(Following book review first appeared in the November 9, 1994 issue of the Lower East Side alternative weekly, Downtown. See below for parts 1, 2, 3 and 4.)
By the 1850s, despite William Lloyd Garrison's continued editorship of the Liberator, “Wendell Phillips, not Garrison, emerged as the real leader of New England abolition” because Garrison’s “continuous emphasis on abolition as a moral crusade—and nothing else—seemed old-fashioned and impractical,” according to Russel Nye’s William Lloyd Garrison and The Humanitarian Reformers book. Most other abolitionists now worked to end slavery by either mobilizing behind the mid-19th century Republican Party or third party groups—or by supporting people like John Brown, who were willing to use violence in defense of freed slaves who were being victimized by the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law. Garrison, himself, however, only supported the end, not the means, of John Brown’s 1859 attack on the Harper’s Ferry arsenal, for example.
Unlike younger abolitionists such as Wendell Phillips, after the goal of legal emancipation was finally achieved during the Civil War, Garrison did not agitate on behalf of either a post-Civil War Reconstruction policy which guaranteed democratic rights and economic freedom for the former slaves in the South or on behalf of labor emancipation in the North; and he stopped publishing and editing the Liberator in 1865.
As an introduction to a 19th-Century abolitionist journalist who has generally been forgotten in recent years, Nye’s book might be a good first choice. And if Hollywood eventually gets around to producing a movie version which shows how Garrison’s newsweekly (for at most 2,500 subscribers) affected U.S. history, Nye’s book would provide good background material. (end of book review)
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