Radical Abolitionist Crusade

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Introduction Part I Part II Part III Conclusion Ressources  


Posted on September 20, 2012 by Admin


 

Introduction



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.


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Aline on September 27, 2012 at 8:27 am said:
One of the obvious reasons why Garrison became a radical immediatist abolitionist is because the government did not answer the abolitionists’ call for immediate emancipation. But his position was not merely reactive. Garrison’s radicalism was closely tied to his perfectionist belief in universalism and the millennium. Through repentance and a following new birth, individuals could achieve perfection, which would bring about the coming of God’s government on earth. In order to achieve that heaven on earth, men had to repent their sins and live “beyond the need for the moral law” (Mayer 224). Garrison was a radical abolitionist because he believed in a radically restructured America, exempted from sin. The outcome of his perfectionist convictions was that he rejected the established social order, which he regarded as imperfect and counteractive to the coming of God’s moral government. Garrison was against any intermediaries between God and men; therefore he refused any institution such as church and human government, because they were coercive and impeded the millennium. Slavery, government and violence were identical in principle in that they resulted from a lack of repentance.
 


Jonathan on September 28, 2012 at 9:28 am said:
In light of that negative attitude towards institutions, one can argue that Garrison’s philosophy displays anarchistic tendencies. Anarchism is most obvious in the principle of “Come-Outerism”. It was a call to come out of the corrupted churches and it completed Garrison’s perfectionist beliefs. Hence, evangelical abolitionists were also called come-outers, due to their resignation from social structures. The paradox lies in the context of the message proposed by Garrison. On the one hand he was convinced that human government was detrimental to the abolition of slavery. But on the other hand his reasoning stemmed from a conservative and deeply religious perspective. ‘Moral suasion’ through speeches and The Liberator were tactics that recognized the elitist white societies because they were well embedded in the socio-political structures. Garrisonians were considered revolutionary and seditious by the majority of the population and even by other immediatist abolitionists. It is important to underline the fact that Garrisonians were a small minority whose ideas were considered utopic and fanatic. The relevance of these men is that they advocated the end of slavery within the context of massive general social reversal. But “as to both means and ends [their] perfectionism postulated anarchy by reducing social wrongs to a question of personal sin and appealing not to community interest but to individual anxieties”(Stauffer 133). In that sense, Garrison is subject to a paradox. There is a discrepancy between the content of his convictions and the form and method. In other words the theory was not applied to concrete action, permitting Garrison to remain a theorist and orator all his life rather than an activist or reformer.
 


Olivier on September 30, 2012 at 4:04 pm said:
Garrison abandoned his firm stance against violent resistance, and increasingly conceded that physical force and violence were acceptable when resisting oppression. When John Brown, a white abolitionist activist responsible for killing pro-slavery settlers in Kansas, was caught and convicted, Garrison did not denounce his use of violence, as might have been expected. Garrison responded to Brown’s capture in a speech from October 28, 1859, where he characterized Brown as a “hero” and a “martyr”, even though he was aware of the brutality and violence used in the raid by Brown and his followers. He consciously omitted the fact that violence was used, and only discussed the heroic side of the venture. This speech was a crucial turning point in Garrison’s inconsistent pacifism because he sided with the branch of abolitionists who recognize the need for armed resistance to oppressions of slavery. He praised John Brown as a man of true and honest intentions who was “guided by the Golden Rule” (Lib Oct.28). Garrison ignored the fact Brown used violence to the point of murder, maintaining that John Brown wanted to shed “the least possible amount of human blood”. Garrison’s speech reflects his inner dilemma concerning advocates of slave insurrections. He stresses in one part that John Brown was “sadly misguided” and in another praises Brown actions as an example for other abolitionists.
 
 


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