An Address Delivered in Marlboro Chapel, Boston, July 4, 1838
A July 4 speech by William Lloyd Garrison, published as a tract by the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1838. Digitized by the Antislavery Literature Project.
William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879) was a preeminent abolitionist speaker, organizer, writer, and newspaper publisher. He edited The Liberator from 1831-1865 and served as president of the American Anti-Slavery Society from 1833-1865. By the conclusion of his political career, Garrison had become a national and international symbol of the antislavery cause.
Garrison delivered his 1838 ‘Marlboro Chapel’ address at a point when the abolitionist movement was in organizational confusion, with splits occurring to form the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society and the Liberty Party. Built in 1835, the Marlboro Chapel under Rev. Amos A. Phelps was known from its opening as a center of abolitionist events.
Garrison begins his speech on a caustic note, noting that since the previous July 4th the Republic had seen great growth in its stock of slaves and continued diminution in free speech that protested against slavery. During the same year it had driven the Cherokees off of their treaty lands. (4) “Hail, Columbia! happy land!” he comments with bitter irony. Garrison speaks as “an advocate of my enslaved countrymen,” (6) identifying himself with black slaves, and demands immediate emancipation. He asserts “their perfect equality with ourselves, as a part of the human race, and their inalienable right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” (6) Independence is not truly independence without the emancipation of slaves: freedom remains theory, not practice. (8)
The absence of freedom gives cause to insurrection, Garrison warns, no less than it did for the American revolution. The charge that abolitionists stir sedition and rebellion is false, he contends, as slavery creates these of itself. (8-9) He further contends with another charge against abolitionists, that they overstepped the boundaries of free speech by advocating for slaves and causing sedition, in discussing the murder of Elijah Lovejoy during the preceding year for publishing an abolitionist newspaper. Garrison was especially exercised by northern defenses of Lovejoy’s killing, including by the Massachusetts attorney-general. (11-16, 20-21) Since “slavery and insurrection, like cause and effect, are inseparable” (20), Garrison predicts that slaves in southern states will revolt. He attributes the fact that no general slave insurrection has taken place to awareness by slaves that abolitionists are pleading their cause. (23) The abolitionist movement, according to Garrison, rejects violence; rather, by seeking to end slavery the movement works to remove causes of violence. (28-29) For further on abolitionism and the issue of violent resistance, see John Demos, “The Antislavery Movement and the Problem of ‘Violent Means,’” The New England Quarterly 37 (December 1964) 4:501-526.
Garrison describes the abolitionist movement as “intrepid, heroic, invincible.” (30) He dismisses the characterization of cowardice made by its opponents on grounds that Garrisonian abolitionists refused to countenance violence. (30-31) While Garrison refutes claims of abolitionist sedition and violence, he also claims that were northern abolitionists to give the signal, slaves in the South would rise in general rebellion. (34)
In the latter part of his speech, Garrison takes up a common theme: reproofs against proslavery clergy. “Boston is still in spirit pro-slavery,” he states, because its proslavery clergy have defended the institution. (39) But he sees progress over the course of the last year: “New England has almost become one great anti-slavery society.” (40) The tract concludes with reprints of antislavery poetry, including John Pierpont’s popular ‘The Tocsin’ and Garrison’s own ‘Universal Emancipation.’
For a general biography of Garrison, see Henry Mayer, All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998).
- Joe Lockard