Read All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery by Henry Mayer Online


In All on Fire, William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879) emerges as an American hero, arguably on par with Abraham Lincoln, who forced the nation to confront the explosive issue of slavery.Mayer maintains that Garrison, a self-made man of scanty formal education who founded and edited the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator, not only served as the catalyst for the abolition ofIn All on Fire, William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879) emerges as an American hero, arguably on par with Abraham Lincoln, who forced the nation to confront the explosive issue of slavery.Mayer maintains that Garrison, a self-made man of scanty formal education who founded and edited the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator, not only served as the catalyst for the abolition of slavery, but inspired two generations of activists in civil rights and the women's movement.Through Garrison, tragically torn between pacifism and abolitionist advocacy, we also meet a rich pageant of great 19th-century historical figures, including Frederick Douglass, John Quincy Adams,and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Mayer's consequential biography will be read for generations to come....

Title : All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery
Author :
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ISBN : 9780312253677
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 707 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery Reviews

  • Tim
    2019-04-15 12:41

    Reading National Book Award finalist "All on Fire," Henry Mayer's fine biography of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, makes me want to do something with my life. Find a cause. Agitate. Repeat.Garrison's role in the abolition of slavery was a prominent one but, Mayer asserts, is underappreciated today. This mild, personable man from humble beginnings pledged himself to abolition at age 24, eventually editing his own antislavery newspaper, The Liberator, that he would publish for 35 years — lasting through the end of slavery he had so long sought — and more than 1,800 issues. Mayer spends a great deal of time on Garrison's tempestuous early days, when he spoke, wrote and published at great physical risk. He thrillingly escapes from a mob, is jailed, is reviled in the South (of course) but also around Boston, where he did most of his great work. To a staunch defender of slavery, South Carolina's John C. Calhoun, he was a dangerous man who wouldn't shut his trap. Garrison was astonishing in his ceaseless agitation and singlemindedness. Surely, many in New England and around the world — Garrison made several trips to England — welcomed and supported him, and Garrison was far from a lone voice in the wilderness. But that voice called many important people to action. Mayer's contention is that Garrison's unbending zealotry today clouds people's minds as to what an influence he really had.Mayer relates that Garrison's relationship with the world's most famous ex-slave, Frederick Douglas, was a close one for a time but would grow frosty as the Civil War neared, with the bond breaking between the two pre-eminent spokesmen of radical abolition in 1847. Many of the women who would become leading lights in the women's suffrage movement started out as antislavery agitators, and Mayer writes in detail about how Garrison's unusual insistence on involving women in the abolitionist cause (allowing them to attend meetings! Make speeches! Horrors!) created great friction and resistance even among other antislavery people. In fact, the schisms created between people who generally were on the same side takes up big chunks of Mayer's book. Early on, it's the backers of immediatism like Garrison battling colonizationists, who oppose slavery but think they would be doing blacks (and themselves) a favor by sending them back to Africa. Garrison had no patience for such backdoor racism, nor for gradualists who saw slavery as a bane whose elimination could wait for a better time. I wasn't aware of Garrison's "nonresistance" stance, in which he essentially refused to politicize abolition, choosing not to vote at all or compromise his values for minor gains or political expediency. Interestingly, his willingness to do just that during the Civil War led to further splits with the abolitionists who thought the balding firebrand had gone soft. Garrison was understandably skeptical about Abraham Lincoln's resolve (Lincoln himself was a backer of colonization) in ending the great sin, but as Lincoln gradually came around, Garrison was there to embrace the change.Mayer's biography of Garrison touches on the slavery clash as the main cause of the Civil War, of course, from the 3/5 compromise that gave the South a disproportionate representation that helped keep slavery going, to the push-pull of the carving of the ever-expanding U.S. territory and whether the new states would become slave or free.Mayer presents too few extensive passages from The Liberator to suit me. He does quote from the publication, but I would have preferred more of Garrison's direct words from the newspaper into which he poured his soul for so long. That said, "All on Fire" is a very long work; 626 packed pages of text that, while readable, is not for quickie mainstream consumption. So it does go on a bit. But that only means we're in it for the long haul, just like Garrison; at journey's end is the satisfaction of doing right.

