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Chapter 17: as in a looking glass.

Garrison was the most dogmatic, as he was the most earnest of men. It was almost next to impossible for him to understand that his way was not the only way to attain a given end. A position reached by him, he was curiously apt to look upon as a sort of ultima thule of human endeavor in that direction of the moral universe. And, notwithstanding instances of honest self-depreciation, there, nevertheless, hung around his personality an air and assumption of moral infallibility, as a reformer. His was not a tolerant mind. Differences with him he was prone to treat as gross departures from principle, as evidences of faithlessness to freedom. He fell upon the men who did not see eye to eye with him with tomahawk and scalping knife. He was strangely deficient in a sense of proportion in such matters. His terrible severities of speech, he visited upon the slave-power and the Liberty party alike. And although a nonresistent, in that he eschewed the use of physical force, yet there never was born among the sons of men a more militant soul in the use of moral force, in the quickness with which he would whip out the rapiers, or hurl the bolts and bombs of his mother tongue at opponents. The pioneer must have been an unconscious believer in the annihilation of the [320] wicked, as he must have been an unconscious believer in the wickedness of all opposition to his idea of right and duty. This, of course, must be taken only as a broad description of the reformer's character. He was a man, one of the grandest America has given to the world, but still a man with his tendon of Achilles, like the rest of his kind.

His narrow intolerance of the idea of anti-slavery political action, and his fierce and unjust censure of the champions of that idea, well illustrate the trait in point. Birney and Whittier, and Wright and Gerrit Smith, and Joshua Leavitt, he apparently quite forgot, were actuated by motives singularly noble, were in their way as true to their convictions as he was to his. No, there was but one right way, and in that way stood the feet of the pioneer. His way led directly, unerringly, to the land of freedom. All other ways, and especially the Liberty party way, twisted, doubled upon themselves, branched into labyrinths of folly and self-seeking. “Ho! all ye that desire the freedom of the slave, who would labor for liberty, follow me and I will show you the only true way,” was the tone which the editor of the Liberator held to men, who were battering with might and main to breach the walls of the Southern Bastile. They were plainly not against the slave, although opposed to Mr. Garrison, narrowly, unjustly opposed to him, without doubt, but working strenuously according to their lights for the destruction of a common enemy and tyrant. This was the test, which Garrison should have taken as conclusive. The leaders of the Liberty party, though personally opposed to him and to his line of action, were, nevertheless, friends of the slaves, [321] and ought to have been so accounted and treated by the man who more than any other was devoted to the abolition of slavery.

But the whole mental and moral frame of the man precluded such liberality of treatment of opponents. They had rejected his way, which was the only true way, and were, therefore, anathema maranatha. When a moral idea which has been the subject of widespread agitation, and has thereby gained a numerous following, reaches out, as reach out it must, sooner or later, for incorporation into law, it will, in a republic like ours, do so naturally and necessarily through political action-along the lines of an organized party movement. The Liberty party formation was the product of this strong tendency in America. Premature it possibly was, but none the less perfectly natural. Now every political party, that is worthy of the name, is a compound rather than a simple fact, consisteth of a bundle of ideas rather than a single idea. Parties depend upon the people for success, upon. the people not of one interest but of many interests and of diversities of views upon public questions. One plank is not broad enough to accommodate their differences and multiplicity of desires. There must be a platform built of many planks to support the number of votes requisite to victory at the polls. There will always be one idea or interest of the many ideas or interests, that will dominate the organization, be erected into a paramount issue upon which the party throws itself upon the country, but the secondary ideas or interests must be there all the same to give strength and support to the main idea and interest. [322]

