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The Conflict with Slavery
William Lloyd Garrison.

by John Greenleaf Whittier

An Introduction to Oliver Johnson's "William Lloyd Garrison and his
Times."


[1879.]

I no not know that any word of mine can give additional interest to this memorial of William Lloyd Garrison from the pen of one of his earliest and most devoted friends, whose privilege it has been to share his confidence and his labors for nearly half a century; but I cannot well forego the opportunity afforded me to add briefly my testimony to the tribute to the memory of the great Reformer, whose friendship I have shared, and with whom I have been associated in a common cause from youth to age.

My acquaintance with him commenced in boyhood. My father was a subscriber to his first paper, the Free Press, and the humanitarian tone of his editorials awakened a deep interest in our little household, which was increased by a visit which he made us. When he afterwards edited the Journal of the Times, at Bennington, Vt., I ventured to write him a letter of encouragement and sympathy, urging him to continue his labors against slavery, and assuring him that he could "do great things," an unconscious prophecy which has been fulfilled beyond the dream of my boyish enthusiasm. The friendship thus commenced has remained unbroken through half a century, confirming my early confidence in his zeal and devotion, and in the great intellectual and moral strength which he brought to the cause with which his name is identified.

During the long and hard struggle in which the abolitionists were engaged, and amidst the new and difficult questions and side-issues which presented themselves, it could scarcely be otherwise than that differences of opinion and action should arise among them. The leader and his disciples could not always see alike. My friend, the author of this book, I think, generally found himself in full accord with him, while I often decidedly dissented. I felt it my duty to use my right of citizenship at the ballot-box in the cause of liberty, while Garrison, with equal sincerity, judged and counselled otherwise. Each acted under a sense of individual duty and responsibility, and our personal relations were undisturbed. If, at times, the great anti-slavery leader failed to do justice to the motives of those who, while in hearty sympathy with his hatred of slavery, did not agree with some of his opinions and methods, it was but the pardonable and not unnatural result of his intensity of purpose, and his self-identification with the cause he advocated; and, while compelled to dissent, in some particulars, from his judgment of men and measures, the great mass of the antislavcry people recognized his moral leadership. The controversies of old and new organization, nonresistance and political action, may now be looked upon by the parties to them, who still survive, with the philosophic calmness which follows the subsidence of prejudice and passion. We were but fallible men, and doubtless often erred in feeling, speech, and action. Ours was but the common experience of reformers in all ages.

          "Never in Custom's oiled grooves
          The world to a higher level moves,
          But grates and grinds with friction hard
          On granite bowlder and flinty shard.
          Ever the Virtues blush to find
          The Vices wearing their badge behind,
          And Graces and Charities feel the fire
          Wherein the sins of the age expire."


It is too late now to dwell on these differences. I choose rather, with a feeling of gratitude to God, to recall the great happiness of laboring with the noble company of whom Garrison was the central figure. I love to think of him as he seemed to me, when in the fresh dawn of manhood he sat with me in the old Haverhill farmhouse, revolving even then schemes of benevolence; or, with cheery smile, welcoming me to his frugal meal of bread and milk in the dingy Boston printing-room; or, as I found him in the gray December morning in the small attic of a colored man, in Philadelphia, finishing his night-long task of drafting his immortal Declaration of Sentiments of the American Anti-Slavery Society; or, as I saw him in the jail of Leverett Street, after his almost miraculous escape from the mob, playfully inviting me to share the safe lodgings which the state had provided for him; and in all the varied scenes and situations where we acted together our parts in the great endeavor and success of Freedom.

The verdict of posterity in his case may be safely anticipated. With the true reformers and benefactors of his race he occupies a place inferior to none other. The private lives of many who fought well the battles of humanity have not been without spot or blemish. But his private character, like his public, knew no dishonor. No shadow of suspicion rests upon the white statue of a life, the fitting garland of which should be the Alpine flower that symbolizes noble purity.
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