  • John
    2019-04-21 07:39

    This is another case of a book deserving five stars for accomplishing everything it could possibly really do. If you power through all 630 pages of this, there will be no need for you to ever read a book specifically about William Lloyd Garrison ever again. You will have covered the man, thoroughly. And it reads well too- this isn't a history book, really, it's a biography and written for a general audience, so Mayer takes a certain literary license in his storytelling. It was a welcome change for me, since academic history books aren't usually written to pull at the heartstrings, exactly...I admit, I got a little misty eyed at certain parts of this book. Where you'd expect, you know, Frederick Douglass standing up for the first time to tell his story at a meeting led by Garrison on Nantucket, the march of the 54th Massachusetts down to the docks to join the fight, Garrison meeting freed slaves in Charleston right after the war ended. It also was really fascinating to me how modern Garrison and his friends seemed. They were talking about human rights, civil rights for all, way back when. They were freedom riding around Massachusetts in the 1840s, trying to integrate public transit. Pretty impressive. There were still some issues I was a little confused about at the end of the book (for example, if Garrison didn't want to have anything to do with politics, then how exactly did he think slavery was actually going to get abolished, anyway? Did he think millions of people would just have a simultaneous change of heart?) but I don't think my confusion was the fault of the book, I think Garrison was just somewhat inexplicable sometimes. People are funny. Even in a 600 page biography, you aren't ever going to be able to explain a person completely. Also, to be fair, this is not a history of the abolition movement. It is a biography of Garrison. There are a lot of other facets of abolitionism that are not covered here because there was so much of Garrison. Reading history like this makes me proud to be a Mainer/Massachusettsite (they were the same state until 1820 after all).

  • Vzenari
    2019-03-27 09:39

    The book deserves five stars for its scholarship, fine writing, and importance of its subject, William Lloyd Garrison, who started an antislavery newspaper, The Liberator, when almost nobody thought slavery should be abolished. Garrison considered slavery to be evil, and he wanted slavery abolished immediately, rather than gradually. This ideal led him to be called a radical, and even people in favour of abolition considered him to be too extreme. He had no patience for those who, even if they knew slavery was wrong, still thought slavery should be maintained for political expediency. By the end of his life, Garrison was a witness to Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and the passage of the Thirteen Amendment.The book is especially good at documenting Garrison's early career, when he and his few supporters faced mob attacks at his speaking engagements, and when few established churches or politicians gave Garrison and radical abolitionists support. The book aims to restore Garrison's reputation, which has been damaged by criticism that he was an egotist who wanted to destroy America's institutions. Indeed, he did want to destroy America: he wanted to destroy a nation that allowed slavery to continue. He wanted a new America that treated all people as equal, as the Declaration of Independence claimed.The United States needs someone like Garrison to agitate for the revocation of the Second Amendment.

  • Laura
    2019-04-02 11:51

    The vivid writing makes this history particularly exciting, not just the high drama of arson at Pennsylvania Hall, but *all* the political and ideological infighting. If you, like me, find abolitionism fascinating, though, I also recommend _The Liberator_, the beautiful biography of Garrison by my late advisor, Jack Thomas. One warning about _All on Fire_ for those who actually read citations: the format is the most annoying among all the options, I mean the one with no footnote numbers and no page numbers, just boldface excerpts of the quotations. I choose to believe the style was forced upon Mayer and not the preference of his individual conscience. (Publishers, why do you not end this scourge?)