Besides this peculiarity in the composition of the great political parties in America, there is another not less distinct and marked, and that is the Constitutional limitations of the Federal political power. Every party which looks for ultimate success at the polls must observe strictly these limitations in its aims and issues. Accordingly when the moral movement against slavery sought a political expression of the idea of Abolition it was constrained within the metes and bounds set up by the National Constitution. Slavery within the States lay outside of the political boundaries of the general Government. Slavery within the States, therefore, the more sagacious of the Liberty party leaders placed not among its bundle of ideas, into its platform of national issues. But it was otherwise with slavery in the District of Columbia, in the national territories, under the national flagon the high seas, for it lay within the constitutional reach of the federal political power, and its abolition was demanded — in the Third party platform. These leaders were confident that the existence of slavery depended upon its connection with the National Government. Their aim was to destroy the evil by cutting this connection through which it drew its blood and nerve supplies. They planted themselves upon the anti-slavery character of the Constitution, believing that it “does not sanction nor nationalize slavery but condemns and localizes it.”

This last position of the Liberty party leaders struck Garrison as a kind of mental and moral enormity. At it and its authors, the anti-slavery Jupiter, launched his bolts, fast and furious. Here is a specimen of his chain lightning: “We have [323] a very poor opinion of the intelligence of any man, and very great distrust of his candor or honesty, who tries to make it appear that no proslavery compromise was made between the North and the South, at the adoption of the Constitution. We cherish feelings of profound contempt for the quibbling spirit of criticism which is endeavoring to explain away the meaning of language, the design of which as a matter of practice, and the adoption of which as a matter of bargain, were intelligently and clearly understood by the contracting parties. The truth is the misnamed ‘ Liberty party’ is under the control of as ambitious, unprincipled, and crafty leaders as is either the Whig or Democratic party; and no other proof of this assertion is needed than their unblushing denial of the great object of the national compact, namely, union at the sacrifice of the colored population of the United States. Their new interpretations of the Constitution are a bold rejection of the facts of history, and a gross insult to the intelligence of the age, and certainly never can be carried into effect without dissolving the Union by provoking a civil war.” All the same, the pioneer to the contrary notwithstanding, many of these very Liberty party leaders were men of the most undoubted candor and honesty and of extraordinary intelligence.

Garrison was never able to see the Liberty party, and for that matter Wendell Phillips, Edmund Quincy, and others of the old organization leaders could not either, except through the darkened glass of personal antagonisms growing out of the schism of 1840. It was always, under all circumstances, to borrow a phrase of Phillips, “Our old enemy, Liberty [324] party.” And, as Quincy naively confesses in an article in the Liberator pointing out the reasons why Abolitionists should give to the Free-soil party incidenfal aid and comfort, which were forbidden to their “old enemy, Liberty party,” the significant and amusing fact that the latter was “officered by deserters.” Ay, there was indeed the rub! The military principle of the great leader forbade him to recognize deserters as allies. Discipline must be maintained, and so he proceeded to maintain the anti-slavery discipline of his army by keeping up a constant fusillade into the ranks of the deserter band, who, in turn, were every whit as blinded by the old quarrel and separation, and who slyly cherished the modest conviction that, when they seceded, the salt of old organization lost its savor, and was thenceforth fit only to be trampled under the Liberty party's feet. Without doubt, those old Abolitionists and Liberty party people belonged to the category of “humans;”

The scales of the old grudge dropped from Garrison's eyes directly the Free-Soil party loomed upon the political horizon. He recognized at once that, if it was not against the slave, it was for the slave; apprehended clearly that, in so far as the new party, which, by the way, was only the second stage in the development of the central idea of his old enemy, Liberty party, as the then future Republican party was to be its third and final expression, apprehended clearly I say that, in so far as the new party resisted the aggressions and pretensions of the slave-power, it was fighting for Abolition — was an ally of Abolitionism.

