In 1827, at age 35, Goodell became a journalist for a reform journal in Providence, allowing him to write from a religious perspective. His articles focused mostly on temperance. After moving the journal’s headquarters to New York, Goodell became the leader of the American Temperance Society.
In 1833 he decided to tackle another issue: slavery. William helped found the New York State Anti-Slavery Society as well as the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS). He worked as an editor of the Emancipator and served on the AASS Executive Committee. In 1835, Goodell quit his job at the Emancipator and directed his energy to the New York State Anti-Slavery Society, editing its paper the Friend of Man in Utica, NY. While in Utica, Goodell focused on achieving abolition through political means. He helped form the Liberty Party in 1840, writing the convention address and party platform.
Two year later, Goodell left the Friend of Man and formed his own paper in order to promote church reform that followed abolitionist principles. Goodell believed that it was wrong for a church to hold even a neutral stance on slavery. He hoped to unite all of the churches denouncing slavery into a “Christian Union” and for nine years Goodell worked as a pastor of the anti-slavery churches in Honeoye, New York.
In 1852 and 1860 Goodell was chosen as the Liberty Party’s nominee for president. His party fought for the complete abolition of slavery as well as equal rights for African Americans. Although Goodell promoted the same principles, he was also wary of the realities of prejudice. If abolition were to instigate true societal changes, he believed, prejudices would have to be eliminated and equal rights gained for African Americans.
Goodell edited yet another paper called the American Jubilee (later renamed the Radical Abolitionist) during the 1850s. He also wrote an influential book entitled Slavery and Anti-Slavery: A History of the Great Struggle In Both Hemispheres; With a View of the Slavery Question in the United States, published in 1852. When the Civil War ended, Goodell returned to fighting for his original cause of temperance and assisted in the creation of the Prohibition Party. He moved to Goshen, Connecticut and later to Janesville, Wisconsin where he died.