Proto-Blogger: William Lloyd Garrison

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William Lloyd Garrison, abolitionist, chose weekly journalism as an instrument to change American history. Author and publisher of The Liberator over 1800 consecutive weeks from 1829 until the end of the Civil War, he fits the frame of the proto-blogger, a man who put his voice on the line with thundering effect.

“I will be as harsh as truth and as uncompromising as justice,” he wrote, words that are almost unimaginable in American “media” of the 21st century. About slavery: “On this subject, I do not wish to speak or write with moderation. I will not equivocate. I will not excuse. I will not retreat a single inch, and I will be heard.”

Garrison was hung in effigy in the South and very nearly lynched in Boston, which is to say that unlike the gentleman abolitionists Emerson or even Thoreau, he put his life on the line. Born in Newburyport, Mass., 200 years ago this month, he’s not such an unfamiliar figure today, when bloggers hold similar aspirations.

We’re thinking of putting something together on I.F. Stone as well. Any other proto-bloggers?

Lois Brown

Professor of English, Mount Holyoke College

Chris Daly

Professor of Journalism, Boston University

Currently writing a history of American journalism

From Brendan’s pre-interview notes

There is a tradition that goes far back in journalism history, predates the model of the mainstream media. Two dimensions: one, advocacy, the other is kind of what you might call self-reliance. Garrison ran his operation on a shoestring, it was enough to put bread on the table and allow him to raise a family but no more.

Garrison said himself in a letter, after hearing an anti-slavery talk in Boston, his soul was all on fire, became an instant and life-long convert to the cause, to him nothing else mattered. Part of his accomplishment, part of his greatness. He was a moral actor at the same time that he was all of these other things.

In 1831, he was looked at as crazy. Had three ideas that he never deviated from: Immediate emancipation for all slaves on American soil, followed by full civil rights, no exporting, disagreed with the colonization societies that created Liberia as a place to go. Nonviolence and nonpolitical means only.

In 1831, Garrison had been not only a minority figure, but despised even in his own town, was very nearly lynched in Boston, only survived the night by getting himself arrested, an example of how out of the mainstream he was.

By 1865, his view is predominant. His influence: It’s vague and hard to measure, but there are lots of things you can point to. Part of the confirmation would come from Abraham lincoln, gave credit to Garrison for in part causing the war. Gave Garrison a front-row seat when Fort Sumter was retaken.

His newspaper read never by a large number of people, but by opinion makers, editors, office-holders. He was a movement editor. He launched the New England Anti-Slavery Society, gave birth to the American Anti-slavery society, agitated, pamphleted, amplified those views. Also encouraged the young frederick Douglass into the movement and into the profession.

Frank Garrison

Carpenter, Gloucester

Direct descendant of William Lloyd Garrison


Wikipedia, William Lloyd Garrison

Wikipedia, The Liberator

Wikipedia, I.F. Stone

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