Garrison, William Lloyd

Born: 1805-12-10 Newburyport, Massachusetts

Died: 1879-05-24 New York, New York

William Lloyd Garrison was a prominent abolitionist, journalist, suffragist, and reformer. Born into poverty, Garrison embraced his mother’s Baptist beliefs (his father abandoned the family in 1818) and became an apprentice at the Newburyport Herald in 1818. Following his apprenticeship, Garrison edited newspapers in Massachusetts and Vermont but failed to build an audience due to his religious extremism and disgust for electoral politics. Things began to change in 1828, when the Quaker abolitionist Benjamin Lundy invited him to co-edit the Genius of Universal Emancipation. A year later, Garrison was convicted of libel for calling Massachusetts merchant Francis Todd a “murderer” for engaging in the slave trade. Garrison made his name by issuing press releases and a pamphlet during his incarceration calling for the immediate abolition of slavery.

Garrison returned to Boston in 1830 and founded the Liberator the following year - making himself the nation’s leading abolitionist voice. In 1832, he further expanded his influence by helping create the New England Anti-Slavery Society, which called for immediate abolition and condemned African colonizationists, and then the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833. As time passed, he became increasingly radicalized - eventually opposing both the traditional Scripture and the Constitution along with supporting women’s rights and northern secession. This created a split within the abolitionist movement between the radical Garrisonians and the more accommodating anti-Garrisonians.

Following John Brown’s Raid and the election of Abraham Lincoln, Garrison tempered his views and supported the Union war effort. As other abolitionists, led by Wendell Phillips, criticized Lincoln for waiting too long to attack slavery, Garrison defended Lincoln and hesitated to endorse full political equality for African Americans after emancipation. With the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, Garrison declared the abolitionist movement over while Phillips and others who favored continued action pressed on.

Garrison married Helen E. Benson in 1834 and the couple had at least five children.

James Brewer Stewart, “Garrison, William Lloyd,” American National Biography, ed. by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 8:761-65; Massachusetts, U.S., Marriage Index, 1784-1840, 1834 (Lehi, UT: Operations, 2016); U.S. Census Office, Seventh Census of the United States (1850), Ward 11, Boston, Suffolk County, MA, 212; U.S. Census Office, Eighth Census of the United States (1860), Ward 10, Boston, Suffolk County, MA, 10; Gravestone, Forest Hills Cemetery and Crematory, Jamaica Plain, MA.