In the summer of 1848, from Northampton, whither [325] he had gone to take the water cure, Garrison counseled Quincy, who was filling the editorial chair, in the interim, at the Liberator office, in this sage fashion : “As for the Free-Soil movement, I feel that great care is demanded of us disunionists, both in the Standard and the Liberator, in giving credit to whom credit is due, and yet in no case even seeming to be satisfied with it.” In the winter of 1848 in a letter to Samuel May, Jr., he is more explicit on this head. “As for the free-soil movement,” he observes, “I am for hailing it as a cheering sign of the times, and an unmistakble proof of the progress we have made, under God, in changing public sentiment. Those who have left the Whig and Democratic parties for conscience's sake, and joined the movement, deserve our commendation and sympathy; at the same time, it is our duty to show them, and all others, that there is a higher position to be attained by them or they will have the blood of the slave staining their garments. This can be done charitably yet faithfully. On the two old parties, especially the Whig-Taylor party, I would expend-pro tempore, at least-our heaviest ammunition.” This is as it should be, the tone of wise and vigilant leadership, the application of the true test to the circumstances, viz., for freedom if against slavery; not to be satisfied, to be sure, with any thing less than the whole but disposed to give credit to whom it was due, whether much or little. Pity that the pioneer could not have placed himself in this just and discriminating point of view in respect of his old enemy, Liberty party, praising in it what he found praiseworthy, while blaming it for what he felt was blameworthy. But perfection weak [326] human nature doth not attain to in this terrestrial garden of the passions, and so very likely the magnanimity which we have desired of Garrison is not for that garden to grow but another and a heavenly.

Garrison ill brooked opposition, came it from friends or foes. He was so confident in his own positions that he could not but distrust their opposites. Of course, if his were right, and of that doubt in his mind there was apparently none, then the positions of all others had to be wrong. This masterful quality of the man was constantly betrayed in the acts of his life and felt by his closest friends and associates in the anti-slavery movement. Quincy, writing to Richard Webb, narrates how, at the annual meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1843, Garrison was for removing it to Boston, but that he and Wendell Phillips were for keeping it where it then was in New York, giving at the same time sundry good and sufficient reasons for the faith that was in them, and how, thereupon, “Garrison dilated his nostrils like a war-horse, and snuffed indignation at us.” “If the Boston friends were unwilling to take the trouble and responsibility,” were the petulant, accusative words put by Quincy into his chief's mouth on the occasion, “then there was nothing more to be said; we must try to get along as well as we could in the old way.” And how they disclaimed “any unwillingness to take trouble and responsibility,” while affirming “the necessity of their acting on their own idea.”

Another characteristic of the pioneer is touched upon by the same writer in a relation which he was making to Webb of Garrison's election to the presidency [327] of the parent society. Says Quincy: “Garrison makes an excellent president at a public meeting where the order of speakers is in some measure arranged, as he has great felicity in introducing and interlocuting remarks; but at a meeting for debate he does not answer so well, as he is rather too apt, with all the innocence and simplicity in the world, to do all the talking himself.”

The same friendly critic has left his judgment of other traits of the leader, traits not so much of the man as of the editor. It is delivered in a private letter of Quincy to Garrison on resigning the temporary editorship of the Liberator to “its legitimate possessor.” who had been for several months healthhunting at Northampton in the beautiful Connecticut Valley. Quincy made bold to beard the Abolition lion in his lair, and twist his tail in an extremely lively manner. “Now, my dear friend,” wrote the disciple to the master,

you must know that to the microscopic eyes of its friends, as well as to the telescopic eyes of its enemies, the Liberator has faults; these they keep to themselves as much as they honestly may, but they are not the less sensible of them, and are all the more desirous to see them immediately abolished. Luckily, they are not faults of principleneither moral nor intellectual deficiencies-but faults the cure of which rests solely with yourself.

I hardly know how to tell you what the faults are that we find with it, lest you should think them none at all, or else unavoidable. But no matter, of that you must be the judge; we only ask you to listen to our opinion. We think the paper often bears the mark of haste and carelessness in its getting up; [328] that the matter seems to be hastily selected and put in higgledy-piggledy, without any very apparent reason why it should be in at all, or why it should be in the place where it is. I suppose this is often caused by your selecting articles with a view to connect remarks of your own with them, which afterward in your haste you omit. Then we complain that each paper is not so nearly a complete work in itself as it might be made, but that things are often left at loose ends, and important matters broken off in the middle. I assure you, that Brother Harriman is not the only one of the friends of the Liberator who grieves over your more “anon” and “more next week” --which “anon ” and “ next week ” never arrive ...

