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Chapter 8: ‘the Liberator’—1831.

The doctrine of immediate emancipation, as urged in this paper, excites the fears of the South, especially after the Nat Turner insurrection in Virginia, and leads to public and private menaces against the life of its editor, and to penal enactments against taking the Liberator. appeals for its suppression are made to the city authorities of Boston; the extradition of Garrison is attempted by means of Southern indictments; and finally the Legislature of Georgia offers for his apprehension.

Punctually on Saturday, January 1, 1831, the first number of the weekly Liberator appeared, bearing on its front a plain black-letter heading, the names of William Lloyd Garrison and Isaac Knapp as publishers, of Mr. Garrison as editor, of Stephen Foster as printer, and the motto: Our Country is the World—Our Countrymen are Mankind.1It was a modest folio, of which the printed page of four columns measured fourteen inches by nine and a quarter, and the running titles of the second, third, and fourth pages were respectively ‘The Liberator,’ ‘Journal of the Times,’ and ‘Literary, Miscellaneous, and Moral,’ making so many departments of the paper. As a mother recalls a lost darling by giving its name to a later born, so, apparently, Mr. Garrison commemorated his Journal of the Times in the title which covered the news of the day. Once more his own master, alone responsible for his utterances, there was something pleasant in this suggestion of an unbroken continuity of editorial independence. Typographically, the number [220] was a model of neatness and accuracy, and worthily introduced a series possessing to the end the same characteristics.2

On their return from Baltimore, the two friends, 3 Garrison and Knapp, had taken lodgings on Federal Street, with the Rev. William Collier, and there made the acquaintance of Stephen Foster, an intelligent and warmhearted youth of their own age, from Portland, then foreman of the printing-office of the Christian Examiner at Merchants' Hall. A zeal for the cause, added to personal friendship, induced Foster to allow them the use of his type for their new paper in return for their services by day as journeymen at the case. For three numbers this arrangement continued, when a change became necessary, and Foster's name was withdrawn from the paper; but his good — will and anti-slavery endeavor knew no abatement till his untimely death before the close of the4 year. A lot of well-worn, second-hand type was rescued from the foundry, and with this the fourth number was put to press.

The publication office, originally at No. 6 Merchants' Hall,5was shifted to No. 8, No. 9, and No. 11 with each succeeding issue; but at No. 11, in the third story, ‘under the eaves’—the old home of the National Philanthro-6 pist—with a temporary flitting to No. 10, it rested for some years. ‘The dingy walls; the small windows, bespattered with printer's ink; the press7 standing in one corner; the composing stands opposite; the long editorial and mailing table, covered with newspapers; the bed of the editor and publisher on the floor—all these,’ says8 Oliver Johnson, ‘make a picture never to be forgotten.’9 [221] Here were workshop and home in one.10 ‘The Publishers of the Liberator,’ as they announced in their first11 issue, ‘have formed their copartnership with a determination to print the paper as long as they can subsist upon bread and water, or their hands obtain employment. The friends of the cause may therefore take courage; its enemies—may surrender at discretion.’ The 12 partners lived, in fact, ‘chiefly upon bread and milk, a few cakes, and a little fruit, obtained from a baker's shop opposite and a petty cake and fruit shop in the basement,’ and ‘were sometimes on “short commons,” even at that.’13 But they had meat to eat the world knew not of. ‘Many a time in visiting their office,’ Mr. Johnson14 again bears witness, ‘did I find them partaking of their humble repast, which they seasoned with laughter, song and cheerful talk. A friendly cat cheered their loneliness and protected them from the depredations of mice. Mr.15 Garrison was fond of his feline companion, and I remember seeing her more than once mounted upon his writing-table, and caressing his bald forehead in a most affectionate way, while he was spinning editorial yarn.’

How little time there was for such spinning, and why in this first volume editorial promises went so often unfulfilled, appears in Mr. Garrison's letter to his ‘beloved friend,’ Samuel J. May, under date of February 14, 1831: [222]

If the most unremitted labor had not occupied my time16 since your departure, I should feel very culpable for my long silence. Without means, and determined to ask the assistance of no individual,–and, indeed, not knowing where to look for it, so unpopular was the cause,—you may suppose that I have been obliged to make severe personal exertions for the establishment of the Liberator. I am ashamed of the meagre aspect which the paper presents in its editorial department, because the public imagine that I have six days each week to cater for it, when, in fact, scarcely six hours are allotted to me, and these at midnight. My worthy partner and I complete the mechanical part; that is to say, we compose and distribute, on every number, one hundred thousand types, besides performing the press-work. mailing the papers to subscribers,17 &c., &c. In addition to this, a variety of letters, relative to the paper, are constantly accumulating, which require prompt answers. We have just taken a colored apprentice,18 however, who will shortly be able to alleviate our toil.

I cannot give you a better apprehension of the arduousness of my labors than by stating that it is more than six weeks since I visited Mr. Coffin19—perhaps more properly the Misses Coffin; for, certainly, there is no place in Boston I am disposed to visit so often as in Atkinson Street.

