Abolitionist Sentiment Grows

28a. William Lloyd Garrison and The Liberator

Anti-Abolitionist Handbill
Library of Congress
Anti-abolitionist handbills sometimes led to violent clashes between pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions.

Every movement needs a voice.

For the entire generation of people that grew up in the years that led to the Civil War, William Lloyd Garrison was the voice of Abolitionism. Originally a supporter of colonization, Garrison changed his position and became the leader of the emerging anti-slavery movement. His publication, The Liberator, reached thousands of individuals worldwide. His ceaseless, uncompromising position on the moral outrage that was slavery made him loved and hated by many Americans.

William Lloyd Garrison
Although The Liberator was Garrison's most prominent abolitionist activity, he had been involved in the fight to end slavery for years prior to its publication.

In 1831, Garrison published the first edition of The Liberator. His words, "I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — AND I WILL BE HEARD," clarified the position of the new Abolitionists. Garrison was not interested in compromise. He founded the New England Anti-Slavery Society the following year. In 1833, he met with delegates from around the nation to form the American Anti-Slavery Society. Garrison saw his cause as worldwide. With the aid of his supporters, he traveled overseas to garner support from Europeans. He was, indeed, a global crusader. But Garrison needed a lot of help. The Liberator would not have been successful had it not been for the free blacks who subscribed. Approximately seventy-five percent of the readers were free African-Americans.

Abolitionist pamphlet
The Liberator wasn't the only abolitionist manifesto during the 1800s. Pamphlets like this one were disseminated widely throughout the North, although many were banned in the South.

Garrison saw moral persuasion as the only means to end slavery. To him the task was simple: show people how immoral slavery was and they would join in the campaign to end it. He disdained politics, for he saw the political world as an arena of compromise. A group split from Garrison in the 1840s to run candidates for president on the Liberty Party ticket. Garrison was not dismayed. Once in Boston, he was dragged through the streets and nearly killed. A bounty of $4000 was placed on his head. In 1854, he publicly burned a copy of the Constitution because it permitted slavery. He called for the north to secede from the Union to sever the ties with the slaveholding south.

William Lloyd Garrison lived long enough to see the Union come apart under the weight of slavery. He survived to see Abraham Lincoln issue the Emancipation Proclamation during the Civil War. Thirty-four years after first publishing The Liberator, Garrison saw the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution go into effect, banning slavery forever. It took a lifetime of work. But in the end, the morality of his position held sway.

On the Web
From the African-American Mosaic Exhibition at the Library of Congress, this webpage offers a brief overview of the abolitionist movement and images and links to documents from the period. The documents, which are a sampling of those held by the Library of Congress, are described and their relevance to the anti-slavery movement is noted.
Ann Randolph Page's Struggle to Free Her Slaves
Manumission was not always easy to effect, even for the slave owner. This webpage recounts the numerous difficulties encountered to free slaves.
Rochester Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society
The University of Michigan's William L. Clements Library is the repository of the correspondence and other records of the Rochester (New York) Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society formed in 1851 to promote the anti-slavery cause. The records are not online, but the Library has prepared a very interesting and informative overview of the organization and its activities and influence.
Weld-Grimké Papers
The personal papers, including diaries and letters as well as manuscripts, of Sarah and Angelina Grimke and Angelina's husband Theodore Dwight Weld were donated to the University of Michigan by a descendant. This webpage describing the collection provides an overview of their involvement in the anti-slavery movement. This is more detailed than most overviews and contains many interesting facts about various methods used by anti-slavery advocates.
For all the abolitionists that wanted African Americans to be free American citizens, there were also a large number that felt freed slaves would be better off in Africa. The Library of Congress explains the many reasons behind this opinion in this website, illustrated by primary documents accompanied by summaries of their contents. Trace the struggles of the colonization movement, especially those of the American Colonization Society.
African Colonization
Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Harriet Beecher Stowe — all of these figures supported the colonization movement. A brief description of the colonization movement is at this University of Virginia website, but the most valuable information is in the links. Check out first-hand documents regarding the colonization movement, including excerpts from Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison, both against the movement.
Liberian Letters Resources
What if gaining your freedom lost you your country? It was a difficult decision, but a number of freed slaves went to Africa to begin a new life. See the story of their struggle in their own words from this UVA website that contains letters from the first Liberian colonists.
Wendell Phillips, one of the finest speakers in the abolitionist movement, was almost confined to an asylum for his views.
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The nation of Liberia was founded by the American Colonization Society and freed American slaves.
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