Then we complain that your editorials are too often wanting, or else such, from apparent haste, as those who love your fame cannot wish to see; that important topics, which you feel to be such, are too often either entirely passed over or very cursorily treated, and important moments like the present neglected. . . .

We have our suspicions, too, that good friends have been disaffected by the neglect of their communications; but of this we can only speak by conjecture. In short, it appears to those who are your warmest friends and the stanchest supporters of the paper, that you might make the Liberator a more powerful and useful instrumentality than it is, powerful and useful as it is, by additional exertions on your part. It is very unpleasant to hear invidious comparisons drawn between the Liberator and Emancipator with regard to the manner of getting it up, and to have not to deny but to excuse them-ani we [329] knowing all the time that you have all the tact and technical talent for getting up a good newspaper that Leavitt has, with as much more, intellectual ability as you have more moral honesty, and only wanting some of his (pardon me) industry, application, and method.

Garrison, to his honor, did not allow the exceeding candor of his mentor to disturb their friendship. The pioneer was not wholly without defence to the impeachment. He might have pleaded ill health, of which he had had quantum suf. since 1836 for himself and family. He might have pleaded also the dissipation of too much of his energies in consequence of more or less pecuniary embarrassments from which he was never wholly freed; but, above all, he might have pleaded his increasing activity as an anti-slavery lecturer. His contributions to the movement against slavery were of a notable character in this direction, both in respect of quantity and quality. He was not alone the editor of the Liberator, he was unquestionably besides one of the most effective and interesting of the anti-slavery speakers-indeed in the judgment of so competent an authority as James Russell Lowell, he was regarded as the most effective of the anti-slavery speakers. Still, after all is placed to his credit that can possibly be, Quincy's complaints would be supported by an altogether too solid basis of fact. The pioneer was much given to procrastination. What was not urgent he was strongly tempted to put off for a more convenient time. His work accumulated. He labored hard and he accomplished much, but because of this habit of postponing for to-morrow what need not be done to-day, he was [330] necessarily forced to leave undone many things which he ought to have done and which he might have accomplished had he been given to putting off for to-morrow nothing which might be finished to-day.

The pioneer was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, but never was he wholly cast down by his misfortunes. His cheerful and bouyant spirit kept him afloat above his sorrows, above his griefs. The organ of mirthfulness in him was very large. He was an optimist in the best sense of that word, viz., that all things work together for good to them that love goodness. In the darkest moments which the Abolition cause encountered his own countenance was full of light, his own heart pierced through the gloom and communicated its glow to those about him, his own voice rang bugle-like through reverse and disaster.

In his family the reformer was seen at his best. His wife was his friend and equal, his children his playfellows and companions. The dust of the great conflict he never carried with him into his home to choke the love which burned ever brightly on its hearth and in the hearts which it contained. What he professed in the Liberator, what he preached in the world, of non-resistance, woman's rights, perfectionism, he practiced in his home, he embodied as father, and husband, and host. Never lived reformer who more completely realized his own ideals to those nearest and dearest to him than William Lloyd Garrison.

He had seven children, five boys and two girls. The last, Francis Jackson, was born to him in the year 1848 Two of them died in childhood, a boy [331] and a girl. The loss of the boy, whom the father had “named admiringly, gratefully, reverently,” Charles Follen, was a terrible blow to the reformer, and a life-long grief to the mother. He seemed to have been a singularly beautiful, winning, and affectionate little man and to have inspired sweet hopes of future “usefulness and excellence” in the breasts of his parents. “He seemed born to take a century on his shoulders, without stooping; his eyes were large, lustrous, and charged with electric light, his voice was clear as a bugle, melodious, and ever ringing in our ears, from the dawn of day to the ushering in of night, so that since it has been stilled, our dwelling has seemed to be almost without an occupant,” lamented the stricken father to Elizabeth Pease, of Darlington, England.

