Correct the Record: Pardon William Lloyd Garrison!

Editorial

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By Elwood Earl “Sandy” Sanders Jr.

Should the governor of Maryland pardon 19th century abolitionist leader William Lloyd Garrison? Yes, he should. Some background:

In 1830, Garrison co-edited a newspaper in Baltimore, MD that among, other things, called for the abolition of slavery. He accused a man named Francis Todd of slave trading. There is little doubt the charge was accurate, according to the late Henry Mayer’s magnum opus on the abolitionist editor, All On Fire, but Garrison was convicted of malicious libel. He was fined $50 plus court costs; since he could not pay the fine, he was jailed for what would have been six months. After 49 days in Baltimore’s jail, Arthur Tappan of New York, who later became a abolitionist himself, paid the fine. Garrison was released on June 1, 1830.

This experience crystallized Garrison’s determination to fight slavery through the press and agitation. Using a tiny newspaper, The Liberator, and enormous inspirational and organizational skills, Garrison raised abolition to prominence on the national stage, often at risk to his own personal safety — he was nearly lynched by a Boston mob in 1835.

Convinced that Garrison deserved a posthumous pardon both by way of clearing his name and removing a stain from the great state of Maryland’s honor, I wrote to Maryland Secretary of State John P. McDonough in 2013 to find out if such a pardon has ever been issued. McDonough never replied, so I have to assume the answer is “no.”

I also emailed then-governor Martin O’Malley for his thoughts on the matter. Once again, no reply.

Now a former governor, O’Malley recently announced his candidacy for the presidency of the United States. While his state’s miscarriage of justice versus William Lloyd Garrison may not rise to the level of major issue in a national campaign, it seems to me that O’Malley should have corrected a great historical wrong when he could have done so at no personal or political cost to himself.

Abolitionism was a powerful moral movement that all Americans can take historic pride in; Garrison was its acknowledged leader.

Leveraging the founding ideals of the nation and the moral suasion of biblical injunctions, Garrison spurred our consciences and called us back to our deepest values.

Like his predecessors, O’Malley neglected to correct the historical record with a well-deserved pardon. I hope you will join me in asking Maryland’s new governor, Larry Hogan, to rectify that oversight.

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Elwood Earl “Sandy” Sanders, Jr., is a Virginia attorney and political activist. He blogs at Virginia Right on a myriad of issues, including local Virginia politics, UKIP, sports and legal issues from a libertarian and Christian perspective. William Lloyd Garrison is a hero for Sandy; sometimes he asks the question before he blogs: What would Garrison do (or say)?

The William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org).

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