|CHAMPION of those who groan beneath
Oppression's iron hand
In view of penury, hate, and death,
I see thee fearless stand.
Still bearing up thy lofty brow,
In the steadfast strength of truth,
In manhood sealing well the vow
And promise of thy youth.
Go on, for thou hast chosen well;
On in the strength of God!
Long as one human heart shall swell
Beneath the tyrant's rod.
Speak in a slumbering nation's ear,
As thou hast ever spoken,
Until the dead in sin shall hear,
The fetter's link be broken!
The poem written by John Greenleaf Whittier embraces the abolitionist editor and
agitator William Lloyd Garrison as his followers saw him. It shows the strength and
passion this man possessed. He was a promoter of abolitionism and above all a champion
for the slaves and free blacks in America. Throughout his life he was threatened by his
opponents, especially the southern plantation owners to be captured for his convictions.
But he stood up against danger and denunciation, convinced that his call was true and
right. He disturbed the nation and persisted in his quest for egalitarian principles, backed
up by his religious strength and belief in a new society, ruled by God. He was the enemy
of sin, and slavery was in his opinion the worst. He strove for justice in a society built
upon in his opinion, principles which, could be deceitfully interpreted to maintain a social
hierarchy that certified the superiority of one white race. He never ceased to denounce
injustice and crime until the Civil War came and the 13th Amendment was passed.
As a man who fought most of his life against slavery, Garrison’s tactics and
decisions were more than just means to ends. His newspaper The Liberator became one
of the most radical organs in the fight against the ‘peculiar institution’ and in many
respects the seed to much agitation and inspiration. In that sense, he was often
characterized as a fanatic: one who denounced human government, boycotted voting and
reversed the social hierarchy in that he treated women and blacks equal to white
American men. Garrison’s persona, however, had many facets. He had progressive ideas,
but he was also an idealist who believed in the Coming of the divine state of God’s
government on earth. Hence, it is relevant to consider Garrison in his entirety in order to
understand whether or not he was a radical abolitionist and above all what it meant to be
a radical in 19th century North America.
The first half of the 19th century is characterized by many reform movements,
which encompassed every trait of American society. Abolitionism was part of the outcry
of an era torn between a religious, political and cultural heritage and the strife for
progress in a young Republic. The Second Great Awakening promoted Christian
behavior and a new hope for salvation. The outcome was the formation of many societies
eager to reform the American nation. The growing awareness of inequalities concerning
the working class, gender and race required change through reform. William Lloyd
Garrison emerges in that context, when things were examined, categorized and defined. It
was a time when the American structure had to be fundamentally changed in order to
adapt to the cravings for the celebration of the individual, economical wealth, westwards
expansion and the quest for a unified nation regardless of the multiple cultural differences
that existed. In that context race played a crucial role. The idea of domination and social
Darwinism, imbued with the missionary spirit of the colonies, created “The Other”.
Above all it was the economic importance of slavery in the southern states with their
growing plantations that secured the practice of the peculiar institution in America.
The calmness of the Era of Good Feelings was soon disturbed by the debate over
Missouri that created the “free states” in the North and the slave states in the South,
leading to an unavoidable conflict over the slave issue. William Lloyd Garrison was from
Massachusetts, where slavery had been prohibited since 1783 and consequently slaves
had been freed. When the abolitionist poet Whittier wrote that poem in 1832 the northern
abolitionist movement was gaining strength. Three years earlier, the free black David
Walker had made an appeal urging the slaves to revolt. In 1831, the slave Nat Turner
launched a rebellion that shocked the nation. A few months before, Garrison had
published the first issue of The Liberator and launched his attack against the American
Colonization Society. Northerners and southerners founded the ACS. They wanted to
expel free blacks to their colony Liberia, which had been established in Africa. Garrison
had been in favor of colonization for a brief time at the beginning of his career, but
shortly after he realized that free blacks were strongly opposed to the movement and he
developed an obsessive crusade against colonization.
William Lloyd Garrison was not the first to condemn the oppression and
alienation of blacks, but he was certainly one of the loudest and staunchest immediatist
advocates who undeniably left an impact on the landscape of American agitators. He led
an uncompromising crusade for immediate emancipation and egalitarian principles in
order to establish a miscegenated society with total racial justice. However, some of his
beliefs and tactics differed from those of his contemporaries making it questionable
whether he fits the standard definition of radical abolitionist or not. Garrison’s
philosophy and actions can seem paradoxical and ambiguous because he was caught
between the desire to stick to his unflinching principles and the practical reality that
abolishing slavery, to him the greatest evil, might require actions that deviated from his
personal beliefs. This content is provided by Acfitec specialized in habilitation electrique
First, it is important to understand the shift in Garrison’s ideology, in so far as that
he converted from gradual emancipation to immediatism and in doing so rejected the
American Colonization Society in order to promote his egalitarian ideas. Then, his
radicalism can be found in his means of action. In other words, the publication of The
Liberator and the impact it had on the population. He could be uncompromising and
directive in his crusade, going as far as splitting from his former abolitionist friends, who
would turn to politics. To understand his rejection of politics, it is necessary to examine
this radical religious belief in perfectionism, an evangelical call to redeem oneself and to
strive for perfection on earth in order to make evil and sin disappear so that God’s
government could rule mankind. Lastly, Garrison’s principles of ‘moral suasion’ and
nonviolence as the direct outcome of his religion must be analyzed with regard to his
contemporaries to understand whether or nor not Garrison’s radicalism was effective.