“ Death itself to me is not terrible, is not repulsive,” poured the heartbroken pioneer into the ears of his English friend,

is not to be deplored. I see in it as clear an evidence of Divine wisdom and beneficence as I do in the birth of a child, in the works of creation, in all the arrangements and operations of nature. I neither fear nor regret its power. I neither expect nor supplicate to be exempted from its legitimate action. It is not to be chronicled among calamities; it is not to be styled “a mysterious dispensation of Divine Providence;” it is scarcely rational to talk of being resigned to it. For what is more rational, what more universal, what more impartial, what more serviceable, what more desirable, in God's own time, hastened neither by our ignorance or folly? . . .

When, therefore, my dear friend, I tell you that the loss of my dear boy has overwhelmed me with [332] sadness, has affected my peace by day and my repose by night, has been a staggering blow, from the shock of which I find it very difficult to recover, you will not understand me as referring to anything pertaining to another state of existence, or as gloomily affected by a change inevitable to all; far from it. Where the cherished one who has been snatched from us is, what is his situation, or what his employment, I know not, of course; and it gives me no anxiety whatever. Until I join him at least my responsibility to him as his guardian and protector has ceased; he does not need my aid, he cannot be benefited by my counsel. That he will still be kindly cared for by Him who numbers the very hairs of our heads, and without whose notice a sparrow cannot fall to the ground; that he is still living, having thrown aside his mortal drapery, and occupying a higher sphere of existence, I do not entertain a doubt. My grief arises mainly from the conviction that his death was premature; that he was actually defrauded of his life through unskillful treatment; that he might have been saved, if we had not been so unfortunately situated at that time. This to be sure, is not certain; and not being certain, it is only an ingredient of consolation that we find in our cup of bitterness.

The pioneer was one of the most generous of givers. Poor indeed he was, much beyond the common allotment of men of his intelligence and abilities, but he was never too indigent to answer the appeals of poverty. If the asker's needs were greater than his own he divided with him the little which he had. To his home all sorts of people were attracted, Abolitionists, peace men, temperance reformers, perfectionists, [333] homceopathists, hydropathists, mesmerists, spiritualists, Grahamites, clairvoyants, whom he received with unfailing hospitality, giving welcome and sympathy to the new ideas, food and shelter for the material sustenance of the fleshly vehicles of the new ideas. He evidently was strongly of the opinion that there are “more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of” in the philosophy of any particular period in the intellectual development of man. No age knows it all. It was almost a lo, here, and a lo, there, with him, so large was his bump of wonder, so unlimited was his appetite for the incredible and the improbable in the domain of human knowledge and speculation. Great was the man's faith, great was his hope, great was his charity.

He was one of the most observant of men in all matters affecting the rights of others; he was one of the least observant in all matters appertaining to himself. With a decided taste for dress, yet his actual knowledge of the kind of clothes worn by him from day to day was amusingly inexact, as the following incident shows: Before wearing out an only pair of trousers, the pioneer had indulged in the unusual luxury of a new pair. But as there was still considerable service to be got out of the old pair, he, like a prudent man, laid aside the new ones for future use. His wife, however, who managed all this part of the domestic business, determined, without consulting him, the morning when the new trousers should be donned. She made the necessary changes when her lord was in bed, putting the new in the place of the old. Garrison wore for several days the new trousers, thinking all the time that they were his old ones until his illusions [334] in this regard were dispelled by an incident which cost him the former. Some poor wretch of a tramp, knocking in an evil hour at the pioneer's door and asking for clothes, decided the magnificent possessor of two pairs of trousers, to don his new ones and to pass the old ones on to the tramp. But when he communicated the transaction to his wife, she hoped, with a good deal of emphasis, that he had not given away the pair of breeches which he was wearing, for if he had she would beg to inform him that he had given away his best ones! But the pioneer's splendid indifference to meum and tuum where his own possessions were concerned was equal to the occasion. He got his compensation in the thought that his loss was another's gain. That, indeed, was not to be accounted loss which had gone to a brother-man whose needs were greater than his own.

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