The Liberator (newspaper)

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Liberator issue. Depicting African Americans next to a lynching tree.
An issue of The Liberator depicting African Americans next to a lynching tree.
Liberator v.1, no.1, 1831

The Liberator (1831–1865) was an American abolitionist newspaper founded by William Lloyd Garrison and Isaac Knapp. Religious rather than political, it appealed to the moral conscience of its readers, urging them to demand immediate freeing of the slaves. It also promoted women's rights. Despite its modest weekly circulation of 3,000, it had prominent readers such as Frederick Douglass.


Garrison co-published weekly issues of The Liberator from Boston continuously for 35 years, from January 1, 1831, to the final issue of December 29, 1865.[1] Although its circulation was only about 3,000, and three-quarters of subscribers were African Americans in 1834,[2] the newspaper earned nationwide notoriety for its uncompromising advocacy of "immediate and complete emancipation of all slaves" in the United States. Garrison set the tone for the paper in his famous open letter "To the Public" in the first issue:

... Assenting to the "self-evident truth" maintained in the American Declaration of Independence, "that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights -- among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," I shall strenuously contend for the immediate enfranchisement of our slave population. In Park-street Church, on the Fourth of July, 1829, in an address on slavery, I unreflectingly assented to the popular but pernicious doctrine of gradual abolition. I seize this opportunity to make a full and unequivocal recantation, and thus publicly to ask pardon of my God, of my country, and of my brethren the poor slaves, for having uttered a sentiment so full of timidity, injustice and absurdity. A similar recantation, from my pen, was published in the Genius of Universal Emancipation at Baltimore, in September, 1829. My conscience is now satisfied.

I am aware, that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose house is on fire, to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hand of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; -- but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — AND I WILL BE HEARD.  ...

Rather than looking to politics to create change, Garrison utilized nonviolent means, such as moral suasion as his message throughout the newspaper.[3][4] Garrison felt that slavery was a moral issue and used his way of writing to appeal to the morality of his readers as an attempt to influence them into changing their morally questionable ways. The Liberator took the stance of William Lloyd Garrison. For example, "No Union with Slave-Holders" was a slogan utilized for weeks at a time throughout the newspaper's publication, advocating that the North should leave the Union.[4]

Garrison celebrates 13th amendment William Lloyd Garrison.

The Liberator continued for three decades from its founding through the end of the American Civil War. It had black columnists and reporters.[5] Garrison ended the newspaper's run with a valedictory column at the end of 1865, when the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery throughout the United States. It was succeeded by The Nation.[6]

Woman's rights advocacy

The Liberator also became an avowed woman's rights newspaper when the prospectus for its 1838 issue declared that as the paper's object was "to redeem woman as well as man from a servile to an equal condition," it would support "the rights of woman to their utmost extent."[7] In January and February 1838, the Liberator published Sarah Grimké's "Letters on the Province of Woman" in the paper, and later in the year published them in pamphlet form as Letters on the Equality of the Sexes, and the Condition of Woman.[8] During the following decades, the Liberator promoted women's rights by publishing editorials, petitions, convention calls and proceedings, speeches, legislative action, and other material advocating woman suffrage, equal property rights, and women's educational and professional equality. The Liberator's printers: Isaac Knapp, James Brown Yerrinton (1800–1866) and James Manning Winchell Yerrinton (1825–1893), and Robert Folger Wallcut (1797–1884), printed many of the woman's rights tracts used in the 1850s.

Inspiration among abolitionists

The Liberator inspired abolitionist Angelina Grimké to publicly join the abolitionist movement. She sent a letter to William Lloyd Garrison recalling her experiences as a member of an upper class, white, slaveholding family. Angelina Grimké's letter to William Lloyd Garrison was soon after published in The Liberator ([9]).

