Chapter 5: the day of small things.
After leaving Baltimore
clung pathetically to the belief that, if he told what he had seen of the barbarism of slavery to the North
, he would be certain to enlist the sympathy and aid of its leaders, political and ecclesiastical, in the cause of emancipation.
The sequel to his efforts in this regard proved that he was never more mistaken in his life.
He addressed letters to men like Webster
, Jeremiah Mason
, Lyman Beecher
, and Dr. Channing
, “holding up to their view the tremendous iniquity of the land, and begging them, ere it should be too late, to interpose their great power in the Church
and State, to save our country from the terrible calamities which the sin of slavery was bringing upon us.”
But there is no evidence that this appeal produced the feeblest ripple in the lives of the two first; and upon the two last it was equally barren of result.
, indeed, did not take the trouble to hear any one of the three lectures of the young philanthropist.
, however, was at the pains to be present at the first lecture given at Julien Hall.
But he betrayed no real interest in the subject.
He had no time to devote to anti-slvavery, had, in fine, too many irons in the fire already.
To this impotent apology of the great preacher of immediatism in his dealing
with all kinds of sin, except the sin of slave-holding, for not espousing the cause of the slave, Mr. Garrison
made his famous retort:
Then you had better let all your irons burn than neglect your duty to the slave.
What more did this poor and friendless man, with his one idea and his harsh language, know of duties and dangers than Daniel Webster, who was busy saving the Union
; than Lyman Beecher
, who was not less busy saving souls; or than Dr. Channing
, who was quite as busy saving liberalism in matters of religion?
What folly and presumption it must have seemed to these mighty men this attempt of Garrison
to impress upon them a proper sense of their obligations to their country.
“Your zeal,” said Dr. Beecher
to him, with unlimited condescension of tone-“your zeal is commendable, but you are misguided.
If you will give up your fanatical notions and be guided by us (the clergy) we will make you the Wilberforce of America
And so what was the young man, burning up with his one idea, to do in presence of such a failure to win these men to the leadership of the anti-slavery movement?
He could not hold his peace; his message he was compelled to deliver in the ears of the nation whether its leaders would hear or forbear.
Perhaps the common people would hearken to what the wise and powerful had rejected.
At any rate they should hear what was resting upon his soul with the weight of a great woe, the force of a supreme command.
But how was he, penniless and friendless, to roll from his bosom the burden which was crushing
it; to pause long enough in the battle for bread to fight the battle of the slave?
Ah, if he had money!
but no money did he have, not a dollar in his pocket!
Oh, if he had rich friends who would dedicate their riches to the preaching of the gospel of freedom!
rich friends there were none.
Oh, if he could cry to the Church
for help in this hour of his need!
but it was slowly dawning on him that not from the Church
would help come to his cause; for a grievous thing had happened to the Church
The slave gorgon sat staring from the pews, and turning the pulpits to stone, turning also to stone the hearts of the people.
Undismayed by the difficulties which were closing in around him, Garrison
resolutely set himself to accomplish his purpose touching the establishment of a weekly paper devoted to the abolition of slavery.
He had promised in his Prospectus
to issue the first number of the Public Liberator
“as soon as subscriptions thereto may authorize the attempt.”
But had he waited for the fulfillment of this condition, the experiment could never have been tried.
When subscribers did not come in, the paper, he determined should go forth all the same.
But there are some things in the publication of a paper which no man can dispense with, which indispensable somethings are: types, a press, an office, and an assistant.
All these requisites were wanting to the man whose sole possession seemed an indomitable will, a faith in himself, and in the righteousness of his cause, which nothing could shake, nor disappointment nor difficulty, however great, was able to daunt or deter.
To such an unconquerable will, to such an invincible faith
obstacles vanish; the impossible becomes the attainable.
burned to be about his work, help came to him from a man quite as penniless and friendless as himself.
The man was Isaac Knapp
, an old companion of his in Newburyport
, who had also worked with him in the office of the Genius
, in Baltimore
He was a practical printer, and was precisely the sort of assistant that the young reformer needed at this juncture in the execution of his purpose; a man like himself acquainted with poverty, and of unlimited capacity for the endurance of unlimited hardships.
Together they worked out the financial problems which blocked the way to the publication of the paper.
The partners took an office in Merchants' Hall building, then standing on the corner of Congress and Water streets, Boston
, which gave their joint enterprise a local habitation.
It had already a name.
They obtained the use of types in the printing office of the Christian Examiner
, situated in the same building.
