William Lloyd Garrison, the son of a seaman, was born in Newburyport Massachusetts, in December, 1805. Apprenticed as a printer, he became editor of the Newburyport Herald in 1824. Four years later he was appointed editor of the National Philanthropist in Boston.
In 1828 Garrison met Benjamin Lundy, the Quaker anti-slavery editor of the Genius of Universal Emancipation. The following year he became co-editor of Lundy's newspaper. One article, where Garrison's criticised a merchant involved in the slave-trade, resulted in him being imprisoned for libel.
Released in June 1830, Garrison's period in prison made him even more determined to bring and end to slavery. Whereas he previously shared Lundy's belief in gradual emancipation, Garrison now advocated "immediate and complete emancipation of all slaves". After breaking with Lundy, Garrison returned to Boston where he established his own anti-slavery newspaper, the Liberator. The newspaper's motto was: "Our country is the world - our countrymen are mankind" (an adoption of a comment made by Thomas Paine).
In the Liberator Garrison not only attacked slave-holders but the "timidity, injustice and absurdity" of the gradualists. Garrison famously wrote: "I am in earnest - I will not equivocate - I will not excuse - I will not retreat a single inch - and I will be heard." The newspaper only had a circulation of 3,000 but the strong opinions expressed in its columns gained Garrison a national reputation as the leader of those favouring immediate emancipation.
Garrison's views were particularly unpopular in the South and the state of Georgia offered $5,000 for his arrest and conviction. Garrison was highly critical of the Church for its refusal to condemn slavery. Some anti-slavery campaigners began arguing that Garrison's bitter attacks on the clergy was frightening off potential supporters.
In 1832 Garrison formed the New England Anti-Slavery Society. The following year he helped organize the Anti-Slavery Society. Garrison was influenced by the ideas of Susan Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Lucy Stone and other feminists who joined the society. This was reflected in the content of the Liberator that now began to advocate women's suffrage, pacifism and temperance.
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Some members of the Anti-Slavery Society considered the organization to be too radical. They objected to the attacks on the US Constitution and the prominent role played by women in the society. In 1839, two brothers, Arthur Tappan and Lewis Tappan, left and formed a rival organization, the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society.
Garrison became increasingly radical and in 1854 he created controversy by publicly burning a copy of the Constitution at a Anti-Slavery rally at Framingham, Massachusetts. Although he doubted the morality of the violence used by John Brown at Harper's Ferry in 1859, his newspaper controversially supported his actions.
On the outbreak of the American Civil War Garrison abandoned his previously held pacifist views and supported Abraham Lincoln and the Union Army. However, during the war, Garrison was critical of Lincoln for making the preservation of the union rather than the abolition of slavery his main objective.
After the passing of the 13th Amendment in 1865, Garrison decided to cease publication of the Liberator. Garrison spent his last fourteen years campaigning for women's suffrage, pacifism and temperance. William Lloyd Garrison died on 24th May, 1879.