Remarkable it was that one who was not only so young, but imperfectly educated, being a poor mechanic, daily toiling as a compositor at his printer’s case, should be chosen to meet the most polished people in the British Empire, and hold himself ready to debate the most serious question of the time. That such a person should be willing to enter upon such an undertaking was almost as remarkable. But Garrison showed no hesitation in accepting the task for which he was selected.
On his arrival in England, Garrison sent a challenge to the colonization agent for a public debate. This the Colonizationist refused to receive. Two more challenges were sent and were treated in the same way. Then Garrison, at a cost of thirty dollars, which he could ill afford to pay, published the challenge in the London Times, with a statement of the manner in which it had been so far treated. Of course, public interest was aroused, and when Garrison appeared upon the public platform, as he at once proceeded to do, he was greeted with the attendance of multitudes of interested hearers. Exeter Hall in London was crowded. The most distinguished men in England sat upon the stage when he spoke, and applauded his addresses. Daniel O’Connell, the great Irish orator, paid them a most florid compliment. They were, unquestionably, most remarkable samples of effective eloquence—plain in statement, simple in style, but exceedingly logical and forcible. They were widely published throughout England at the time of their delivery.
One of the results was that the leading emancipationists of Great Britain signed and published a warning against the colonization scheme, denouncing it as having its roots in “a cruel prejudice,” and declaring that it was calculated to “increase the spirit of caste so unhappily predominant,” and that it “exposed the colored people to great practical persecution in order to force them to emigrate.”
As for the poor agent of the Colonizationists, seeing how the battle was tending, he left England in a hurry, and was nevermore heard of in that part of the world.
Garrison’s personal triumph was very striking, and it was splendidly earned. He was made the recipient of many compliments and testimonials. A curious incident resulted from this great popularity. He was invited to breakfast by Sir Thomas Buxton, the noted English philanthropist, with a view to making the acquaintance of a number of distinguished persons who were to be present. When Mr. Garrison presented himself, his entertainer, who had not before met or seen him, looked at him in great astonishment.
“Are you William Lloyd Garrison?” he inquired.
“That is who I am,” replied Mr. Garrison, “and I am here on your invitation.”
“But you are a white man,” said Buxton, “and from your zeal and labors in behalf of the colored people, I assumed that you were one of them.”