Frederick Douglass was inspired by The Liberator. As he commented upon in his first issue of The North Star, Frederick Douglass felt that it was necessary for African-Americans, such as himself, to speak out about their own experiences with injustice. He claimed that those that experienced injustice were the ones that must demand justice[10] Soon after, Douglass began writing his own abolitionist newspaper, The North Star.[11]


The Liberator faced harsh resistance from several state legislatures and local groups: for example, North Carolina indicted Garrison for felonius acts, and the Vigilance Association of Columbia, South Carolina, offered a reward of $1,500 ($44,392.47 in 2018 dollars) to those who identified distributors of the paper.[citation needed]

Garrison too faced resistance, even to the point of violence. In 1835, a Boston mob formed with support from local newspapers in resistance to the announcement that George Thompson would speak at the first anniversary meeting of the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society. The mob, unable to find Thompson, redirected their aggression towards Garrison who was in the society's meeting hall. Eventually escalation of the situation led to destruction of the society's antislavery sign, and even calls to lynch Garrison. Garrison eventually managed a narrow escape to the city jail for protection, after which the mob dispersed.[12]

Contents online

  • The Liberator full online archives at Fair Use Repository, including archives of full-page scans of all issues from 1831–1865 (Vols. I–XXXV).
  • Internet Archive:
    • Liberator v.28, no.30, 1858
    • Liberator v.31, no.1, no.15, no.16, no.27, 1861
    • Liberator v.32, no.1, no.27, 1862
  • The Liberator Files collection maintained by Horace Seldon.

All of the following articles were written by Garrison.

  • "To the Public", Garrison's introductory column for The Liberator, January 1, 1831.
  • "Truisms", January 8, 1831.
  • "Walker's Appeal", January 8, 1831.
  • "The Insurrection", Garrison's reaction to the news of Nat Turner's slave rebellion in Virginia, September 3, 1831.
  • "The Great Crisis!", December 29, 1832, one of Garrison's first explicit condemnations of the Constitution and the Union.
  • "Declaration of Sentiments", adopted by the Boston Peace Convention September 18, 1838, reprinted in The Liberator, September 28, 1838.
  • "Abolition at the Ballot Box", June 28, 1839.
  • "The American Union", January 10, 1845.
  • "American Colorphobia", June 11, 1847.
  • "On the Dissolution of the Union", June 15, 1855.
  • "The Tragedy at Harper's Ferry", Garrison's first public comments on John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry, October 28, 1859.
  • "John Brown and the Principle of Nonresistance", the transcript of a speech given for a meeting in the Tremont Temple, Boston, on December 2, 1859, the day that John Brown was hanged, printed December 16, 1859.
  • "The War—Its Cause and Cure", May 3, 1861.
  • "Valedictory: The Final Number of The Liberator", Garrison's closing column for The Liberator, December 29, 1865.
1850 Liberator masthead, designed by Hammatt Billings

See also


  1. ^ Boston Directory, 1831, Garrison & Knapp, editors and proprietors Liberator, 10 Merchants Hall, Congress Street
  2. ^ Ripley, C. Peter (1991). The Black Abolitionist Papers: Vol. III: The United States, 1830-1846, p. 9. UNC Press. ISBN 0-8078-1926-3.
  3. ^ "The Liberator | American newspaper". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2017-05-22.
  4. ^ a b "Book Review: All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery, by Henry Mayer". The Independent Institute. Retrieved 2017-05-22.
  5. ^ Hayden, Robert C. (1992). African-Americans in Boston: More than 350 Years. Trustees of the Boston Public Library. p. 112. ISBN 0-89073-083-0.
  6. ^ The Anti-Slavery Reporter, August 1, 1865, p. 187.
  7. ^ Liberator, December 15, 1837.
  8. ^ [1]
  9. ^
  10. ^ "The North Star | American newspaper". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2017-05-15.
  11. ^ "Abolitionist Movement | HistoryNet". Retrieved 2017-05-15.
  12. ^ Mayer, Henry (1998). All on fire : William Lloyd Garrison and the abolition of slavery (1st ed.). St. Martin's Press. pp. 200–205. ISBN 0-312-18740-8.


  • Angelina and Sarah Grimke: Abolitionist Sisters
  • The Liberator Files, Horace Seldon's collection and summary of research of The Liberator original copies at the Boston Public Library, Boston, Massachusetts.
  • Works by or about The Liberator at Internet Archive
  • Works by The Liberator at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
  • The Liberator at

External links

  • Works by or about The Liberator at Internet Archive
  • Works by The Liberator at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
  • The Liberator at
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