Already, in replying publicly to a correspondent, he20 had said: ‘It cannot be supposed that we, who perform every day but the Sabbath fourteen hours of manual labor on our paper, independent of mental toil, . . . are inimical to the prosperity or improvement of the working [223] fraternity.’ And towards the close of the year he21 writes thus to a friend in Providence:

‘I am sorry that I can give you in return only a few lines22 which are destitute of thought and distinguished for bad penmanship, (for I write in haste,)—but so it is. A week's hard labor has just closed, and my mind is too much exhausted for mental effort, and my body too jaded to be serviceable. My correspondence is necessarily extensive and onerous; pen, ink and paper throw me into a kind of intellectual hydrophobia, and so I avoid them as much as possible.’

But we have not done with the mechanical obstacles to the birth of the new journal. The ream or two of23 paper needed to produce a specimen number was sought to be obtained on credit of Deacon Moses Grant, of the firm of Grant & Daniell, an acquaintance in the temperance cause, who had entire respect for the partners and had previously been consulted by them about starting the Liberator. His refusal to let them have the modest amount asked for was, therefore, not from distrust of ultimate repayment, but from scruples about countenancing a paper having the anti-slavery character proposed. At last, a house to which the young men were both strangers was found to take the business risk, and the first number was launched. Simultaneously was received from James Forten, ‘the greatly esteemed and24 venerated sailmaker of Philadelphia,’ the sum of fiftyfour dollars in advance for twenty-seven subscribers— aid so timely as (like that shortly before received from25 Ebenezer Dole) perhaps to be called Providential, seeing that Mr. Garrison's orthodoxy was at that date irreproachable. Still, neither a slender credit nor fifty-four dollars in hand could go a great way towards supporting a paper which began without a subscriber. But for the ‘cheering countenance and pecuniary assistance early extended to the Liberator’ by Mr. Sewall26 and Mr. Ellis [224] Gray Loring in particular, it ‘must have again and again been suspended, and ultimately discontinued.’

The mission of the Liberator was thus set forth on the first page in a salutatory address:

To the public.

In the month of August, I issued proposals for publishing The Liberator in Washington City; but the enterprise, though hailed in different sections of the country, was palsied by public indifference. Since that time, the removal of the Genius of Universal Emancipation to the Seat of Government has rendered less imperious the establishment of a similar periodical in that quarter.

During my recent tour for the purpose of exciting the minds of the people by a series of discourses on the subject of slavery, every place that I visited gave fresh evidence of the fact, that a greater revolution in public sentiment was to be effected in the free States—and particularly in New-England—than at the South. I found contempt more bitter, opposition more active, detraction more relentless, prejudice more stubborn, and apathy more frozen, than among slave-owners themselves. Of course, there were individual exceptions to the contrary. This state of things afflicted, but did not dishearten me. I determined, at every hazard, to lift up the standard of emancipation in the eyes of the nation, within sight of Bunker Hill and in the birthplace of liberty. That standard is now unfurled; and long may it float, unhurt by the spoliations of time or the missiles of a desperate foe—yea, till every chain be broken, and every bondman set free! Let Southern oppressors tremble— let their secret abettors tremble—let their Northern apologists tremble—let all the enemies of the persecuted blacks tremble.

I deem the publication of my original Prospectus unnecessary, as it has obtained a wide circulation. The principles therein inculcated will be steadily pursued in this paper, excepting that I shall not array myself as the political partisan of any man. In defending the great cause of human rights, I wish to derive the assistance of all religions and of all parties.

Assenting to the ‘self-evident truth’ maintained in the American Declaration of Independence, ‘that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights—among which are life, liberty and the pursuit [225] of happiness,’ I shall strenuously contend for the immediate enfranchisement of our slave population. In Park-Street Church, on the Fourth of July, 1829, in an address on slavery, I unreflectingly assented to the popular but pernicious doctrine of gradual abolition. I seize this opportunity to make a full and unequivocal recantation, and thus publicly to ask pardon of my God, of my country, and of my brethren the poor slaves, for having uttered a sentiment so full of timidity, injustice, and absurdity. A similar recantation, from my pen, was published in the Genius of Universal Emancipation at Baltimore, in September, 1829. My conscience is now satisfied.

I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen;—but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest—I will not equivocate—I will not excuse—I will not retreat a single inch—and I will be heard. The apathy of the people is enough to make every statue leap from its pedestal, and to hasten the resurrection of the dead.

It is pretended, that I am retarding the cause of emancipation by the coarseness of my invective and the precipitancy of my measures. The charge is not true. On this question my influence,—humble as it is,—is felt at this moment to a considerable extent, and shall be felt in coming years—not perniciously, but beneficially—not as a curse, but as a blessing; and posterity will bear testimony that I was right. I desire to thank God, that he enables me to disregard ‘the fear of man which bringeth a snare,’ and to speak his truth in its simplicity and power. And here I close with this fresh dedication:

Oppression! I have seen thee, face to face,
And met thy cruel eye and cloudy brow;
But thy soul-withering glance I fear not now—
For dread to prouder feelings doth give place
Of deep abhorrence! Scorning the disgrace
Of slavish knees that at thy footstool bow,
I also kneel—but with far other vow
Do hail thee and thy herd of hirelings base:—
I swear, while life-blood warms my throbbing veins, [226]

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