No man in this country was so cordially hated by the slaveholders as Garrison. Of the big men up North—the leaders of politics and society—they had no apprehension. They knew how to manage them. It was the little fellows like the editor of the Liberator that gave them trouble. These men had no money, but they could not be bought. They had no fear of mobs. They cared nothing for the scoldings of the church and the press. An adverse public sentiment never disturbed their equanimity or caused them to turn a hair’s breadth in their course.
It is true that Lundy and Garrison had very little to lose. They had neither property nor social position. That, however, cannot be said of another early Abolitionist, who, in some respects, is entitled to more consideration than any of his co-workers.
James Gillespie Birney was a Southerner by birth. He belonged to a family of financial and social prominence. He was a gentleman of education and culture, having graduated from a leading college and being a lawyer of recognized ability. He was a slave-owner. For a time he conducted a plantation with slave labor. He lived in Alabama, where he filled several important official positions, and was talked of for the governorship of the State. But having been led to think about the moral, and other aspects of slaveholding, he decided that it was wrong and he would wash his hands of it. He could not in Alabama legally manumit his slaves. Moreover, his neighbors had risen up against him and threatened his forcible expulsion. He removed to Kentucky, where he thought a more liberal sentiment prevailed. There he freed his slaves and made liberal provision for their comfortable sustenance. But the slave power was on his track. He was warned to betake himself out of the State. The infliction of personal violence was meditated, and a party of his opposers came together for that purpose. They were engaged in discussing ways and means when a young man of commanding presence and strength, who happened to be present, announced that while he lived Mr. Birney would not be molested. His opposition broke up the plot. That young man became a leading clergyman and was subsequently for a time Chaplain of the United States Senate.
Birney went with his belongings to Ohio, thinking that upon the soil of a free State he would be safe from molestation. He established a newspaper in Cincinnati to advocate emancipation. A mob promptly destroyed his press and other property, and it was with difficulty that he escaped with his life. More sagacious, although not more zealous, than Lundy and Garrison and a good many of their followers, Birney early saw the necessity of political action in the interest of freedom. He was the real founder of the old “Liberty” party, of which he was the presidential candidate in 1840 and in 1844.
Of course, there were other early laborers for emancipation that, in this connection, ought to be mentioned and remembered. They were pioneers in the truest sense. The writer would gladly make a record of their services, and pay a tribute, especially, to the memories of such as have gone to the spirit land, where the great majority are now mustered, but space at this point forbids.