  • Josh Craddock
    2019-04-24 12:31

    All On Fire is a handbook for abolition. Tolstoy wrote that William Lloyd Garrison deserved to be remembered among “the greatest reformers and promoters of true human progress” (251). Yet, to modern commentators, Garrison’s agitation against slavery appears “shrill, weird, and counterproductive” (xiv). Now that we are all abolitionists, many historians place him on the lunatic fringe and critics accuse him of retarding the movement helped create. Henry Mayer sets out to reconstruct “a less stereotyped version of Garrison’s life” (xvii) in his biography All On Fire.Born to a deeply religious family in Massachusetts, William found his true love as an apprentice in a Newburyport print shop: the newspaper. Garrison heeded the call to editorship and took charge of his first paper upon being released from his indenture. A Boston Quaker soon opened Garrison’s eyes to the wickedness of slavery and he committed himself to its abolition. Garrison advocacy managed to “shift the political center in a manner seldom matched in our history” (xv). Of all the antebellum proposals for dealing with slavery—three-fifths clause, Missouri Compromise, Free Soil toleration but non-extension, states’ rights, and popular sovereignty—“it was Garrison's program of immediate emancipation through the repudiation of the proslavery constitutional compromises and a union dissolved and reconstructed that prevailed” (xv).In the 1830s, few wanted immediate emancipation and most thought agitation on the subject would do more harm than good. Garrison’s first task was to awaken the moral conscience of the Northern people who tolerated slavery. He told a friend, “I have need to be all on fire, for I have mountains of ice about me to melt” (120). To ignite action and melt complacency, Garrison began to dismantle the false philanthropy of colonization. His 1829 Park Street Address and subsequent book condemning colonization “shattered the establishment's liberal and philanthropic self-image” (77) by exposing the underlying racism of repatriation schemes and attacking the cover it gave to politicians. Colonization, he insisted, “would only perpetuate slavery” (103). The growing popularity of the abolitionist societies consigned the decrepit American Colonization Society to the dustbin of irrelevance.Garrison soon realized that gradual abolition also tended to undercut the moral argument for abolition, for “there could be no just middle ground between slavery and freedom” (68). Despite the political impracticability of immediate abolition, Garrison believed “the question of expedience has nothing to do with that of right” (72). Rather than change his principles, Garrison set about the task of changing minds. Founding The Liberator and the New England Antislavery Society in 1831, Garrison began a crusade for immediate abolition and emancipation lasting over thirty years.Garrison was a gadfly who “pointedly encouraged conflict” (xiii). He wanted controversy and considered it a vital social process toward reform. As an agitator, Garrison could clarify the perils of wrong or weak choices in a way that many politicians could not (316). He constantly pushed the well-intentioned to firmer statements and action. Garrison knew abolition had to accomplish a moral revolution before it could effect a political one, for “only an aroused public conscience could persuade legislators to withdraw protection from slavery” (65). Garrison exhorted abolitionists to, “Agitate the subject on every suitable occasion . . . talking will create zeal—zeal, opposition—opposition will drive men to inquiry—inquiry will induce conviction—conviction will lead men to action—action will demand union—and then will follow victory” (126). Endorsed by William Wilberforce and emulating the strategy of British abolitionists, the antislavery societies scattered “tracts like raindrops, over the land, filled with startling facts and melting appeals” (127) and circulated petitions until Congress finally adopted a gag rule to prevent them from being introduced. The Liberator’s role in raising the slavery question created exactly the sort of “moral earthquake” Garrison believed was necessary to end slavery (243).Garrison’s radical abolitionism provided a foil to Calhoun’s brazen defense of slavery as a positive good. While modern commentators might be tempted to brand them both equally as extremists, Wendell Phillips wrote that while Webster and Clay “shrank from [Clay] and evaded his assertion. Garrison alone . . . met him face to face” (218). Calhoun was determined to hold the union hostage to slavery by threatening secession, but Garrison refused to hold abolition captive to union. To be clear, Garrison was not fundamentally opposed to union. He believed (correctly) that slavery and union could not coexist indefinitely, and preferred disunion to the indefinite perpetuation of slavery. He sought rectification of the Founding sin of the Constitution and desired a new national compact reflecting the ideal of the Declaration. Garrison argued that tacit approval of the soul-corrupting evil of slavery was too high a price to pay for Union. When Webster’s call for “liberty and Union” in 1850 rang hollow in the ears of many Northerners, it was a Garrisonian audience that began to question the viability of union as long as slavery continued. Despite presenting a generally favorable picture of Garrison, Mayer is conscious of the man’s faults. Garrison’s political and religious iconoclasm on other issues cost him strategic influence in his effort toward abolition. His dabbling in non-traditional theology isolated him from much of mainline protestantism and his insistence on advocating for feminism deterred some would-be supporters. Garrison thought the abolition movement would have to take “a decided stand for all truths, under the conviction that the whole are necessary to the permanent establishment of any single one,” but perhaps he should have been more attentive to Waldo Emerson’s rejoinder that “man can only extend his attention to a certain finite amount of claims” (235). Nevertheless, Garrison managed to relegate some of his views to second-tier status and declined to make his personal views a litmus test for abolitionist society membership.The Liberator awakened an entire generation through its tireless call to action. In recognition of Garrison’s contribution, Lincoln extended the humble printer an invitation to raise the Union flag once more over Fort Sumter. At the ceremony, Garrison was met by hundreds of freedmen thanking him for his relentless pursuit of abolition and equality. On January 1, 1866, The Liberator’s press stopped running. With the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, Garrison welcomed the year of Jubilee:“On! till from every vale, and where the mountains rise, The beacon lights of Liberty shall kindle to the skies!” (599)

  • Tom McKone
    2019-04-22 14:43

    This is quite a tome but well written and moves fast. If anybody should believe that standing up for something is pointless but still feels compelled to do so than this book is a must read. Garrison was a man who stuck to a single point: immediate, unqualifed abolition of slavery. He faced abuse, was lassoed and almost linched. The abolition movement was always there but, until Garrison came along, it existed beneath the surface and was considered too emotional and volatile an issue to address. He brought it to the surface. He started out in near poverty circumstances but his belief carried him forward.There were those who felt as he felt but when he started the Liberator his rhetoric and editorials inflamed public opinion and made people uncomfortable with their lukewarm feelings about it.Garrison made northerners feel guilty about their temporizing with slavery. People could no longer simply wish slavery to go away. They were forced to talk about it. They were forced to accept or deny it. Complacency over such a visceral issue was no longer allowed. In so doing, over a span of thirty years, Garrison took the issue of slavery from a topic one did not talk about in polite society to one where everybody began talking about it and began taking sides.It was a cause. It was a fight. It was ongoing and Garrison never flagged in agitating for his fellow man. He agitated for his fellow woman. When most other men thought that women should take a backseat in politics and momentous issues he supported the first real suffragettes in America. Where slavery was concerned, he would not let it die or go away. He was virtually alone when he began but, by the time he died, he counted many among his friends and many among the converted.

