Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
His Withdrawal from the Anti-Slavery Society, and Plea for its Dissolution
By William Lloyd Garrison (18051879)
[Speech at the Business Meeting, 10 May, 1865.]
WHEN the American Anti-Slavery Society was organized, and until four years ago, the religious bodies of our country were against us, and against the slave; they are now for us, and for the slave, and for the extermination of the slave system. The government was then against us; it is now for us. The People were then against us; they are now for us. Then we held up our little torch, because it was thick darkness throughout the land; but now that the heavens are all aflame, and effulgent day has succeeded murky night, we are admonished of the vast importance of keeping our little torch burning, as of old! Though abolition is now the most popular sentiment in the United Statesthough it pulls down and lifts upthough it is as irresistible as Niagara in its onward coursewe are earnestly and pathetically conjured not to dissolve an association which has not the means to send an agent into the field, and which has made no annual report since 1861!
My friends, let us not any longer affect superiority when we are not superiorlet us not assume to be better than other people, when we are not any better. When they are reiterating all that we say, and disposed to do all that we wish to have done, what more can we ask? And yet I know the desire to keep together, because of past memories and labors, is a very natural one. But let us challenge and command the respect of the nation, and of the friends of freedom throughout the world, by a wise and sensible conclusion. Of course, we are not to cease laboring in regard to whatever remains to be done; but let us work with the millions, and not exclusively as the American Anti-Slavery Society. As co-workers are everywhere found, as our voices are everywhere listened to with approbation and our sentiments cordially endorsed, let us not continue to be isolated. My friend, Mr. Phillips, says he has been used to isolation, and he thinks he can endure it some time longer. My answer is, that when one stands alone with God for truth, for liberty, for righteousness, he may glory in his isolation; but when the principle which kept him isolated has at last conquered, then to glory in isolation seems to me no evidence of courage or fidelity.
Friends of the American Anti-Slavery Society, this is no death-bed scene to me! There are some in our ranks who seem to grow discouraged and morbid in proportion as light abounds and victory crowns our efforts; and it seems as if the hour of the triumph of universal justice is the hour for them to feel the saddest and most melancholy! We have had something said about a funeral here to-day. A funeral because Abolitionism sweeps the nation! A funeral? Nay, thanks be to God who giveth us the victory, it is a day of jubilee, and not a day to talk about funerals or death-beds! It is a resurrection from the dead, rather; it is an ascension and beatification! Slavery is in its grave, and there is no power in this nation that can ever bring it back. But if the heavens should disappear, and the earth be removed out of its placeif slavery should, by a miracle, come backwhat then? We shall then have millions of supporters to rally with us for a fresh onset!
I thank you, beloved friends, who have for so many years done me the honor to make me the President of the American Anti-Slavery Society. I never should have accepted that post if it had been a popular one. I took it because it was unpopular; because we, as a body, were everywhere denounced, proscribed, outlawed. To-day, it is popular to be President of the American Anti-Slavery Society. Hence, my connection with it terminates here and now, both as a member and as its presiding officer. I bid you an affectionate adieu.