Of the numberless public misrepresentations that are made of my sentiments and purposes, either through ignorance or malignity, it is very seldom that I am induced to take the slightest notice. The pages of the Liberator, for the last nineteen years, bear witness, that I have voluntarily published hundreds of columns of the most defamatory material against myself personally, without uttering a single word in self-defense; so conscious have I been of the rectitude of my course, and the purity of my intentions. But I am moved to depart from my usual habit, in such cases, by a communication which appeared in the Transcript of Tuesday, under the signature of ‘SIGMA’; first, because the author of it claims to be a gentleman and a Christian—on what grounds I know not; and secondly, because his attack is made in connection with a speech recently delivered by me in New York, which has been wickedly perverted or stupidly misapprehended in various quarters.
. . . He says, ‘it is well known (!) that Mr. Garrison has, upon various public occasions, discharged upon the community impudent and disgusting blasphemy’; . . .
‘SIGMA’ is an adept at the use of opprobrious epithets; but, one thing the readers of his libelous article will do me the justice to remember, and that is, he does not quote a single sentence or word from my lips to sustain his ‘blasphemous’ allegation. For more than twenty years, I have been before the public as an editor and a lecturer; and during all that time, I challenge ‘SIGMA’ to produce anything from my pen or lips irreverent toward God, derogatory to the character of Jesus, or hostile to pure and undefiled religion. What crime have I winked at, what popular iniquity shrunk from rebuking, what cross refused to bear, what peril avoided, what sacrifice in the cause of down-trodden humanity been unwilling to make? Has not my life been devoted to the promotion of all that is pure, lovely, beneficent, and Christ-like? And is it to my shame, or to my praise, that I have fiercely arrayed against me all that is profligate, brutal, profane, lawless, and tyrannical, on the one hand—and all that is cowardly, time-serving, bigoted and hypocritical, on the other? I am feared, anathematized, threatened by those who ‘trade in slaves and the souls of men,’—who insult, degrade and trample upon the image of God—who systematically violate every command in the Decalogue, and every precept in the Gospel:—is this an evidence of my impiety? . . .
What shall be said of the fairness of honor of the man, who takes a garbled report of a speech from a paper intensely hostile to the speaker, and, assuming it to be authentic, makes it the occasion of scattering in this community the most unjust and inflammatory comments upon it? Is this doing as he would be done by? Can anything be more despicable? What I said at New York was comprehensively this—that the popular tests of piety, in this nation, were of no significance, and proved nothing of the love of God or man, because ‘the offence of the cross’ has ceased, and it is everywhere safe and reputable to embrace them. Is this ‘blasphemy,’ or the utterance of an undeniable fact? I said that a profession of faith in Jesus, now costs nothing; for his praises are everywhere sung and his deeds are everywhere lauded,—by none more loudly than by those who enslave and imbrute their fellow-men; and, therefore, this is no longer a true test of piety. Can this be truthfully denied? Finally, I declared my faith in a Jesus who redeems, not enslaves; who binds up the broken-hearted, not crushes the weak; who goes for proclaiming liberty throughout all the land, not for perpetuating human thraldom—the Jesus who lived and suffered eighteen hundred years ago. Was that an impious sentiment? Had I not been riotously interrupted, my design was to have shown how striking has been the analogy between the Anti-Slavery movement in the United States, and promulgation of Christianity in Judea—both experiencing essentially the same treatment, despised and rejected of men, hooted by the rabble, denounced by the Scribes and Pharisees, persecuted by the rulers; their advocates accused of being ‘pestilent and seditious fellows, seeking to turn the world upside-down’ ‘the filth of the earth and the offscouring of all things,’—scourged, imprisoned, and in some cases put to an ignominious death,—accused of blasphemy,—‘in perils of robbers, in perils by their own countrymen, in perils in the city, in perils among false brethren. . . .
From time to time, old things pass away—all things become new. While, in this age and country, the recognition of Jesus, as the Messiah, subjects no one to shame, reproach or peril, eighteen centuries ago, in Judea, it cost everything; and Jesus himself was crucified as an imposter and blasphemer. And still, in the person of THE SLAVE, is he despised, and rejected.
[“TO THE EDITOR OF THE BOSTON TRANSCRIPT [May 17, 1850.],” William Lloyd Garrison. The Letters of William Lloyd Garrison, Volume IV: From Disunionism to the Brink of War, 1850-1860, ed. by Louis Ruchames (Cambridge , MA and London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1975), 16-22.]
It turns out, ‘sigma’ was Lucius Manlius Sargent, something of a classics scholar, poet, and author. He was a fierce denunciator of all that he disliked, among which was immediate Abolitionism. He was also, however, a prominent voice in the temperance movement, and favored prohibitionism for that.
It appears to me that the analogy Garrison wished to draw is just a prominent today in regard to the immediate abolition of abortion. There is not a word drawn from Scripture here which did not apply just as fully to the persecution—built on lies, repeated by religious leaders—of the Abolitionists in the 19th century, and which does not still apply to the Abolitionists of our era. The only difference may be the degree to which murder can be said to exceed the wickedness even of American slavery, and therefore today’s slandering leaders that much more culpable. —JM
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