Categorized | News, Opinion


Should/Has abolitionist leader William Lloyd Garrison be pardoned by the State of Maryland?  I am researching this issue as we speak with an email sent to the MD Secretary of State’s office today.  But there is a bit of background:

In 1830, Garrison co-edited a newspaper in Baltimore, MD that among other things supported abolition of slavery.  He accused a man named Francis Todd of  slave trading.  There is little doubt the charge was true, according to the late Henry Mayer’s opus on the abolitionist editor, All On Fire, but he was convicted of malicious libel.  At common law, libel was a criminal as well as a civil offense.  That was amended slightly in 1804 by the Maryland legislature to allow truth as a defense.

Notwithstanding the truth, Garrison was convicted and fined $50 plus court costs; he could not pay the fine so he was jailed for what would have been six months.  After 49 days in the Baltimore jail, Arthur Tappan of New York, who later became a abolitionist himself, paid the fine.

So the question I have asked the MD Secretary of State:  Has William Lloyd Garrison been pardoned by the State of Maryland?  I suggest my beau ideal and blogging inspiration should be pardoned if not already.  So I plan to follow up on this story after I hear from the Secretary of State’s office and if not, Governor Martin O’Malley should pardon the abolitionist leader.  It will be a good thing to do and it won’t hurt him politically, either.  (I deign to say I am not a supporter of the governor!)  It would correct a great historical wrong in that first libel ought not be a criminal offense and it is not so now because the United States Supreme Court has ruled criminal libel is unconstitutional and also, this was clearly a political trial with a bad verdict, and finally, no one can be imprisoned for failure to pay fines if they are unable to pay the fine.

UPDATE:  I have not yet heard from the MD Secretary of State’s office, so I am updating this post and sending it to the Baltimore Sun.  We’ll see.  Garrison should be pardoned if he has not been so already.


About Elwood Sanders

Elwood "Sandy" Sanders is a Hanover attorney who is an Appellate Procedure Consultant for Lantagne Legal Printing and has written ten scholarly legal articles. Sandy was also Virginia's first Appellate Defender and also helped bring curling in VA! (None of these titles imply any endorsement of Sanders’ views)

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Tom White Says:

Nothing is more conservative than a republican wanting to get their majority back. And nothing is more liberal than a republican WITH a majority.

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