Archive for the 'Violence & Non-Violence' Category

To George, after enlistment

August 6, 1863

“… I have nothing but praise to give you that you have been faithful to your highest convictions, and taking your life in your hands, are willing to lay it down, even like the brave Col. Shaw and his associates, if need be, in the cause of freedom, and for the suppression of slavery and the rebellion.  True, I could have wished you could ascend to what I believe a higher plane of moral heroism and a nobler method of self-sacrifice; but as you are true to yourself, I am glad of your fidelity, and proud of your willingness to run any risk in a cause that is undeniably just and good.  I have no  fear that you will be found wanting at any time in the trial-hour, or in the discharge of your official duties…”1

1 Letters of William Lloyd Garrison – Volumes I – VI

Son George enlists in Union army

June 11, 1863

“Though I could have wished that you had been able understandingly and truly to adopt those principles of peace which are so sacred and divine to my own soul, yet you will bear witness that I have not laid a straw in your way to prevent your acting up to your own highest convictions of duty; for nothing would be gained, but much lost, to have you violate these.  Still, I tenderly hope that you will once more seriously review the whole matter before making the irrevocable decision. … Personally, as my son, you will incur some risks at the hands of the rebels that others will not, if it is known that you are my son… ”   1

1 Letters of William Lloyd Garrison – Volumes I – VI

Conscience and non-resistance

Aug. 7,  1863

Garrison writes to a friend relative to his sons intentions, the war and the draft.  “I have three sons of the requisite age — George,William and Wendell. Wendell is in principle opposed to all fighting with carnal weapons.  So is William. In any case they will not go to the tented field but will abide the consequences.  George is inclined to think he shall go,  if drafted, as he does not claim to be a non-resistant. … I do not object to my children suffering any hardships, or running any risks, in the cause of liberty and the support of great principles, if duty requires it, but I wish them to know themselves, to act from the highest and noblest motives, and to be true to their conscientious convictions.”   1

1 Letters of William Lloyd Garrison – Volumes I – VI

Violence toward Douglass

Aug. 9, 1847

Garrison writes to Helen, from Harrisburg, where he and Douglass spoke at the Court House.  “I first addressed the meeting, and was listened to, not only without molestation, but with marked attention and respect … as Douglass rose to speak, the spirit of rowdyism began to show itself outside of the building, around the door and windows.  It was the first time that a ‘nigger’ had attempted to address the people in Harrisburg in public, and it was regarded by the mob as an act of unparalleled audacity.  They knew nothing at all of Douglass, except that he was a nigger.  They came equipped with rotten eggs and brickbats, fire-crackers and other missiles, and made use of them somewhat freely — breaking panes of glass, and soiling the clothes of some who were struck by the eggs. …I was enabled to obtain a silent hearing for a few moments, when I told the meeting that if this was a specimen of Harrisburg decorum and love of liberty, instead of wasting our breath upon the place, we should turn our back upon it, shaking off the dust of our feet — &c. &c    1

1 Letters of William Lloyd Garrison – Volumes I – VI

Anti-Garrison mobocracy, and color prejudice

May 15, 1840

Telling Helen of the election of Abby Kelley to the Business Committee of the AASS, and the subsequent creation of the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, Garrison says:  “The spirit of mobocracy has been roused, in consequence of so many of the ‘Garrison Party’ having come from Massachusetts; and our delegation have been driven out of the halls we had engaged, and had to go from pillar to post to find a place where to lay their heads. … What particularly excited these ‘lewd fellows of the baser sort’ was, the mixing of our white and colored friends on terms of equality…. it has not amounted to anything like a popular tumult.”    1

1 Letters of William Lloyd Garrison – Volumes I – VI

Right of Conscience

Feb. 10, 1840

“I will not stop to say what I think of the barbarism and tyranny of Connecticut, in trampling upon the rights of conscience, and consigning to prison such of her citizens as believe that they are forbidden by the gospel to do military duty.  After ages will look upon this matter with astonishment.  It is the opprobrium of the nineteenth century.”  1

1 Letters of William Lloyd Garrison – Volumes I – VI

Violence threatened in Boston

May 25, 1838

Marlboro Chapel has just been completed; it “is an object of pro-slavery malevolence.”  Garrison writes that ” threats have been given out that the Chapel should share the fate of the Hall. Last evening was the time for its dedication; and so threatening was the aspect of things, four companies of light infantry were ordered to be in readiness… During the day, placards were posted at the corners of streets, denouncing the abolitionists, and calling upon the citizens to rally at the Chapel in the evening, in order to put them down.  An immense concourse of people assembled, a large proportion doubtless from motives of curiosity, and not a few of them with evil designs; but, owing to the strong military preparations, the multitude refrained entirely from any overt acts of violence…”  1

1 Letters of William Lloyd Garrison – Volumes I – VI

Mob action at Pennsylvania Hall

May 19, 1838

“The meeting broke up about 10 o’clock, and we all got safely home.  The next day, the street was thronged with profane ruffians and curious spectators — the women, however, holding their meetings in the hall all day, till towards evening. It was given out by the mob, that the hall would be burnt to the ground that night. … that night the mob “had increased to several thousands, and soon got into the hall by dashing open the doors with their axes.  They then set fire to this huge building, and in the course of an hour it was a solid mass of flames.  The bells of the city were rung, and several engines rallied, but no water was permitted to be thrown upon the building …”Awful as is this occurrence in Philadelphia, it will do incalculable good to our cause; for the wrath of man worketh out the righteousness of God….”  1

1 Letters of William Lloyd Garrison – Volumes I – VI

Martyrdom of Elijah Lovejoy

Nov. 21, 1837

“The martyred Lovejoy! almost the last to come into our ranks, and the first to fall as a victim!  He has perished in the cause of God and of bleeding humanity; but I am shocked and filled with sorrow to learn, that he first took life before he lost his own, and that his reliance for victory in the darkest hour of the conflict was upon powder and ball..”  1

1 Letters of William Lloyd Garrison – Volumes I – VI

Violence and Abolitionists

Mar 4, 1837

This letter to the Editor of the Boston Courier should be read with other letters to the Courier, which follow soon after this.  The content is not easily summarized, and quotations from parts of the argument which Garrison makes are subject to misrepresenting his view toward violence, when it is or is not justified.  He sites instances in the history of the United States, words from national constitutional documents, words from slaveholders, quotes from slaveholding state constitutions, which justify the use of violence by the oppressed.  That right is unalienable.  He maintains that Abolitionists are the only party who “deny to the oppressed the right of redressing their wrongs, by a bloody process”.  These letters and arguments will need to be read finally in the context of later periods in Garrison’s life.   1

1 Letters of William Lloyd Garrison – Volumes I – VI