William Lloyd Garrison

On this date in 1805, anticleric and early abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts. Apprenticed to a newspaper at age 13, Garrison took up the abolition cudgels early. Sued for libel by the owner of a slave ship, he was convicted and sentenced to 6 months in prison, serving 7 weeks. Garrison, on the 50th anniversary of the country, wrote, "There is one theme which should be dwelt upon, till our whole country is free from the curse--SLAVERY." He founded The Liberator in Boston on January 1, 1831. In its pages Garrison vowed: "I am in earnest--I will not equivocate--I will not excuse--I will not retreat a single inch--and I will be heard." He started the New England Anti-Slavery Society in 1832, then the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833. Garrison was an uncompromising and outspoken critic of slavery and hypocrisy, who was especially critical of church complicity with slavery, not only in the South but in the North. Northern denominations refused to condemn slavery or sever ties with Southern slave-holding congregations. Columbia, South Carolina offered a $1500 reward for anyone distributing The Liberator. The Georgia House of Representatives offered $5,000 for Garrison's capture and trial. Garrison narrowly evaded arrest there by fleeing to England. In 1835, he was dragged through the streets of Boston by a mob. The mayor rescued him by arresting him.

Garrison was an ardent "woman's rights man," and early suffragist. Garrison and other abolitionists, freethinkers and women's rights advocates called a 4-day bible convention "for the purpose of freely and fully canvassing the authority and influence of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures" in June 1853. More than 2,000 attended the event at Melodeon Hall, in Hartford, Connecticut, a majority of them hostile--including 700 divinity students. Garrison described the rabble as "like a troop of demons let loose from the pit," according to the History of Woman Suffrage. Garrison presented a resolution before the 5th national woman's suffrage convention in Philadelphia on Oct. 18, 1854, pointing out "the most determined opposition it encounters is from the clergy generally, whose teachings of the Bible are intensely inimical to the equality of woman with man." The resolution was inspired by an attempt to bar atheist and friend Ernestine L. Rose from presiding over the convention, a maneuver squelched by Susan B. Anthony. Garrison was not a church-goer or believer in orthodoxy, although he was deistic. The last issue of The Liberator was published in 1865. Garrison remained active in progressive causes, especially suffrage. D. 1879.

“Why go to the Bible [about woman suffrage]? What question was ever settled by the Bible? What question of theology or any other department?

The human mind is greater than any book. The mind sits in judgment on every book. If there be truth in the book, we take it; if error, we discard it. Why refer this to the Bible? In this country, the Bible has been used to support slavery and capital punishment; while in the old countries, it has been quoted to sustain all manner of tyranny and persecution. All reforms are anti-Bible.”

—William Lloyd Garrison, remarks at the 5th national woman's rights conference in Philadelphia on Oct. 18, 1854. History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 1, pp. 382-383)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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