William Lloyd Garrison

On this date in 1805, anti-cleric and early abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison was born in Newburyport, Mass. 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 six months in prison, serving seven weeks. On the nation’s 50th anniversary, he 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 in 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. He 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. The South Carolina city of Columbia offered a $1,500 reward for apprehension of anyone distributing The Liberator. The Georgia House of Representatives offered $5,000 for Garrison’s capture and trial. He 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. He and other abolitionists and freethinkers attended a four-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 in Melodeon Hall in Hartford, Connecticut, a majority of them hostile, including 700 divinity students.

He was not a churchgoer or believer in orthodoxy, although he was deistic. The last issue of The Liberator was published in 1865. He remained active in progressive causes, especially suffrage. D. 1879.

Freedom From Religion Foundation