William Lloyd Garrison Summary and Analysis
American abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison arrived in Boston in 1826 and in 1829 was asked by the American Colonization Society to give its Independence Day address. He had grown up poor and pious, had educated himself, and had learned the printing trade. In 1828, he met Benjamin Lundy, whose speeches for emancipation inflamed Garrison in favor of the anti-slavery cause. Garrison’s ACS speech demanded a “gradual abolition of slavery” rather than colonization. Shortly afterwards, his interactions with Black Baptists convinced him that there was no reason not to push for immediate emancipation.
Garrison’s calls for swift emancipation in his anti-slavery newspaper were echoed by the writings of Black activist David Walker. Walker appealed to Black people to prepare for another revolution, although he had imbibed ideas about Black inferiority caused by slavery. Garrison decried the violent undertones of Walker’s piece but largely agreed with it. Although Walker died weeks after publishing his pamphlet, his demands lived on, especially in the works and lectures of abolitionist and feminist Maria Stewart. Meanwhile, Garrison embarked on a lecture tour, where he was largely mocked.
In 1831, Garrison founded the newspaper The Liberator and published a recant of his previous suggestion that abolition should be gradual. He felt that although equality should be gradual, emancipation must be immediate. Many Blacks subscribed to the newspaper, and Garrison urged them to acquire money and respect—but largely by acquiring white habits. Black activists also tended to push for “improvement,” with a focus on education and knowledge.
By the 1830s, racist ideas about Blacks living in poverty and committing crime were already common, and as a result, many whites did not want to live next to Black people. The vast number of European immigrants entering around this time also made it difficult for Black Americans to acquire good housing. In addition, criticism of Irish people by Americans led the Irish to become stringently racist against Blacks. Minstrel shows were also on the rise, as were “Sambo” and “Mammy” caricatures in literature.
In Southampton County, Virginia, in 1831, enslaved preacher Nat Turner and a group of followers killed their master’s family and began a crusade across a twenty-mile area, picking up support and killing at least fifty-seven enslavers. Turner claimed he had been called by God. Garrison was “horror-struck” by this violence, but he did not realize that many Black Americans felt genuinely compelled to violence, given the intractability of the institution of slavery. Moreover, many Blacks felt their actions would always be misjudged: if they resisted, they were considered “barbaric” and if they did not, they were considered “naturally servile.”
This rebellion prompted anxiety in Virginia, but pro-slavery legislators dismissed all moves towards freedom, further restricting Black Americans’ rights to education and freedom. In 1832, Garrison published a book of anticolonial proclamations which was used to declare war on the ACS. Pro-slavery groups also engaged in this war, because colonization would take away their cheap workforce.
In 1833, the American Anti-Slavery Society was formed with the goal of “immediate emancipation, without expatriation.” The AASS was also geared towards “uplift suasion,” an appeal for Black improvement. Lewis and Benjamin Tappan used their platform to encourage Blacks towards “domestic order” and “correct habits.” The AASS resolved to use the new railroads and efficient postal service to promulgate their ideas and convey widely the evils of slavery.
This postal campaign was viewed by enslavers as an act of war. Black neighborhoods were looted by white thugs proclaiming an intention to protect white women from hypersexual Black men. Senator John Calhoun, twice a vice president, insisted that slavery was a positive good for...
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