Turning Point Reaction

In August 1841, at an abolitionist meeting in New Bedford, the 23-year-old Douglass saw his hero and his true friend , William Lloyd Garrison, for the first time. A few days later, Douglass spoke before the crowd attending the annual meeting of the Massachusetts branch of the American Anti-Slavery Society. Garrison immediately recognized Douglass's potential as a speaker, and hired him to be an agent for the society. As a traveling lecturer accompanying other abolitionist agents on tours of the northern states, his job was to talk about his life and to sell subscriptions of the Liberator and another newspaper, the Anti-Slavery Standard (Douglass, 366). In Frederick Douglass, William S McFeely writes that Douglass sees what he is to become in Garrison. For most of the next 10 years, Douglass was associated with the Garrisonian school of the antislavery movement. Garrison was a pacifist who believed that only through moral persuasion could slavery end, he attempted through his writings to educate slaveholders about the evils of the system they supported. He was opposed to slave uprisings and other violent resistance, but he was firm in his belief that slavery must be totally abolished. In the first issue of the Liberator in 1831, he had proclaimed I WILL BE HEARD (32).

Ever controversial, Garrison made many enemies throughout the country. As described by Douglass in his autobiography Life and Times, Garrison made sweeping attacks on organized religion because the churches refused to take a stand against slavery. He also believed that the U.S. Constitution upheld slavery. Garrison said that abolitionists should refuse to vote or run for political office because our government was so ill founded. He also called for the Union to be dissolved, demanding that it be split between a free nation in the North and a slavehold confederacy in the South (363).

Garrison also supported political equality for women and he fought to make it part of the abolitionist program. Some men were entirely against him on this issue, while others thought that it distracted attention from the struggle against slavery. In 1840, when he insisted that women be allowed to serve as delegates to abolitionist conventions, much of the membership of the American Anti-Slavery Society split off and formed a separate organization. The new group, the Foreign and American Anti-Slavery Society, was not opposed to working with political organizations, and many of its members supported the small, newly formed antislavery Liberty party (McFeely, 168).

Although Garrison splintered the antislavery movement, he was a powerful leader. His sincerity and passionate devotion to the abolitionist inspired many people, and his views had a strong effect on Douglass (Douglass, 365). For three months in 1851, Douglass traveled with other abolitionists to lectures through Massachusetts. Introduced as "a piece of property" or "a graduate from that peculiar institution, with his diploma written on his back," he launched into telling stories of his vivid memories of the years in slavery. Many of his friends in New Bedford thought that the publicity was dangerous for him, but he was careful to omit details that would identify him as the fugitive slave Frederick Baily (Douglass).

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