Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Review of `William Lloyd Garrison and The Humanitarian Reformers'--Part 4

(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 and 3.)

By 1833, Garrison’s Liberator had 1,400 subscribers and his journalistic prominence enabled him to become a leading figure in the worldwide antislavery movement. Within the abolitionist movement, some objected to the invective and belligerent tone of Garrison’s writing. But he continued to lead the wing of the abolitionist movement which favored immediate emancipation and no forced colonization of the freed slaves, but did not favor trying to end slavery either through political action or violent resistance to the slave masters. Garrison’s wing of the abolitionist movement favored “no union with the slaveholders” during the pre-Civil War period and the Liberator was used to emphasize both Garrison’s strand of abolitionism and his support for democratic reforms like women’s suffrage.

William Lloyd Garrison and The Humanitarian Reformers author Nye’s brief treatment of Garrison’s friendship and subsequent political split with the African-American abolitionist Frederick Douglass illustrates one of the major weaknesses of this 1955-published book. As Nye notes, because Douglass, in the 1840s, “wanted to found a newspaper devoted to political action” which fought against slavery in the electoral arena, “coolness developed” between him and Garrison. Although most African-American historians agree that Frederick Douglass was as historically significant a figure in U.S. abolitionist journalism history as Garrison, however, Nye’s book fails to summarize in any detail the particular arguments which Douglass used to justify his split with Garrison. This reflects Nye’s tendency throughout the book to treat the oppressed people who subscribed to Garrison’s Liberator, or on whose behalf Garrison sought to work, as voiceless background figures in his life. Nye’s book also only briefly discusses Garrison’s relationship to his wife of many years and doesn’t describe in detail enough the nature of Garrison’s relationship to the 19th Century feminist movement, despite Garrison’s sympathy for this movement. (end of part 4)

(Downtown 11/9/94)