Preface for second edition: 1921

I once knew a man who wrote a brilliant biography of Abraham Lincoln. He himself belonged to the Civil War epoch, and while writing the book in about the year 1895, he became so absorbed and excited by that war as he studied it, and lived it over again, that he could not sleep at night. He paced the room, lost in thought, awed by his subject. It was a contemporary of this biographer who told me that, while the Civil War was in progress, the enthusiastic historian had taken no interest in it; it did n't seem to attract his attention.

This anecdote shows how much easier it is to see a hero in the past than in the present. The historian is a book-trained man; records and documents speak to him; dead things live again. But he cannot get his mind into focus upon anything so near as the present. He is distracted by the present, but supported by the past; for in the past he is not alone. As he studies it, the whole literature of his chosen period holds up hip hands: hundreds of minds rush to his aid, while all religion and philosophy stand at his elbow. [-007]

It is easy to explain why Garrison has never been adopted as a popular hero in America. He gave a purge to his countrymen, and the bitter taste of it remained in our mouths ever after. Moreover, the odium of Slavery, which he branded on America's brow, seemed to survive in the very name of Garrison, and we would willingly have forgotten the man. After the Civil War there was not, apparently, time for our scholars to think about him. Certain it is that the educated American has known little about him, and shies and mutters at his name. And yet equally certain is it that the history of the United States between 1800 and 1860 will some day be rewritten with this man as its central figure.

How soon will that day come, and what will be the signs of its dawning? The laws of mind and nature are not likely to be reversed to save the feelings and prejudices of the American people, a people who are not given to historic speculation and who have been mentally enfeebled by success. It is not for Garrison that I am concerned, but for a people that praises the prophets, builds altars to courage, enshrines the idea of the Individual Soul; but a people, it would seem, who cannot see a real man when he appears, because he makes them uncomfortable. Garrison made his compatriots [-008] uncomfortable; even to read about him made them uncomfortable but yesterday.

In reprinting this little book, the thought crosses my mind that perhaps the shock and anguish of the Great War, which so humanized our nation, may have left us with a keener, more religious, and more dramatic understanding of our Anti-slavery period than we possessed prior to 1914. Certainly when this book appeared in 1913, the average American seemed to hear the name of Garrison with distaste, and to regard a book about him as superfluous. While I was writing it, one of my best friends, and a very learned gentleman, said to me, “A book about William Lloyd Garrison? Heave a brick at him for me!” --and the popular feeling in America of that day seemed to support the remark. But the times have changed. The flames of the Great War have passed through us. The successive shocks of that experience struck upon our people till we resounded in unison like a great bell; and there is not a soul among us that has not been shaken to its depths.

The heroic echoes of the terrible struggle have died away and left all the nations dizzy and defocalized, worn out by effort and emotion, and, apparently, more cynical and bent on petty aims than they were before the [-009] ordeal. But this tidal revulsion is in the way of Nature. She acts by waves and inundations, by recessions, mud-flats, and desolation. It appears just now as if all the tin cans and dead dogs of humanity were exposed to view. Nevertheless, the tides will surge in once more. The devastated regions will be reclaimed and reanimated — in spots, of course, and irregularly as is Nature's wont. The great, heroic impulse of that war is not really lost. It lies invisibly planted in our hearts, and especially in the hearts of the younger generation, who will never know from how many old shibboleths and cramping views they have been liberated by having taken part in something that was universal. Our own past will assume fresh aspects in our eyes. Americans will come to see their own history in a more normal perspective than they did formerly. The fog of self-consciousness that has hung above our Anti-slavery period will be dissipated in the minds of our historians, and we shall see Garrison as one of our greatest heroes — a man born to a task as large as his country's destiny, who turned the tide of his age, and left an imprint of his mind and character upon us, as certain and as visible as the imprint left upon us by Washington himself.

J. J. C. January 1921.

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