William Lloyd Garrison at National Portrait Gallery

William Lloyd Garrison on Non-Resistance

William Lloyd Garrison was a journalistic crusader who advocated for the immediate emancipation of all slaves and gained a national reputation for being one of the most radical of American abolitionists. The Liberator denounced the Compromise of 1850, condemned the Kansas-Nebraska Act, damned the Dred Scott decision and hailed John Brown’s raid as “God’s method of dealing retribution upon the head of the tyrant.”

The slaveholders in the South demanded the end of the incendiary paper and the state of Georgia offered a $5,000 reward for Garrison’s capture. He died in New York City on May 24, 1879.

Accessible Archives subscribers have access to the complete run of The Liberator.

Almost thirty-five years after his death his daughter, Fanny Garrison Villard, published William Lloyd Garrison On Non-Resistance: Together With a Personal Sketch. The short volume includes her own memories of her father as well as chapters like What I Owe to Garrison, by Leo Tolstoi and William Lloyd Garrison as Seen by a Grandson.

The preface is included here in its entirety and the full volume can be read below.

From the Preface

I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — AND I WILL BE HEARD. — William Lloyd Garrison

My inherited principles of Non-Resistance, which seem as essential to me as the breath of life and paramount to all others, and filial affection have made me yield to the urgent requests of many friends to state as best I may what part a belief in Non-Resistance played in the life of my father, William Lloyd Garrison. His undying faith in the invincible power of Non-Resistance, more than all else, in my estimation, entitles him to the gratitude of his fellowmen. “Doing evil that good may come,” he ever regarded as a false and pernicious doctrine. Therefore, his language had, he felt, to be “as harsh as truth and as uncompromising as justice.”

After one of Mr. Garrison’s impassioned utterances, a warm sympathizer said to him, “Oh my friend, do try to moderate your indignation and keep more cool; why you are all on fire.” Mr. Garrison replied, “I have need to be all on fire, for I have moun- tains of ice about me to melt.” This is perhaps more true of Non-Resistance than of almost any other cause.

It was early given to Mr. Garrison to put his Non-Resistant principles to the test in a way that left no question as to his sincerity or as to his readiness to face death for his beliefs. On October 21, 1835, a “broadcloth” mob consisting of “5000 gentlemen of property and standing” gathered in Boston to tar and feather the English Abolitionist, George Thompson.

William Lloyd Garrison

William Lloyd Garrison

Unable to find Mr. Thompson, who had yielded to Mr. Garrison’s urgent request to leave the city, the mob surrounded the building in which Mr. Garrison was addressing the meeting of the “Female Anti-Slavery Society” although he had been warned in advance and urged to avoid danger. u In the middle of the uproar,” my father later wrote, “an Abolition brother whose mind had not been previously settled on the peace question, in his anguish and alarm for my safety, and in view of the helplessness of the civil authority, said: ‘I must henceforth repudiate the principle of non-resistance. When the civil arm is powerless, my own rights are trodden in the dust, and the lives of my friends are put in imminent peril by ruffians, I will hereafter prepare to defend myself and them at all hazards.’

Putting my hand upon his shoulder, I said, ‘Hold, my dear brother! You know not what spirit you are of. This is the trial of our faith, and the test of our endurance. Of what value or utility are the principles of peace and forgiveness, if we may repudiate them in the hour of peril and suffering? Do you wish to become like one of those violent and bloodthirsty men who are seeking my life? Shall we give blow for blow, and array sword against sword? God forbid! I will perish sooner than raise my hand against any man, even in self-defence, and let none of my friends resort to violence for my protection. If my life be taken, the cause of emancipation will not suffer. God reigns — his throne is undisturbed by this storm — he will make the wrath of man to praise him, and the remainder he will restrain — his omnipotence will at length be victorious.’ ”

Had weapons been used in my father’s defence, death would certainly have been his portion. As it was the mob placed a rope around him and dragged him through the streets, intending to lynch him, until he was rescued by the Mayor of Boston and a strong force of police. It was stated by eyewitnesses that Mr. Garrison’s composure was never ruffled during this soul-searching experience.

To this summary of my father’s views I have added a sketch of his personality, as I, the last of his children, knew it. Finally, I wish to record in this volume the words of Count Tolstoi in which he affirms that it was from my father that he learned of the doctrine of Non-Resistance which he at once embraced, so that it is indissolubly connected with his name.

Fanny Garrison Villard.
New York, June, 1924.

Read the Volume Online


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