Tag Archives: William Lloyd Garrison

Correct the Record: Pardon William Lloyd Garrison!

Liberator
Liberator (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Should the governor of Maryland pardon 19th century abolitionist leader William Lloyd Garrison? Yes, he should. Some background:

In 1830, Garrison co-edited a newspaper in Baltimore, MD that among, other things, called for the abolition of slavery. He accused a man named Francis Todd of slave trading. There is little doubt the charge was accurate, according to the late Henry Mayer’s magnum opus on the abolitionist editor, All On Fire, but Garrison was convicted of malicious libel. He was fined $50 plus court costs; since he could not pay the fine, he was jailed for what would have been six months. After 49 days in Baltimore’s jail, Arthur Tappan of New York, who later became a abolitionist himself, paid the fine. Garrison was released on June 1, 1830.

This experience crystallized Garrison’s determination to fight slavery through the press and agitation. Using a tiny newspaper, The Liberator, and enormous inspirational and organizational skills, Garrison raised abolition to prominence on the national stage, often at risk to his own personal safety — he was near nearly lynched by a Boston mob in 1835.

Convinced that Garrison deserved a posthumous pardon both by way of clearing his name and removing a stain from the great state of Maryland’s honor, I wrote to Maryland Secretary of State John P. McDonough in 2013 to find out if such a pardon has ever been issued.  McDonough never replied, so I have to assume the answer is “no.”

I also emailed then-governor Martin O’Malley for his thoughts on the matter. Once again, no reply.

Now a former governor, O’Malley recently announced his candidacy for the presidency of the United States. While his state’s miscarriage of justice versus William Lloyd Garrison may not rise to the level of major issue in a national campaign, it seems to me that O’Malley should have corrected a great historical wrong when he could have done so at no personal or political cost to himself.

Abolitionism was a powerful moral movement that all Americans can take historic pride in; Garrison was its acknowledged leader.

Leveraging the founding ideals of the nation and  the moral suasion of biblical injunctions, Garrison spurred our consciences and called  us back to our deepest values.

Like his predecessors, O’Malley neglected to correct the historical record with a well-deserved pardon. I hope you will join me in asking Maryland’s new governor, Larry Hogan, to rectify that oversight.

Elwood Earl “Sandy” Sanders, Jr., is a Virginia attorney and political activist. He blogs at Virginia Right on a myriad of issues, including local Virginia politics, UKIP, sports and legal issues from a libertarian and Christian perspective.  William Lloyd Garrison is a hero for Sandy; sometimes he asks the question before he blogs:  What would Garrison do (or say)?

PUBLICATION/CITATION HISTORY

Abolitionism Was, and Still Is, No Failure

RGBStock.com Rainbow WorldHistorian Jon Grinspan argues (“Was Abolitionism a Failure?” New York Times, February 1) against modern-day activists, from the Heritage Foundation’s Jim DeMint to MSNBC host Chris Hayes, who view abolitionism as a successful movement worth emulating. Grinspan credits slavery’s end not to abolitionists’ unbending ideals but to “the flexibility of … moderates.” Slavery died because its advocates were even less willing to compromise.

But all new ideas are the work of extremists. There’s no need to preemptively tone them down; that will happen with their implementation anyway. The Libertarian Party’s call for “the cessation of state oppression and harassment of homosexual men and women, that they, at last, be accorded their full rights as individuals” was extremist in 1976.

The unmatched sea change in views on gay rights since then was in spite of the realpolitik of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Voltairine de Cleyre summed up pre-Civil War attempts to impede slavery by political compromise as “one long record of ‘how-not-to-do-it.'” For both issues, the reshaping would, in Yale lawyer Charles Reich’s phrase, “originate with the individual and with culture, and … change the political structure only as its final act.”

Grinspan points out the slaveholders’ many strategic mistakes. But an abolitionist victory by default would have been Pyrrhic in the long run. Instead, they led a permanent shift in the range of acceptable public views.  Only thus could they put an institution granted respectability for millennia into the dustbin of history. To Grinspan, the sheer range of causes likened to abolitionism — DeMint’s Tea Party; Hayes’ climate change — is proof that such invoking is devoid of content. But the impact of abolitionism is visible: All those causes frame themselves as liberation movements. Slavery was unabashedly authoritarian.

The Liberty Party was the most uncompromising abolitionist political party. Grinspan notes its vote-getting was anemic. Yet it became the core around which dissidents from the mainstream Whig and Democratic parties formed the more successful Free Soil Party (whose slogan “Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor and Free Men” shows the natural interlock of liberations).

Grinspan downplays the main abolitionist publication, William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator, because its circulation was less than 3,000. That happens to be the number of copies of the first edition of Karl Marx’s Capital sold in Russia. Garrison’s unyielding advocacy for full abolition forestalled Free Soil’s dissipation. The party in turn formed the basis for the Republican Party of Lincoln.

As Murray Rothbard explained, abolitionism is not just of “antiquarian interest.” Since “there are a great many analogues to slavery today … similar alternatives will have to be faced once more.” And similar tactics remain the most effective way to face them.

New Yorker Joel Schlosberg is a contributing editor at The William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org).