William Lloyd Garrison

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I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or to speak, or write, with moderation.

William Lloyd Garrison (12 December 180524 May 1879) was an American abolitionist, journalist, and social reformer.

Quotes[edit]

I despair of the republic while slavery exists therein.
We love the land of our nativity, only as we love all other lands. … Hence we can allow no appeal to patriotism, to revenge any national insult or injury.
Now let me give the sentiment which has been, and ever will be, the governing passion of my soul: "Liberty for each, for all, and forever!"
  • I will say, finally, that I despair of the republic while slavery exists therein. If I look up to God for success, no smile of mercy or forgiveness dispels the gloom of futurity; if to our own resources, they are daily diminishing; if to all history, our destruction is not only possible, but almost certain. Why should we slumber at this momentous crisis? If our hearts were dead to every throb of humanity; if it were lawful to oppress, where power is ample; still, if we had any regard for our safety and happiness, we should strive to crush the Vampire which is feeding upon our life-blood. All the selfishness of our nature cries aloud for a better security. Our own vices are too strong for us, and keep us in perpetual alarm; how, in addition to these, shall we be able to contend successfully with millions of armed and desperate men, as we must eventually, if slavery do not cease?
  • I cherish as strong a love for the land of my nativity as any man living. I am proud of her civil, political and religious institutions — of her high advancement in science, literature and the arts — of her general prosperity and grandeur. But I have some solemn accusations to bring against her. I accuse her of insulting the majesty of Heaven with the grossest mockery that was ever exhibited to man — inasmuch as, professing to be the land of the free and the asylum of the oppressed, she falsifies every profession, and shamelessly plays the tyrant.
    I accuse her, before all nations, of giving an open, deliberate and base denial to her boasted Declaration, that "all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
    I accuse her of disfranchising and proscribing nearly half a million free people of color, acknowledging them not as countrymen, and scarcely as rational beings, and seeking to drag them thousands of miles across the ocean on a plea of benevolence, when they ought to enjoy all the rights, privileges and immunities of American citizens.
    I accuse her of suffering a large portion of her population to be lacerated, starved and plundered, without law and without justification, at the will of petty tyrants.
    I accuse her of trafficking in the bodies and souls of men, in a domestic way, to an extent nearly equal to the foreign slave trade; which traffic is equally atrocious with the foreign, and almost as cruel in its operations.
    I accuse her of legalizing, on an enormous scale, licentiousness, fraud, cruelty and murder.
    • Address to the World Anti-slavery Convention, London (12 July 1833)
  • The compact which exists between the North and the South is a covenant with death and an agreement with hell.
    • Resolution adopted by the Antislavery Society (27 January 1843); referencing Isaiah 28:15: "We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement".
  • We have a natural right, therefore, to seek the abolition of slavery throughout the globe. It is our special duty to make Massachusetts free soil, so that the moment the fugitive slave stands upon it, he shall take his place in the ranks of the free. God commands us to "hide the outcast, and bewray not him that wandereth." I say, LET THE WILL OF GOD BE DONE! That is "the head and front" of my "fanaticism"! That is the extent of my "infidelity"! That comprehends all of my "treason"! THE WILL OF GOD BE DONE!
  • What shall be said, then, of those who insist upon ignoring the question of slavery as not involved in this deadly feud, and maintain that the only issue is, the support of the government and the preservation of the Union? Surely, they are "fools and blind"; for it is slaveholders alone who have conspired to seize the one, and overturn the other. As long as the enslavement of a single human being is sanctioned in the land, the curse of God will rest upon it.
  • I have not come here with reference to any flag but that of freedom. If your Union does not symbolize universal emancipation, it brings no Union for me. If your Constitution does not guarantee freedom for all, it is not a Constitution I can ascribe to. If your flag is stained by the blood of a brother held in bondage, I repudiate it in the name of God. I came here to witness the unfurling of a flag under which every human being is to be recognized as entitled to his freedom. Therefore, with a clear conscience, without any compromise of principles, I accepted the invitation of the Government of the United States to be present and witness the ceremonies that have taken place today.
    And now let me give the sentiment which has been, and ever will be, the governing passion of my soul: "Liberty for each, for all, and forever!"
    • Speech in Charleston, South Carolina (14 April 1865)

The Liberator (1831 - 1866)[edit]

Our country is the world — our countrymen are all mankind.
I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — AND I WILL BE HEARD.
  • Our country is the world — our countrymen are all mankind.
    • Motto of The Liberator (1831)
  • Let Southern oppressors tremble — let their secret abettors tremble — let their Northern apologists tremble — let all the enemies of the persecuted blacks tremble.
    • No. 1 (1 January 1831)
  • I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or to speak, or write, with moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; — but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. 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 apathy of the people is enough to make every statue leap from its pedestal, and to hasten the resurrection of the dead.
  • For, by the logic of Concord, Lexington, and Bunker Hill, and by the principles enforced by this nation in its boasted Declaration of Independence, Capt. Brown was a hero, struggling against fearful odds, not for his own advantage, but to redeem others from a horrible bondage, to be justified in all that he aimed to achieve, however lacking in sound discretion. And by the same logic and the same principles, every slave-holder has forfeited his right to live, if his destruction be necessary to enable his victims to break the yoke of bondage; and they, and all who are disposed to aid them by force and arms, are fully warranted in carrying rebellion to any extent, and securing freedom at whatever cost.
    • No. 170 (28 October 1859)
  • Better to be always in a minority of one with God — branded as madman, incendiary, fanatic, heretic, infidel — frowned upon by "the powers that be," and mobbed by the populace — or consigned ignominiously to the gallows, like him whose "soul is marching on," though his "body lies mouldering in the grave," or burnt to ashes at the stake like Wickliffe, or nailed to the cross like him who "gave himself for the world," — in defence of the RIGHT, than like Herod, having the shouts of a multitude crying, "It is the voice of a god, and not of a man!"

