In the issue of January 4, 1866, The Nation–itself founded by a group of abolitionists–paid tribute to the final issue of William Lloyd Garrison’s fiery anti-slavery newspaper, The Liberator. Octavius Brooks Frothingham was a minister and author of several biographies on prominent abolitionists.
The Liberator, representative of the original abolitionists, has deceased, or rather has been translated; for its end was not so much an extinction as a disappearance in the light which it heralded and helped to bring in. It expired last Friday in the arms of victory. The Constitutional Amendment, which declared that slavery no longer existed in the United States, was publicly ratified in season to be duly announced and welcomed in the issue of December 22, Forefather’s Day, leaving the last issue free for the final words of memory and jubilation. The paper has finished its course because it has reached its goal; but if its goal had been set a century further on, nothing would have finished its course till the goal had been reached; for it was supported by its principle; it lived on its nerve. If want of money could have killed it, the paper would have been starved out long ago. If hate and loathing could have destroyed it, it would not have lived a twelve month. All the packs were in full cry after it the instant it was discovered, and it seemed a very small thing to kill. A more insignificant enemy than it looked to be thirty-five years ago it would be hard to imagine. We have before us, as we write, the first number of the paper, published in Boston, at No. 6 Merchants’ Hall, January 1, 1831. The sheet is a span and a half long and a span wide. The editor declares that he will be “as harsh as truth and as uncompromising as justice;” that he is in earnest, that he will not equivocate, that he will not excuse, that he will not retreat a single inch, and that he will he heard. The publishers, on their part, proclaim their determination “to print the paper as long as they can subsist on bread and water, or their hands can find employment.” The paper has not much more than doubled its size since then; but steadily, week by week, never failing in a single instance to come to time, it has dropped its water upon the nation’s marble heart. Its tenacity has been as wonderful as its intensity. The abolition of chattel slavery was its aim, and it never for a moment lost sight of it. There was a stern monotony in its issues that was like the pressure of fate. It was an unvarying soliloquy thirty-five years long. Line upon line, precept upon precept, was its rule and method. Other matters found place in its columns but they never distracted attention from this. The poetry was somewhat lacking in poetic art, but it was all inspired by anti-slavery conviction. The literary criticism was not delicate, but it was always honest and earnest. Many of the contributions were rough in style and crude in thought, but they were contributions to the main cause. Every strange reform found a voice in its columns, but their currents came in as tributary streams to swell the tide of moral sentiment which was to carry away the one gigantic wrong of slavery. The editor, from year to year, kept his pledge–he never did equivocate, excuse, or retreat. He knew no distinction of persons; he knew no difference of times or seasons. Justice does not vary with policies or events. Other newspapers might change hands and principles; parties swung round to opposite sides; great political issues appeared and disappeared; statesmen filled the public eye and vanished; cabinets went in and out; administrations rose and fell; elections again and again convulsed the country and altered the old sea margins of opinion. The editor of The Liberator never took his eye from the slave nor cared where other men fixed their eyes, save as they smiled or frowned on the slave. It is, perhaps, the most remarkable instance on record of single-hearted devotion to a cause.