William Lloyd Garrison
William Lloyd Garrison was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts, in 1805. His family lost their fortune, and his father, a merchant sailor, deserted the family. Garrison went to work selling homemade molasses candy and delivering firewood. At age thirteen, he became an apprentice to a printer. In printing, writing, and publishing, he found a voice for his life's work.
At age twenty-five, Garrison joined the abolition movement. First he joined the American Colonization Society, an organization that tried to help free African-Americans resettle in Africa. When he realized that this society did not want to end slavery, he left it.
Garrison wanted to end slavery. So did other abolitionists. But Garrison wanted to end it immediately. Not many agreed with this view, which they considered extreme. What would happen to all the suddenly free African-Americans? Where would they go? What would they do? Garrison did not worry about these issues. He spoke out about the injustice of slavery, comparing it to a house on fire.
His passion got him into trouble. When he called a slave ship owner a highway robber and a murderer, Garrison received a jail sentence of six months. His friends raised money to bail him out after seven weeks. Later in Boston, an angry mob dragged him through the streets with a rope around his neck. The mayor put him in jail for disturbing the peace.
In 1831, Garrison began publishing his own newspaper, The Liberator. He so angered some people in the South that they offered a $1500 reward for the arrest of anyone distributing The Liberator. They offered $5000 for the arrest of Garrison himself. But he won the respect of others in the abolition movement, especially its black leaders.
Garrison helped to organize a number of anti-slavery societies. He wrote and lectured on the subject tirelessly. He did not believe in violence. He did not believe in a political solution to the problem. He believed that citizens have an obligation to disobey laws that are unjust. To make his point, he even burned a copy of the Constitution because it failed to end slavery.
When President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, Garrison welcomed it. He stopped publishing The Liberator with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, which ended slavery. In the last fourteen years of his life he took up other causes: woman's rights and temperance. He died in 1879.