable. His partnership with Lundy had convinced him that no gentle and gradual measures would accomplish anything. Slavery was at the height of its power. Instead of gradual decay and extinction, which the framers of the constitution had anticipated, it had begun to dream of endless life and unlimited extension. The people idolized the Union, which they believed to be the source of security, wealth, and power, and any threat of secession by the slave holders was enough to bring to their knees those who regarded the Union as essential.
On Saturday, January first, 1831, appeared in Boston the first number of the "Liberator." It was a small four-page paper, with four columns to the page, and was to be issued weekly Garrison had not a dollar of capital. The paper was printed at first with borrowed type. His only helper was his old friend, Isaac Knapp, who had become his partner in the enterprise. The two did all the work of every kind. In the first issue they declared their determination to continue the paper as long as they had bread and water to live on. They did in fact live on bread and milk, with a little fruit and cakes bought in small shops near by.
Emancipation, immediate, unconditional, and without compensation, was the doctrine which the Liberator. The utter wrongfulness and sinfulness of slavery was the basis of the movement, and in adopting it Garrison had grasped the certain assurance of ultimate victory. The salutatory of the Liberator showed that its editor meant to speak out without restraint. The Liberator, in spite of the smallness of its circulation, soon told. The South was profoundly moved. The slaves, indeed, could not read; but the pictorial heading, which represented an auction at which "slaves, horses, and other cattle" were being offered for sale, and a whipping-post, at which a slave was being flogged, spoke only too plainly. In the background was the Capitol at Washington, with a flag inscribed "Liberty" floating over the dome.
Vigilance associations took Garrison in hand. First came bloodthirsty editorials; then threats of lynching; then attempts to prevent by law the circulation of the Liberator at the South. The grand jury of North Carolina indicted Garrison for the circulation of "a paper of seditious tendency," the penalty for which was whipping and imprisonment for the first offense, and death for the second. The Assembly of Georgia offered a reward of five thousand dollars to any one who, under the laws of that State, should arrest the editor, bring him to trial, and prosecute him to conviction.
In 1833 Garrison was sent to England by the Anti-Slavery Society. The act abolishing slavery in the West Indies was then before Parliament, and there was great public interest in the subject. Garrison was heartily received, and among other attentions paid him, was invited to breakfast by Sir Fowell Buxton, M.P. When he entered, his host, instead of taking his hand at once, scanned him with a look of surprise, and inquired with an accent of doubt whether he had the pleasure of addressing Mr. Garrison, of Boston. Being told that he had, he lifted up his hands and exclaimed, "Why, my dear sir, I thought you were a black man! I have consequently invited this company of ladies and gentlemen to be present to welcome Mr. Garrison, the black advocate of emancipation from the United States of America." Garrison took this as a high compliment, since it implied a belief that no white American would plead as he had done for the slave.
On Garrison's return he was received as a traducer of his country, because of his utterances in England. A meeting to organize an Anti-Slavery Society in New York, for which he chanced to come in, was mobbed, and the Abolitionists driven from the hall. A threatening mob beset the Liberator office at Boston. But Garrison, in face of the storm, nailed his colors to the mast. "I speak the truth, painful, humiliating, and terrible as it is; and because I am bold and faithful to do so, am I to be branded as the calumniator and enemy of my country? Sir, it is because my affection for her is intense and paramount to all selfish considerations that I do not parley with her crimes."
In 1854 the slavery question became the foremost political issue. From thenceforth no agitation was needed to keep it before the country; and as Garrison no longer stood alone in denouncing slavery, his position became more tolerable. When Lincoln was elected, and the secession movement began, Garrison welcomed the dissolution of the Union, which he had called "a covenant with death and an agreement with Hell," in the language of Scripture, because the Constitution recognized and protected slavery. "Now, then," said Garrison,"let there be a convention of the Free States called to organize an independent government on free and just principles; let the South take the public property on which it has laid piratical hands, let it take even the capital if it will, and depart in peace to organize its own confederation of violence and tyranny."
But he had scarcely penned the words when all thought of peaceful separation was swept away by the torrent of public wrath evoked by the firing on Fort Sumter. Whatever the professions of the Government might be, the war was practically a war against slavery. While it was a war for the Union only, Garrison stood aloof; nor till it manifestly became a war against slavery was his sympathy declared. Even then he seemed to feel that his position needed explanation; and he humorously said that when he called the Union "a covenant with death and an agreement with Hell," he had not foreseen that death and hell would secede.
After emancipation he heartily supported President Lincoln. He was a conspicuous figure on that memorable occasion in Boston when Andrew, the great "war governor" of Massachusetts, put the colors into the hands of Colonel Shaw, the devoted young commander of the first black regiment, who fell while leading his regiment in the assault on Fort Wagner. After the close of the war, when the thirteenth amendment, abolishing slavery, was passed, he felt that the long contest was at an end. He resolved to cease the publication of the Liberator, and retire to private life. "Most happy am I," he said, "to be no longer in conflict with the mass of my fellow-countrymen on the subject of slavery. For no man of any refinement or sensibility can be indifferent to the approbation of his fellow-men, if it be rightly earned."
Most touching and inspiring was the strain of praise and thanksgiving with which he concluded the Liberator: "Rejoice, and give praise and glory to God, ye who have so long and untiringly participated in all the trials and vicissitudes of that mighty conflict! Having sown in tears, now reap in joy. Hail, redeemed, regenerated America! Hail, North and South, East and West! Hail, the cause of peace, of liberty, of righteousness, thus mightily strengthened and signally glorified! . . . Hail, ye ransomed millions, no more to be chained, scourged, mutilated, bought and sold in the market, robbed of all rights, hunted as partridges upon the mountains, in your flight to obtain deliverance from the house of bondage, branded and scorned as a connecting link between the human race and the brute creation! Hail, all nations, tribes, kindreds, and peoples, 'made of one blood,' interested in a common redemption, heirs of the same immortal destiny! Hail, angels in glory and spirits of the just made perfect, and tune your harps anew, singing, 'Great and marvelous are thy works, Lord God Almighty!' just and true are thy ways, thou King of Saints!" The evening of Garrison's life was as peaceful as its prime had been stormy. He died in New York on May 24, 1879, and was buried in Boston.