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William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879) was one of the most prominent and uncompromising abolitionists of the nineteenth century. Garrison published The Liberator, an antislavery newspaper, from 1831 until the day that all American slaves were freed, 34 years later. He also organized the first Anti-Slavery Society in New England, and co-founded the first nationwide organization, the American Anti-Slavery Society. Southerners and anti-abolitionists often condemned him as a troublemaker who sought to incite their otherwise contented slaves to insurrection. Though a pacifist all his life, Garrison did celebrate the notion of slave rebellions after John Brown's failed raid on the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Virginia.

Garrison was anything but a moderate. In 1832, he published Thoughts on African Colonization, which savaged the colonization effort. Garrison argued that colonization would actually buttress the institution of slavery by eliminating the problem of free blacks in society and providing a convenient means for disposing of elderly and infirm slaves. He acknowledged that many people with good intentions had joined the Colonization Society, but argued that the Society must fall together with slavery itself. Garrison also disapproved of the small religious sects that had formed to oppose slavery, on the grounds that his American Anti-Slavery Society should not be weakened by splintering into denominations. Garrisonians wanted a new government that forbade slavery from the start, and they labeled the United States Constitution a pro-slavery document, illegal in its denial of freedom to African-Americans. This position alienated Garrison's supporters, brothers Arthur and Lewis Tappan, who split with Garrison in 1840 to pursue a more moderate route through the new Liberty Party. That same year, Garrison's insistence that women be allowed to serve as delegates to abolitionist conventions led to a split in the American Anti-Slavery Society and the formation of the Foreign and American Anti-Slavery Society (also founded by the Tappans).

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