Lessons Learned from the Leading U.S. Abolitionist
Effective pro-lifers will learn key lessons from the fight in various countries to end slavery. Henry Mayer summarized his definitive biography of American abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, All on Fire, with the excerpts below. In Garrison's day, the political power, money and influence overwhelmingly supported compromise on slavery including the colonization faction that mostly opposed fighting for abolition but instead raised money to ship willing blacks back to Africa. As today with personhood for the unborn child, various "anti-slavery movements" were actually hostile to abolitionists like Garrison who insisted on fighting for immediate emancipation and equal rights for blacks.
Unlike with abortion, the framers had written tolerance of slavery into the U.S. Constitution itself. So by human standards, Garrison's principled fight against all the pragmatic "anti-slavery but anti-abolition" compromises seemed futile. But as Martin Luther King Jr. paraphrased Theodore Parker in his "Of Justice and the Conscience" from 1853, "the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice." For truth eventually wins out. And if pragmatism means "what works," then Garrison's uncompromising moral stand was also the only true pragmatic position. Thus biographer Mayer captured this great encouragement that the personhood movement takes from Garrison, for as he wrote:
Of all the pre-war political conceptions about slavery that contended for supremacy:
- states' rights
- three-fifths clause
- Missouri Compromise
- toleration but non-extension
- popular sovereignty
it was Garrison's program of immediate emancipation through the repudiation of the proslavery constitutional compromise... that prevailed.
The undeniable parallel to today's battle for the unborn appears as a pro-life industry has arisen which raises millions of dollars but opposes the personhood movement and anyone who fights for the right to life of the unborn child. The force of truth is on the child's side as it was on Garrison's side when, against all odds, his principled view won out over the more popular, compromised alternatives.
In this Garrison biography these abolitionist parallels to today's political struggle fly off every page. Those who don't learn from history repeat it. The battle within the battle, where "anti-slavery" camps fought against abolition, is reenacted today as "conservatives" regulate abortion but oppose personhood. The battlefield is the heart and soul of the pro-life movement.
In the preface summarizing his 700-page triumphal account of America's leading abolitionist, Henry Mayer could have been writing about the struggle between the personhood movement and a pro-life movement which has been hijacked and turned into an industry for financial and political gain by politicians, lawyers, and fundraisers who see opportunity only in morally-compromised exceptions and regulations:
All on Fire is a book about an agitator and its argument can be simply stated, William Lloyd Garrison, 1805-1879, is an authentic American hero who, with a biblical prophet's power and a propagandist's skill, forced the nation to confront the most crucial moral issue in its history.
He inspired... a collaboration of ordinary people, stirred by injustice and committed to each other, who achieved a social change that conventional wisdom first condemned as wrong, and then ridiculed as impossible.
He boldly coupled his demand for immediate emancipation with an insistence upon equal rights for black people, a principled stand whose moral clarity eluded every prominent political figure of his era.