William Lloyd Garrison, one of the United States’ most important abolitionists, lived with a bounty on his head for much of his life. His newspaper, The Liberator, advocated for an immediate end to slavery, and he faced down a lynch mob more than once for his writing. One of his avid readers was a formerly enslaved person who went by the name of Frederick Douglass. “His paper took its place with me next to the bible,” Douglass wrote of The Liberator in his memoir.
The two met at an abolitionist meeting in 1841 after Douglass stood up and described to the white crowd what it was like to live as someone else’s property. It was a powerful address, though Douglass, only three years removed from slavery, was so nervous he later couldn’t remember what he had said. Garrison became his mentor, retaining Douglass as a representative of the Anti-Slavery Society, publishing Douglass’s work, encouraging his book and sending him around the country to speak about the evils of slavery.
But the two had a bitter falling out in 1847 over the United States Constitution. Garrison believed that the document was pro-slavery, “the formal expression of a corrupt bargain made at the founding of the country and that it was designed to protect slavery as a permanent feature of American life,” writes Christopher B. Daly in “Covering America: A Narrative History of a Nation’s Journalism.”
Douglass initially agreed. But by the time he published “My Bondage and My Freedom,” he had reconsidered, and believed that “the constitution of the United States not only contained no guarantees in favor of slavery, but, on the contrary, it is, in its letter and spirit, an anti-slavery instrument, demanding the abolition of slavery as a condition of its own existence, as the supreme law of the land.”