William Lloyd Garrison said, in an article entitled The Liberator and Slavery, “There are three modes in which slavery can be overthrown: by physical force on the part of the free states, by the same force on the part of the slaves — and by an enlightened and benevolent public opinion. The first two modes all discard as revolting and disastrous — the last is our chosen alternative. We must therefore organize a National Anti-Slavery Society, which shall concentrate the moral energies of the nation.”
Garrison’s approach, and those of the American abolitionists of slavery, to “concentrating the moral energies of the nation,” while far from new or novel, was what was termed as “agitation” – that is to say, the bringing of uncomfortable truths to bear on the public conscience through public actions.
As is the case today, their agitation took on various forms, from troubling images of a baby being snatched from its mother’s arms and the wounds inflicted by slave masters, to the burning of the constitution, to organizing lectures with popular speakers coinciding with church services, to publicly printing the names of clergymen that refused to show support in fugitive slave cases.
Women wore brooches with the “Wedgwood” symbol (an abolitionist symbol created by Josiah Wedgwood) on them to social events, men had snuff containers marked with the same, many were street preachers that utilized not only plain open air preaching, but props such as shackles that they would rattle outside the doors of church gatherings.
Garrison was famous for saying some of the most inflammatory things designed to shock people into thinking of the horrendous nature of slavery, many of which are still used out of context today to discredit that particular abolitionist movement as unbiblical and/or hateful.
Today we have incorporated many of the same techniques in our mission to abolish abortion, some of which are seen as controversial, many of which are questioned as to whether or not they are the wisest or most effective tactics, and this from both outsiders and abolitionists themselves.
Some abolitionists utilize some of the more inflammatory methodology, while some strive to be more winsome and tactful in their approach. One thing is certain, each situation poses its own unique questions, and those within the movement will have to weigh what seems good and right to do in their particular instance. Whatever the case, agitation is needed and necessary in our day to bring the reality of America’s holocaust to bear on an apathetic people in the hopes that it will “concentrate the moral energies of the nation.”
The Two Modes of Abolition