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Wendell Phillips
by [?]

Slavery, theoretically, might be an error, but in America it was a commercial, political, social and religious necessity, and any man who said otherwise was an enemy of the State.

William Lloyd Garrison said otherwise. But who was William Lloyd Garrison? Only an ignorant and fanatical freethinker from the country town of Newburyport, Massachusetts. He had started four or five newspapers, and all had failed, because he would not keep his pen quiet on the subject of slavery.

New England must have cotton, and cotton could not be produced without slaves. Garrison was a fool. All good Christians refused to read his vile sheet, and businessmen declined to advertise with him or to subscribe to his paper.

However, he continued to print things, telling what he thought of slavery. In Eighteen Hundred Thirty-one, he was issuing a periodical called, “The Liberator.”

I saw a partial file of “The Liberator” recently at the Boston Public Library. They say it is very precious, and a custodian stood by and tenderly turned the leaves for me. I was not allowed even to touch it, and when I was through looking at the tattered pages, they locked it up in a fireproof safe.

The sheets of different issues were of various sizes, and the paper was of several grades in quality, showing that stock was scarce, and that there was no system in the office.

There surely was not much of a subscription-list, and we hear of Garrison’s going around and asking for contributions. But interviews were what he really wished, as much as subscribers. He let the preachers defend the peculiar institution–to print a man’s fool remarks is the most cruel way of indicting him. Among those Garrison called on was Doctor Lyman Beecher, then thundering against Unitarianism.

Garrison got various clergymen to commit themselves in favor of slavery, and he quoted them verbatim, whereas on this subject the clergy of the North wished to remain silent–very silent.

Doctor Beecher was wary–all he would say was, “I have too many irons in the fire now!”

“You had better take them all out and put this one in,” said the seedy editor.

But Doctor Beecher made full amends later–he supplied a son and a daughter to the Abolition Movement, and this caused Carlos Martyn to say, “The old man’s loins were wiser than his head.”

Garrison had gotten himself thoroughly disliked in Boston. The Mayor once replied to a letter inquiring about him, “He is a nobody and lives in a rat-hole.”

But Garrison managed to print his paper–rather irregularly, to be sure, but he printed it. From one room he moved into two, and a straggling company, calling themselves “The Anti-Slavery Society,” used his office for a meeting-place.

And now, behold the office mobbed, the type pitched into the street, the Society driven out, and the fanatical editor, bruised and battered, safely lodged in jail–writing editorials with a calm resolution and a will that never faltered.

And Wendell Phillips? He was pacing the streets, wondering whether it was worth while to be respectable and prosperous in a city where violence took the place of law when logic failed.

To him, Garrison had won–Garrison had not been answered: only beaten, bullied, abused and thrust behind prison-bars.

Wendell Phillips’ cheeks burned with shame.

* * * * *

Garrison was held a prisoner for several days.

The Mayor would have punished the man, Pilate-like, to appease public opinion, but there was no law to cover the case–no illegal offense had been committed. Garrison demanded a trial, but the officials said that they had locked him up merely to protect him, and that he was a base ingrate. Official Boston now looked at the whole matter as a good thing to forget. The prisoner’s cell-door was left open, in the hope that he would escape, just as, later, George Francis Train enjoyed the distinction of being the only man who was literally kicked down the stone steps of the Tombs.