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The Liberator Newspaper and William Lloyd Garrison

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  • 0:02 Early Life of William…
  • 0:44 Garrison's Work in…
  • 1:54 ''The Liberator'' Newspaper
  • 5:14 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ashley Kannan

Ashley has taught history, literature, and political science and has a Master's Degree in Education

William Lloyd Garrison was a passionate voice in the abolitionist movement. Find out how a kid from a financially challenged family and without much education became an influential part of America's dialogue on slavery.

Early Life of William Lloyd Garrison

William Lloyd Garrison was a well-known figure in the abolitionist movement of the United States in the 19th century. He was a product of a deeply religious mother and an absent father. He was devoted to the welfare of others from his earliest days. In order to alleviate his family's financial difficulties, he sold homemade candy and lemonade while delivering wood. Garrison had a limited education as a child, but he was attracted to newspapers. Starting at the lowest apprentice levels and moving up, Garrison was able to secure the editorship at his hometown paper, The Newburyport Herald, in Massachusetts. This position enabled him to develop the voice of social justice that would define his later publishing.

Garrison's Work in Abolitionism

As he continued his work in journalism, Garrison became deeply involved with abolitionism, the movement dedicated to the removal of slavery in America. Channeling the spirituality of his mother, Garrison embraced an intensity that would define his work as a newspaper editor. At the time, slavery was the defining issue in America. Almost an equal number of people were for it and against it.

Garrison began working with the American Colonization Society, a group that existed to help African Americans emigrate to Africa. He eventually found his way to Baltimore, where he worked with Benjamin Lundy on a newspaper devoted to the abolitionist cause, The Genius of Universal Emancipation. However, Garrison split with the American Colonization Society due to the stance of the majority of its members who believed not in freeing slaves but in sending away free blacks in order to preserve the institution of slavery.

Over time, he and Lundy differed on their beliefs regarding abolitionism. Garrison embraced an immediate end and complete dismantling of slavery, which was a contrast to Lundy's more gradual approach. The difference between them helped propel Garrison to establish his own newspaper.

The Liberator Newspaper

Armed with his passionate beliefs, Garrison started his abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator, in 1831. In its first issue, Garrison made it clear that his newspaper was designed to move people towards a strong abolitionist stance: 'I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation… I am in earnest - I will not equivocate - I will not excuse - I will not retreat a single inch - and I will be heard.' Garrison's newspaper captured the passion within the abolitionist movement, and he used the paper as a platform for establishing organizations committed to his cause. In 1832, Garrison helped to organize the New England Anti-Slavery Society, and, the following year, the American Anti-Slavery Society. These were the first organizations dedicated to promoting immediate emancipation for those who were enslaved.

The Liberator took an uncompromising approach against slavery. Garrison referred to American slavery as 'the debt of ages' and those who participated in it as tyrants. He aimed his message at the group of people who held the conviction that slavery was immoral and must be eradicated from American society. Those in favor of slavery found Garrison's words abhorrent. A North Carolina grand jury deemed Garrison's newspaper incendiary, while the legislature of Georgia offered a reward for capturing Garrison. However, Garrison was not deterred.

The Liberator also addressed other perceived injustices in America. Garrison spoke out against the death penalty, suggesting that it 'perverts both the letter and spirit of the Scriptures.' He also used the newspaper to critique the dangers of the wealthy aristocracy he saw emerging in America. Many others also found voice in The Liberator, including Frederick Douglass, a self-educated runaway slave who became one of the most insightful abolitionist voices. Garrison published an anti-slavery poem by a teenaged Anna Dickinson. A major force in both the abolitionist and suffragist movements, she would become the first woman to give a political address to the United States Congress.

The Liberator was one of the few publications during the time period that advocated women's rights on the same level as it advocated the abolition of slavery. At the time, women were denied the right to vote, and many sought to change this condition. Garrison published work from the Grimke Sisters, activists for women's rights. Angelina Grimke's Letters to Catherine E. Beecher and Sarah Grimke's Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and Condition of Women both appeared in The Liberator when few would publish such radical work.

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