Thoughts on African Colonization (1832)[edit]

Unhappily, to borrow the words of Ganganelli, a large majority of mankind are "mere abortions": calling themselves rational and intelligent beings, they act as if they had neither brains nor conscience, and as if there were no God, no accountability, no heaven, no hell, no eternity.
Thoughts on African Colonization : Or, An Impartial Exhibition of the Doctrines, Principles and Purposes of the American Colonization Society (1832)
  • Is Error, though unwittingly supported by a host of good men, stronger than Truth? Are Right and Wrong convertible terms, dependant upon popular opinion? Oh no! Then I will go forward in the strength of the Lord of Hosts — in the name of Truth — and under the banner of Right. As it is not by might nor by power, but by the Spirit of God, that great moral changes are effected, I am encouraged to fight valiantly in this good cause, believing that I shall "come off conqueror, and more than conqueror" — yet not I, but Truth and Justice. It is in such a contest that one shall chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight.
    • Introductory Remarks
  • Little boldness is needed to assail the opinions and practices of notoriously wicked men; but to rebuke great and good men for their conduct, and to impeach their discernment, is the highest effort of moral courage. The great mass of mankind shun the labor and responsibility of forming opinions for themselves. The question is not — what is true? but — what is popular? Not — what does God say? but — what says the public? Not — what is my opinion? but — what do others believe?
    • Introductory Remarks

William Lloyd Garrison 1805-1879 (1885)[edit]

Wherever there is a human being, I see God-given rights inherent in that being, whatever may be the sex or complexion.
William Lloyd Garrison, 1805-1879 : The Story of His Life Told by His Children (1885) by Wendell Phillips Garrison and Francis Jackson Garrison - Full text online: Vol. 1 - Vol. 2 - Vol. 3 - Vol. 4
  • With reasonable men, I will reason; with humane men I will plead; but to tyrants I will give no quarter, nor waste arguments where they will certainly be lost.
    • Vol. I, p. 188
  • Since the creation of the world there has been no tyrant like Intemperance, and no slaves so cruelly treated as his.
    • Vol. I, p. 268
  • We may be personally defeated, but our principles never.
    • Vol. I, p. 402
  • The Sabbath, as now recognized and enforced, is one of the main pillars of Priestcraft and Superstition, and the stronghold of a merely ceremonial Religion.
    • Vol. III, p. 224
  • Wherever there is a human being, I see God-given rights inherent in that being, whatever may be the sex or complexion.
    • Vol. III, p. 390
  • The success of any great moral enterprise does not depend upon numbers.
    • Vol. III, p. 473
  • You cannot possibly have a broader basis for any government than that which includes all the people, with all their rights in their hands, and with an equal power to maintain their rights.
    • Vol. IV, p. 224


Misattributed[edit]

  • That which is not just is not law.
That which is not just, is not Law; and that which is not Law, ought not to be obeyed.

Quotes about Garrison[edit]

He seemed to me an all-sufficient match to every opponent, whether they spoke in the name of the law or the gospel. His words were full of holy fire, and straight to the point. Something of a hero-worshiper by nature, here was one to excite my admiration and reverence. ~ Frederick Douglass
  • I had been living four or five months in New Bedford when there came a young man to me with a copy of the Liberator, the paper edited by William Lloyd Garrison and published by Isaac Knapp, and asked me to subscribe for it. I told him I had but just escaped from slavery, and was of course very poor, and had no money then to pay for it. He was very willing to take me as a subscriber, notwithstanding, and from this time I was brought into contact with the mind of Mr. Garrison, and his paper took a place in my heart second only to the Bible. It detested slavery, and made no truce with the traffickers in the bodies and souls of men. It preached human brotherhood; it exposed hypocrisy and wickedness in high places; it denounced oppression; and with all the solemnity of "Thus saith the Lord," demanded the complete emancipation of my race. I loved this paper and its editor. He seemed to me an all-sufficient match to every opponent, whether they spoke in the name of the law or the gospel. His words were full of holy fire, and straight to the point. Something of a hero-worshiper by nature, here was one to excite my admiration and reverence. It was my privilege to listen to a lecture in Liberty Hall by Mr. Garrison, its editor. He was then a young man, of a singularly pleasing countenance, and earnest and impressive manner. On this occasion he announced nearly all his heresies. His Bible was his textbook — held sacred as the very word of the Eternal Father. He believed in sinless perfection, complete submission to insults and injuries, and literal obedience to the injunction if smitten "on one cheek to turn the other also." Not only was Sunday a Sabbath, but all days were Sabbaths, and to be kept holy. All sectarianism was false and mischievous — the regenerated throughout the world being members of one body, and the head Christ Jesus. Prejudice against color was rebellion against God. Of all men beneath the sky, the slaves, because most neglected and despised, were nearest and dearest to his great heart. Those ministers who defended slavery from the Bible were of their "father the devil"; and those churches which fellowshiped slaveholders as Christians, were synagogues of Satan, and our nation was a nation of liars. He was never loud and noisy, but calm and serene as a summer sky, and as pure. "You are the man — the Moses, raised up by God, to deliver his modern Israel from bondage," was the spontaneous feeling of my heart, as I sat away back in the hall and listened to his mighty words, — mighty in truth, — mighty in their simple earnestness.

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