William Lloyd Garrison (1805–1879), outstanding among the dedicated fighters for the abolition of slavery, was also an activist in other movements such as women’s and civil rights and religious reform. Never tiring in battle, he was “irrepressible, uncompromising, and inflammatory.” He antagonized many, including some of his fellow reformers. There were also many who loved and respected him. But he was never overlooked.
His letters, a source of the first magnitude, begin in 1822, when Garrison was seventeen, and end in 1879, the year of his death. They offer an insight into the mind and life of an outstanding figure in American history, a reformer-revolutionary who sought radical changes in the institutions of his day—in the relationship of the races, the rights of women, the nature and role of religion and religious institutions, and the relations between the state and its citizens; and who, perhaps more than any other single individual, was ultimately responsible for the emancipation of the slaves.
Garrison’s letters are also, sui generis, important as the expression of a vigorous writer, whose letters reflect his strength of character and warm humanity, and who appears here not only as the journalist, the reformer, and the leader of men, but also as the loving husband and father, the devoted son and son-in-law, the staunch friend, and the formidable opponent.
During the five years covered in this volume Garrison’s three sons were born and he entered the arena of social reform with full force. In 1836 he began his public criticism of the orthodox observance of the Sabbath. The year 1837 witnessed the severe attack from orthodox clergyman on The Liberator. In 1838 Garrison attended the Peace Convention in Boston. The simmering conflict within the antislavery movement over the issues of political action and the participation of women broke out in 1839, and at the annual meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1840, the anti-Garrisonian minority seceded and formed the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. Meanwhile the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention was called in London in June. Garrison attended, arriving several days after the opening. The female delegates from Massachusetts and Pennsylvania were excluded from the convention, and Garrison protested by sitting in the balcony with them and refusing to participate.