Correct the Record: Pardon William Lloyd Garrison!

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)?


Presidential Politics: They’re All Conservatives

"The Great Presidential Puzzle": &qu...
“The Great Presidential Puzzle”: “Illustration shows Senator Roscoe Conkling, leader of the Stalwarts group of the Republican Party, playing a puzzle game. All blocks in the puzzle are the heads of the potential Republican presidential candidates, among them Grant, Sherman, Tilden, and Blaine. Parodies the famous 14-15 puzzle. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As reliably as seconds ticking by on an expensive wristwatch, Republican presidential candidates loudly and vehemently identify themselves as “conservatives.” We’re used to hearing politicians lie, but these politicians are telling the truth for once. They ARE all conservatives.

Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, lie constantly about their political orientations. They label themselves “liberals” or even “progressives.” But they are conservatives, too.

Since FDR’s New Deal, politicians of all stripes have consistently tried to link conservatism with “smaller government.” But that’s not what conservatism is, or ever has been about. Conservatism is about conserving.

What does it mean to conserve something? “To keep in a safe or sound state; to save; to preserve; to protect” (Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, 1913 edition).

What does political conservatism aim to save, preserve, protect? The existing system. As William F. Buckley, Jr. put it, political conservatism consists of “standing athwart the tracks of history yelling stop” (or, in the case of conservatism’s “progressive” variant, “yelling slow down”). And that, in a nutshell, is the platform and program of every serious candidate for either major party’s 2016 presidential nomination.

Sure, there are differences in emphasis. But they’re not especially significant.

The candidates who call themselves conservatives are hell-bent on preserving the post-WWII garrison state by way of the single largest welfare (mostly corporate welfare) entitlement program in the federal budget: They want to maintain “defense spending” at a rate ten times that of America’s nearest competitor (China). They describe proposals to even limit the growth of that budget line as “draconian cuts.” When it comes to “social” programs like Social Security, they occasionally talk about minor cuts or privatization … but only by way of “saving” the system, not abolishing it.

The conservative candidates who call themselves “progressives” come at it from the opposite direction: Their priority is saving those “social” programs. When it comes to military spending, they occasionally talk about tiny cuts, or perhaps capping increase rates, but as the Obama administration demonstrates, even those minor modifications are not hills they’re prepared to make their last stands on.

If we think of politics as a 360-degree circle, the differences between modern American “conservatism” and modern American “progressivism” cover maybe five degrees, just to the right of zero. Those boundaries are, to mix metaphors, third rails. Step on them and die — or at least, as Rand Paul has discovered, get a nasty jolt encouraging you to hurry back into safe territory.

In reality, there are only two available political directions: Society can become more libertarian, or it can become more authoritarian (and eventually totalitarian). The conservative candidates of both parties offer only the latter option.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.




Suicide: The Only Question That Matters

Graph of suicide rates in the United States by...
Graph of suicide rates in the United States by age in 2005. Data from the CDC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Dakota County, Minnesota jury voted on May 14 to convict Final Exit Network of helping Doreen Dunn take her own life in 2007.

If the prosecution’s claims are true, Dunn, who suffered from chronic pain, sought Final Exit’s assistance in ending her life; two of the group’s members sat with her as she killed herself by inhaling helium;  they then removed the equipment from the scene so that it would look like she died of natural causes (presumably so that they would not be charged with the crime of “assisting a suicide”).

One of those who sat with Dunn was granted immunity to testify against Final Exit Network. The other has since died, leaving the organization as sole defendant, subject to fines of $33,000.

The conviction reaffirms a disturbing implicit property claim: The claim that the state owned Doreen Dunn’s life, and that it owns yours as well. It would have been more honest to charge Final Exit with “stealing government property.”

Do you own yourself, or does the state own you? With respect to suicide, this is the only question that matters.

To continue living, or not to do so, is the most basic, primal decision each of us makes every minute of every day of our lives.

If you own yourself, then by definition the decision to continue living or to end your life — for any reason, at any time, with or without the assistance of others, in any manner that doesn’t violate others’ rights — is yours alone to make.

Anyone claiming a right to take that decision out of your hands is by definition claiming ownership of your life. But that would amount to slavery, an institution formally abolished in 1865 with the 13th Amendment.

Some try to dodge the baldness of their ownership claim by imputing it to God, with themselves as mere enforcers. But in America, it’s not the state’s job to inflict the religious beliefs of some on unconsenting others.

Some argue a “slippery slope”: Legal assisted suicide, they say,  will be faked to conceal murders. But that gets it exactly backward. If suicide is legal it can be chosen openly in advance (perhaps with sworn affidavits), making it harder rather than easier to fake.

It’s time and past time we required legislators, and implored juries, to recognize the ownership of each individual over his or her life — and death.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.