William Lloyd Garrison was one of the earliest and most important abolitionists; dedicated to both winning freedom and to securing civil rights for African Americans. He blended humble faith in God with arrogant self-confidence: he knew that he walked righteously in the truth and was convinced that he could efface evil from all hard-hearted sinners he encountered. His vocation as an abolitionist began in earnest in April 1829 when invited to become co-editor of an antislavery newspaper based in Baltimore.
    While in Baltimore, he boarded with free blacks and saw the horrors of slavery and the slave trade firsthand. Upon returning to Boston, Garrison lectured in favor of immediate abolition, and on January 1, 1831 published the inaugural issue of The Liberator, the weekly that he would edit for the next thirty-five years. Garrison took pride in stormy denigrations of himself and his anti-slavery work and packed the paper with them. He labeled a front-page section "The Refuge of Oppression" and printed onslaughts against abolition, saying it documented the state of public opinion and proved that he must be right if his enemies were driven to such searing language about him.
     Garrison looked forward and was committed to a biracial society, but occupied an extreme minority in those views when in 1833 he helped organize the American Anti-Slavery Society. As he said in a speech in 1829 "... a very large portion of our colored population were born on our soil, and are therefore entitled to all the privileges of American citizens. This is their country by birth, not by adoption. Their children possess the same inherent and unalienable rights as ours, and it is crime of the blackest dye to load them with fetters.” These were stunning words to be spoken in 1829 and Garrison's position was so unnerving because it was so straightforward: slavery was wrong and had to end.
    The American Anti-Slavery Society adopted his sentiments at the founding meeting, establishing the basic argument of the Society for the next three decades, namely, that slavery was illegal, if not under the Constitution (which Garrison had damned as "a covenant with hell"), then certainly under natural law. Membership under the new organization mushroomed. By 1835 there were more than 400 chapters and by 1838 the number had grown to 1,350. The growth of the abolition movement was due in part to the similarity between it and other reform movements of the era. Abolitionists, like other reformers, were calling for the freeing of the human spirit and the elimination of artificial barriers to self- fulfillment.
    This was also the time of an increase of religious revivalism known as the Second Great Awakening, which led abolitionists to see slavery as the product of personal sin. Many took this movement to mean that reborn, renewed Christian men and women should work for social change. Abolition turned out to be the most important of all reforms of the Jacksonian era, but its success would put the Union itself at risk.
The American Anti-Slavery Society's main supporters were from religious groups such as the Quakers and from the free black communities. When women were allowed to join, it was the first time they were exposed to running an organization and with this exposure, they quickly learned how to conduct meetings and prepare agendas. Two sisters, Angelina and Sarah Grimke became the first women to lecture for the group. This brought heated attacks from religious and public leaders who disapproved of women speaking in public. Sarah Grimke wrote bitterly that men were attempting to "drive women from almost every sphere of moral action" and called women "to rise from the degradation and bondage to which the faculties of our minds have been prevented from expanding to their full growth and are sometimes wholly crushed." Garrison was a great supporter of women's rights and adamant that women join the lecture circuit.
    The American Anti-Slavery Society was founded with the plan to reach mass audiences through organized meetings, petition drives, agents employed to go on lecture tours all over the United States, and a wide variety of printed anti-slavery propaganda. They used moral suasion (the act of persuading to induce belief or action) tactics which included inviting fugitive slaves like Frederick Douglass and William Wells Brown to give powerful anti-slavery testimony. By 1840 the Society has 250,000 members, published more than twenty journals and had 2,000 chapters.
    The Liberator and The National Anti-Slavery Standard (NASS) were the official newspapers of the organization. As women became more and more active in the American Anti-Slavery Society they took on more jobs. Maria Weston Chapman of Boston served as one of the Society's principal propagandists for both papers, and Lydia Marie Child edited the NASS for almost two years. Opponents tried to suppress the anti-slavery agitation and propaganda by rulings of the church and the state, even by mob violence. In their 1837 Pastoral Letter, Congregationalist ministers publicly chastised the women for speaking out against slavery saying, "her character become unnatural."
    The fierce fighting in Kansas and Nebraska territories, the 1856 election of the pro-south Democratic candidate for President, James Buchanan, the Dred Scott decision in 1857, and Johm Brown's raid on the arsenal in Harper's Ferry in 1859 all accelerated the growing crisis over slavery. When Abraham Lincoln defeated Stephen Douglas in the Presidential election, his victory and the rise of the anti-slavery Republican party signaled to the South that slavery would not survive in the Union. Garrison was a pacifist and non-resister, but in July 1861 he declared his support for the Northern cause and provided The Liberator with a new motto: "Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land, to All the Inhabitants of the Land."
    Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863 declared the slaves free in all states in rebellion against the Union and allowed blacks to enlist in the Union army. The war was now tied to abolition. In May of 1865, after the end of the War and Lincoln’s assassination, Garrison urged that the American Anti-Slavery Society be disbanded. The Society has been established in order to abolish slavery, and now this job had been done; the nation as a whole, he said, was with the abolitionists. Others, however, felt strongly that the Society had to remain in existence to conduct the campaign for equal rights for the emancipated slaves. When the issue to disband came up for a vote and Garrison lost, he resigned as president. The American Anti-Slavery Society lasted until 1870.
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