The foreman, Stephen Foster
, through his ardent interest in Abolition, made the three first numbers of the paper possible.
The publishers paid for the use of the types by working during the day at the case in the Examiner's
They got the use of a press from another foreman with Abolition sympathies, viz., James B. Yerrington
, then the printer of the Boston Daily Advocate
. Thus were obtained the four indispensables to the publication of the Liberator-types
, a press, an office, and an assistant.
When at length the offspring of such labor and sacrifices made its appearance in the world, which was on January i, 1831, it was, in point of size, insignificant
It did not look as if its voice would ever reach beyond the small dark chamber where it saw the light.
reader, a wee sheet with four columns to the page, measuring fourteen inches one way and nine and a quarter the other, and you will get an idea of the diminutiveness of the Liberator
on the day of its birth.
The very paper on which it was printed was procured on credit.
To the ordinary observer it must have seemed such a weakling as was certain to perish from inanition in the first few months of its struggle for existence in the world of journalism.
It was domiciled during successive periods in four different rooms of the Merchant's Hall building
, until it reached No.
i , “under the eaves,” whence it issued weekly for many years to call the nation to repentance.
A photographic impression of this cradle-room of the anti-slavery movement has been left by Oliver Johnson
, an eyewitness.
Says Mr. Johnson
: “The dingy walls; the small windows, bespattered with printer's ink; the press standing in one corner; the composingstands opposite; the long editorial and mailing table, covered with newspapers; the bed of the editor and publisher on the floor-all these make a picture never to be forgotten.”
For the first eighteen months the partners toiled fourteen hours a day, and subsisted “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, alas, “were on short commons even at that.”
Amid such hard and grinding poverty was the Liberator
But the great end of the reformer glorified the mean surroundings:
how are ye still born
In the rude stable, in the manger nursed;
What humble hands unbar those gates of morn
Through which the splendors of the New Day burst.
About the brow of this “infant crying in the night,” shone aureole-like the sunlit legend: Our country is the world-our countrymen are mankind
. The difference between this motto of the Liberator
and that of the Free Press: Our country, our whole country, and nothing but our country-measures
the greatness of the revolution which had taken place in the young editor.
The grand lesson he had learned, than which there is none greater, that beneath diversities of race, color, creed, language, there is the one human principle, which makes all men kin. He had learned at the age of twenty-five to know the mark of brotherhood made by the Deity Himself
my brother is man, not because he is American or Anglo-Saxon
, or white
, but because he is a fellow-man,” is the simple, sublime acknowledgment, which thenceforth he was to make in his word and life.
It was Mr. Garrison
's original design, as we have seen, to publish the Liberator
had, since the issue of the Prospectus
for the new paper, removed the Genius
to the capital of the nation.
This move of Lundy
rendered the establishment of a second paper devoted to the abolition of slavery in the same place, of doubtful utility, but, weighty as was this consideration from a mere businests point of view, in determining Garrison
to locate the Liberator
in another quarter, it was not decisive.
Just what was the decisive consideration, he reveals in his salutatory address in the Liberator
. Here it is:
“During my recent tour for the purpose of exciting the minds of the people by a series of discourses on the subject of slavery,” he confides to the reader, “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 slaveowners 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
This final choice of Boston
as a base from which to operate against slavery was sagacious, and of the greatest moment to the success of the experiment and to its effective service to the cause.
If the reformer changed his original intention respecting the place of publication for his paper, he made no alteration of his position on the subject of slavery.
“I shall strenuously contend,” he declares in the salutatory, “for the immediate enfranchisement of our slave population.”
“In Park street Church,” he goes on to add, “on the Fourth of July, 1829, in an address on slavery, I unreflectingly assented to the popular .but pernicious doctrine of gradual
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.”
To those who find fault with his harsh language he makes reply: “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
's “Here I take my stand,” was not braver or grander than the “I will be heard,” of the American
It did not seem possible that a young man, without influence, without money, standing almost alone, could ever make good those courageous words.
The country, in Church and State, had decreed silence on the subject of slavery; the patriotism of the North
, its commerce, its piety, its labor and capital had all joined hands to smother agitation, and stifle the discussion of a question that imperilled the peace and durability of Webster
's glorious Union.
But one man, tearing the gag from his lips, defying all these, cried, “Silence, there shall not be!”
and forthwith the whole land began to talk on the forbidden theme:
O small beginnings ye are great and strong,
Based on a faithful heart and weariless brain!
Ye build the future fair, ye conquer wrong.
Ye earn the crown, and wear it not in vain!