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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On this date in 1870, Thomas Pryor Gore was born near Embry, Miss. As a young boy, he permanently lost sight in both eyes in separate accidents. Gore took a great interest in politics as a teenager and developed exceptional public speaking skills. He taught school before attending law school at Cumberland University in Tennessee. After being admitted to the Tennessee bar in 1892, Gore joined the national Populist movement and moved to Texas to practice law. In 1895, he returned to Mississippi and ran unsuccessfully for Congress as a Populist candidate. After the Populist movement began to decline nationwide with the defeat of presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan in 1900, Gore became a Democrat and moved to Oklahoma to continue practicing law. He was elected to the Oklahoma Territorial Council in 1903, and, when Oklahoma became the 46th state in 1907, he was elected one of its first two U.S. senators. A powerful figure in the Democratic party serving on the Democratic National Committee, Gore helped President Woodrow Wilson make sweeping changes to the party and turned down a presidential cabinet position so that he could keep his Oklahoma Senate seat.
Gore advocated for women's suffrage and the interests of farmers, and strongly opposed railroad monopolies. His opposition to American involvement in World War I and later opposition to the formation of the League of Nations cost him his personal friendship with President Wilson and the 1920 election. He successfully ran for the Senate again in 1930, at which time he openly criticized President Hoover's Great Depression recovery policies, and later Roosevelt's New Deal programs. (He was the only senator to vote against the Works Progress Administration.) These positions, once again lost him his Senate seat in the election of 1936. Gore married Nina Belle Kay in 1900, and they had two children, one of whom was Nina S. Gore, the mother of historian and author Gore Vidal. Gore Vidal recalled that his grandfather was talked into being photographed in a Methodist Church on Sunday. Young Gore asked him, “ ‘Grandpa, what are we doing in this thing?’ He said, ‘Well, my boy, you may ask what we’re doing here. I’m getting votes, I don’t know about you.’ ” Vidal said his grandfather, once publicly asked about the religious differences between himself and his wife, replied: “Well, one Sunday we don’t go to her church and the next Sunday we don’t go to mine” (The Humanist, Jan/Feb 2010). The Senator was most remembered for his love of his adopted state of Oklahoma. He once famously noted: "I love Oklahoma. I love every blade of her grass. I love every grain of her sands. I am proud of her past and I am confident of her future" (Oklahoma Historical Society). Gore died at the age of 78, and is buried in Oklahoma. In September 2010, the Freedom From Religion Foundation posted a billboard in Tulsa, Okla., which read: "Atheism is OK in Oklahoma: Saluting Gore — First Atheist Senator." D. 1949.
"[Thomas Gore] was a dedicated atheist. Imagine, he was senator for over thirty years in Oklahoma, a hotbed of the Lord Jesus, and they never found out."
—-Gore Vidal on his grandfather, in an interview by Jennifer Bardi and David Niose in The Humanist, Jan/Feb 2010
Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch
© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.