Critics & Crusaders: A Century of American Protest

By Charles A. Madison | Go to book overview

WILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON
APOSTOLIC CRUSADER

WILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON, the most forceful reformer in our history, is perhaps the least known of great Americans. Nor is this strange. The most abused man of his time, the taint of this calumny continues to influence public judgment, though eighty years have passed since success crowned his lifework. Fortunately, he was not one to be affected by the opinion others had of him. From the very first he pursued his destined course with an inflexible will that made him, like the prophets of old, the scourge and conscience of his generation. Once convinced of the sin of slavery, he persisted in making it the paramount issue for thirty troubled years. And at last he compelled his countrymen to grapple with the problem to the bloody end. Then, having sacrificed the youth of the nation to free the slaves, they quickly forgot the man who was chiefly identified with the greatest social reform of the century.

Completely unlike his shiftless, seafaring father whom he scarcely remembered, very much the son of his hard-working Baptist mother, who remained a pious "dissenter" to the end of her brief life, young Garrison grew up under her guidance with an acute sense of justice and with the fanatic's readiness to fight doggedly for what he believed was right. The urge to reform the world, a dominant characteristic of his generation, agitated his mind while he was still a printer's apprentice. A number of his immature but

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