William Lloyd Garrison Criticism

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Lewis Tappan (essay date 1833)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Tappan, Lewis. “Lewis Tappan Praises Garrison.” In Great Lives Observed: William Lloyd Garrison, edited by George M. Fredrickson, pp. 74-76. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968.

[In the following excerpt from a speech delivered to the inaugural convention of the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833, Tappan praises Garrison as a pioneer of the abolitionist movement and defends him against his critics.]

Some men, Mr. President, are frightened at a name. There is good evidence to believe that many professed friends of abolition would have been here, had they not been afraid that the name of William Lloyd Garrison would be inserted prominently in our proceedings. Sir, I am ashamed of such friends. We ought to place that honored name in the forefront of our ranks. The cause is under obligations to him, which such an evidence of respect will but poorly repay.

The first time I ever heard of him was when he was in jail in Baltimore, where he was incarcerated like a felon, for pleading the cause of the oppressed, and rebuking iniquity. When I saw him, appearing so mild and meek as he does, shortly after he was liberated by a gentleman in New-York, I was astonished. Is this the renegade Garrison? thought I, as I grasped his open hand. Is this the enemy of our country? I shall never forget the impression which his noble countenance made on me at that time, as long as I live.

An anecedote is related of a gentleman—a Colonizationist—which is worth repeating in this Convention. That gentleman had purchased, without knowing who it represented, a portrait of Mr. Garrison, and after having it encased in a splendid gilt frame, suspended it in his parlor. A friend calling in observed it, and asked the purchaser if he knew who he had honored so much? He was answered “No—but it is one of the most godlike looking countenances I ever beheld.” “That, sir,” resumed the visitor, “is a portrait of the fanatic, the incendiary William Lloyd Garrison!” “Indeed!” concluded the gentleman, evidently much disconcerted. “But, sir, it shall remain in its place. I will never take it down.”

Who that is familiar with the history of Mr. Garrison does not remember the determination expressed in the first number of his paper—the Liberator—to sustain it as long as could live on bread and water? And, sir, I am informed that he has really practised what he so nobly resolved on the beginning.

Look at his course during his recent mission to England. He has been accused of slandering his country. Sir, he has vindicated the American name. He has not slandered it. He has told the whole truth, and put hypocrites and dough faces to open shame. He has won the confidence of the people of England. They saw him attached to his country by the dearest ties; but loathing her follies and abhorring her crimes. He has put the Anti-Slavery movement forward a quarter of a century.

A fellow passenger with Mr. Garrison from Europe—a clergyman of much intelligence—on arriving in this country heard that he was called a fanatic and a madman. “What,” said he, “do you call such a man a fanatic? Do you deem such a man insane? For six weeks have I been with him, and a more discreet, humble and faithful christian I never saw.”

Sir, we should throw the shield of our protection and esteem around Mr. Garrison. His life is exposed at this moment. At the door of this saloon, a young man from the South said to-day that if he had opportunity, he would dip his hands in his heart's blood. And, sir, there must be martyrs in this cause. We ought to feel this moment that we are liable to be sacrificed. But when I say this, I know that we are not belligerants. We would die in such a cause, only as martyrs to the truth. In this, our blessed Saviour has set the example.

I did not contemplate delivering a eulogy on Mr. Garrison, when I rose to speak to this resolution. I wish simply to express my heart-felt sympathy with an injured and persecuted man. Be it the honorable...

(The entire section is 75,928 words.)