William Lloyd Garrison, Leader of the Abolition Movement

December 10, 1805–May 24, 1879

William Lloyd Garrison was a prominent leader of the abolition movement in the 19th century and helped found the American Anti-Slavery Society.

William Lloyd Garrison, Abolitionist, Portrait

William Lloyd Garrison. Image Source: Library of Congress.

William Lloyd Garrison Biography

William Lloyd Garrison was an abolitionist, journalist, and social reformer from Massachusetts. He is best known for founding the anti-slavery newspaper “The Liberator” and his involvement in the American Anti-Slavery Society, which he helped start. Garrison started his career in journalism in 1818 — when he was 13 years old — as an apprentice at the “Newburyport Herald.”

During the 1820s, he owned his own newspaper — the “Newburyport Free Press — was named editor of a journal in Boston, and became involved in the abolition movement. In 1829, he worked for Benjamin Lundy on the abolitionist newspaper, which was called “Genius of Universal Emancipation.”

Two years later, he founded “The Liberator” with his friend, Isaac Knapp, and demanded the total and immediate abolition of slavery in the United States. Through the newspaper, Garrison was able to draw enough people to his cause to form the New England Anti-Slavery Society in 1832, which led to the establishment of the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833.

After he married Helen Eliza Benson in 1834, he became involved in the movement for women’s rights and used his newspaper to support the cause. However, it also caused a rift with prominent abolitionists who were concerned with focusing all their attention on ending slavery.

Garrison was also critical of the United States Constitution, and he publicly burned a copy on July 4, 1854. His opinion on the Constitution led to a falling out with Frederick Douglass.

After the Civil War, Garrison left the American Anti-Slavery Society, stopped the publication of “The Liberator,” and joined the women’s suffrage newspaper “Woman’s Journal.” He reconciled with Douglass in 1873.

Garrison’s health failed in his later years, and he died at his daughter’s home in New York on May 24, 1879.

William Lloyd Garrison Quick Facts

  • Date of Birth: William Lloyd Garrison was born on December 10, 1805, in Newburyport, Massachusetts.
  • Parents: Garrison’s parents were Abija Garrison and Frances Maria Lloyd, who emigrated to Massachusetts from New Brunswick.
  • Date of Death: He died on May 24, 1879, in New York City.
  • Place of Burial: Garrison is buried in the Forest Hills Cemetery in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston.

Important Facts About William Lloyd Garrison

  • William Lloyd Garrison played a pivotal role in the movement to end slavery in the United States.
  • Garrison was an outspoken advocate for the abolition of slavery and used his newspaper, “The Liberator,” to promote the cause. His writings and speeches were widely read and helped to influence public opinion on the issue of slavery.
  • He was also a prominent figure in the larger movement for social and political reform in the United States. 
  • Garrison was critical of the government and the United States Constitution, which he believed protected the institution of slavery.
  • He was a staunch supporter of the rights of women and was an early advocate for women’s suffrage.
  • Garrison refused to align himself with a political party.
  • He supported the election of Abraham Lincoln, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the 13th Amendment.
  • The last issue of “The Liberator” was published on December 29, 1865.

Highlights from the Life and Career of William Lloyd Garrison

Garrison Changed His Position on Colonization

Garrison initially supported the idea of colonization — sending freed slaves back to Africa — specifically to the colony of Liberia. He believed it would provide a solution to the problem of slavery and allow freed slaves to live in a society where they could be free and equal. However, as he continued to work on the issue of slavery and learned more about the realities of colonization, he became increasingly opposed to the idea and ultimately rejected it as a viable solution. Instead, he turned his attention to the immediate and complete abolition of slavery in the United States. 

The American Anti-Slavery Society

In 1833, Garrison and Arthur Tappan founded the American Anti-Slavery Society. Many prominent people were involved with the American Anti-Slavery Society, including Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucy Stone. These individuals were all leading figures in the abolitionist movement, and they worked closely with the society to organize boycotts, public speaking events, and other efforts to raise awareness of the issue of slavery. Other notable members of the society included John Greenleaf Whittier and Lucretia Mott

Susan B Anthony, Activist, Portrait
Susan B. Anthony. Image Source: Wikimedia.

In 1840, the leaders of the society were invited to the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, England. However, the female members were not allowed to participate. As a result, Garrison refused to participate and sat with the women in the gallery and watched. Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton decided to form a group for women’s rights after they were excluded from participation, which led to the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848.

Garrison and Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass escaped from slavery in 1838 and eventually settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Douglass attended meetings of the local abolitionist society and gave speeches. Garrison heard him speak and invited him to speak at meetings of the American Anti-Slavery Society. In 1845, Garrison published Douglass’s autobiography in “The Liberator.” In 1846, Douglass started publishing his own newspaper, “The North Star.” Soon after Douglass aligned himself with Lysander Spooner, a Massachusetts lawyer who argued the wording of the Constitution supported freedom for slaves. Garrison disagreed with that point of view and was an open critic of the Constitution. Garrison and Douglass argued with each other over the direction of the abolition movement through editorials in their respective newspapers. In 1837, Garrison and Douglass attended a rally for women’s rights in Boston.

Frederick Douglass, Escaped Slave and Abolitionist
Frederick Douglass. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Garrison Burned a Copy of the Constitution at a Picnic

In 1854, Garrison publicly demonstrated his resentment of the Constitution by burning a copy of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 at a picnic and declaring the Consitution was “a covenant with death, an agreement with hell.” Garrison proceeded to burn a copy of the Constitution.

Significance of William Lloyd Garrison

William Lloyd Garrison is important to United States history for his advocacy for the rights of enslaved people and his effort to end slavery. He also made significant contributions to the women’s rights movement.

Citation Information

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  • Article Title William Lloyd Garrison, Leader of the Abolition Movement
  • Date December 10, 1805–May 24, 1879
  • Author
  • Keywords William Lloyd Garrison, The Liberator, Abolition, American Anti-Slavery Society, Frederick Douglas
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date July 20, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update July 15, 2024