“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…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.” -William Lloyd Garrison
“Journalism will kill you, but it will keep you alive while you’re at it.” -Horace Greeley
Nearly a century after the first unified resistance against the British, strife over slavery widened to the point of civil war, and the condition of slaves in America was in several aspects worse than at any time during the 18th century. As the nation tried to sort out its most intractable political issue, politicians and advocates on each side of the divide became increasingly more passionate, and vocal. The dam would burst completely after Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860, and the refusal of Northern states to strictly apply the new fugitive slave law would be explicitly cited in several of the Southern states’ articles of secession in late 1860 and early 1861. By April 1861, the Civil War had broken out.
Well before Lincoln and the “Black Republicans” were cited by secessionist firebrands looking to justify their stances, one of the men they most bitterly opposed was abolitionist editor William Lloyd Garrison. While many began their adult lives with very strident views and then mellowed over time, he did just the opposite. Raised by a pious single mother, he embraced the general teachings of the Christian faith as a young man, and in his twenties, he became convicted that slavery was the greatest moral evil in the nation. Thereafter, he devoted most of his life to seeing it ended, and he refused to give an inch in the name of compromise on the things he felt strongly about.
As he famously put it, “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.” At the end of his life, Garrison could look back on the fact that he had played a major role in ending America’s original sin, and its most evil institution. At the same time, he had also to be aware that many of the wrongs he opposed, such as the death penalty and war, remained in place, while the rights he championed, for men and women of all races, remained to be realized.
While Garrison had a profound influence on the abolition movement, few of his contemporaries were as influential as Horace Greeley. There is little one can say about Greeley that has not already been said, much of it during his lifetime, for unlike many others, fame came to him early, and by the end of his life he was already one of the most famous men in the United States.