  • Michael
    2019-04-05 10:26

    Incredible. Do I love Garrison himself or is it this book that I love. The detail is tremendous so that you learn a great deal about the period. In many ways the history of Garrison is the history of the antislavery movement in America. So from 1830 to maybe 1850 the book is completely authoritative. As the movement grows and other major figures come into it like Wendell Phillips there are some things the books has too gloss over and you want even more. That there could be people more principled than Garrison in the 1860s and causing faction fights in the society to the left of him is fascinating. Maybe we need another book on that. But, to see one person's principled struggle over 40 years have the dramatic payoff that it did, without him ever compromising with the party system, the churches, sexists... is magnificent. Maybe I want to believe too much and someone will write a book that points out compromises with the racist slave power system that Garrison made but for now this book establishes him as possibly the greatest true American hero.

  • Steve
    2019-04-19 10:45

    This is a well-written biography about an important, underrated figure in US history. Garrison edited The Liberator for 30 years, spoke all over the country and in England, and agitated against slavery. He criticized the U.S. Constitution for protecting that evil institution; at one 4th of July event, he burned a copy of the Fugitive Slave Law and the Constitution. Garrison also supported the inclusion of women in anti-slavery meetings and their equal rights, including the right to vote. He bravely criticized churches and ministers who waffled on the slavery issue, and despite his deep faith in the God of justice and love, he stopped attending church, seeing it as a flawed, hypocritical institution. God's work was not confined to a stuffy, self-congratulating Sunday service. Mayer rightly equates Garrison's work to that of Thoreau, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. This is a biography that will inspire you, enrage you, and engage your mind, heart, and spirit.

  • Stuart
    2019-04-12 14:30

    Garrison was one of the true great American heroes. And this is a great biography of him. He was a pacifist and egalitarian who basically started the abolition movement in the early 1830's when the only anti-slavery people were re-colonialists (a movement he helped discredit) and a few scattered Quakers. While some Free-Soilers were somewhat racist and other anti-slavery leaders tried to keep woman from speaking out, Garrison stood firm on woman's rights and supporting full civil rights for newly freed slaves. As this book shows, a movement requires radicals agitating from the outside as well as moderates working within the system to make change. Speaking as an atheist, William Lloyd Garrison is the kind of religious fanatic I can get behind.

  • Sam
    2019-04-01 12:30

    Amazing! After reading such a great book as this about a life lived so purposely, it's really challenging for me decide what to read next. Once, the book quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson as saying, "A man can only extend his attention to a certain finite amount of claims." (p. 235) Later, he refers to Garrison as one of "the faithful men of one idea." (p. 301)But what an idea! The idea was of course that chattel slavery was wrong and the only correct action was an immediate end to it.So perhaps the challenge for me is not what to read next, but maybe what to do or write next?

  • Martha Tomhave
    2019-04-16 09:47

    a great book about a great, great man, utterly admirable, an example for us all. A long book that reminds us how many years it took for activists to make abolition of slavery possible. What endurance! This fierce public advocate for equal rights was a sweet and loving husband and father at home - look for the photograph of Garrison and his daughter Fanny, very unusual in 19th c. photographs for its playful affection. Wonderful book!

  • Paul Brandel
    2019-04-11 13:35

    I loved this masterful biography of Garrison.Good to see the great aboltionist get his due. The author,who btw,is from the SaN FranciscoBay area. He stated that Lincoln and Garrison were the 2 greatestAmericans of the 19th century.After reading this book I agree! PS Garrison put into action nonviolent protest 50 years beforeGhandi.

  • Vladimir
    2019-04-08 13:27

    Garrison dedicated his life to bringing about reform by forcing the American people to confront ethical dilemmas, primarily but not exclusively slavery, while shunning 'high' politics. After reading this book, I want to reread the Socratic dialogues with the benefit of the Garrisonian perspective.

  • Bill
    2019-04-24 08:46

    Truly fascinating, both as a followup to reading "Days of Defiance" and to me as a Bostonian. It helped cement which type of crazy fanatics I like, even if this may be Mayer's illusion of a Garrison.

  • Fareeda
    2019-04-02 13:44

    Information overload. I couldn't finish it.

  • Maureen Flatley
    2019-04-24 12:56

    It's impossible to overstate Garrison's impact on American politics and culture. This book is a carefully researched, highly detailed of his life and his journey in abolition.

  • Craig Bolton
    2019-04-11 09:46

    All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery by Henry Mayer (2008)

  • Bori
    2019-04-20 14:27

    Great author ! Great fighter for human freedom !

  • jim
    2019-04-16 11:41

    May have been a zealot but a passionate and clear voice in a time of need.