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tragedy was to intensify the conviction of the essential wrong of slavery. Howevei mistaken was Brown's way of attack, it was felt that nothing short of an organized system of injustice and cruelty could have inspired such a man to such an attempt. The very logic of facts, which compelled Virginia in self-defense to hang him, showed the character of the institution which needed such defense. Yes, it was necessary to hang him,—but what was the system that made necessary the sacrifice of such a life?
But Andrew's words “whatever may be thought of John Brown's acts"_call for further consideration. What were his acts, and what were their consequences ? A part of the answer was seen in the bodies of men of Harper's Ferry, lying in the streets, peaceful men with wives and children, slain for resisting an armed invasion of their quiet little village. The first man to fall was a negro porter of a railway train, who, failing to halt when challenged by one of Brown's sentinels, was shot. The second man killed was a citizen standing in his own doorway. The third was a graduate of West Point who, hearing of trouble, came riding into town with his gun, and was shot as he passed the armory.
Among the letters that came to Brown in prison was one from the widow of one of the Pottawatomie victims, with these words: “You can now appreciate my distress in Kansas, when you then and there entered my house at midnight and arrested my husband and two boys, and took them out in the yard, and in cold blood shot them dead in my hearing. You can't say you did it to free our slaves; we had none and never expected to own one; but it only made me
a poor disconsolate widow with helpless children.”
Brown's first plan, of drawing off the slaves to a mountain fortress,-peaceable only in semblance, and involving
inevitable fighting,—he exchanged at last for a form of attack which was an instant challenge to battle. In a conference with Frederick Douglass, on the eve of the event, Douglass vainly urged the earlier plan, but found Brown resolved on “striking a blow which should instantly rouse the country.” On the day of his death, Brown penned these sentences and handed them to one of his guards: “I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood. I had, as I now think vainly, flattered myself that without very much bloodshed it might be done.” But no man so directly and deliberately aimed to settle the difficulty by bloodshed as he. It is thus that men make God responsible for what themselves are doing.
The Civil War when it came brought enough of suffering and horror. But it was mild and merciful compared to what a slave insurrection might have been. And it was essentially a slave insurrection that Brown aimed at. The great mass of the Northern people would have recoiled with abhorrence from a servile revolt. But who could wonder if the Southern people did not believe this, when they saw honors heaped on a man who died for inciting such an insurrection? How could they nicely distinguish between approval of a man's acts and praise for the man himself? If the North had one thinker who set forth its highest ideals, its noblest aims, that man was Emerson. Yet Emerson passed Brown's acts almost unblamed, and named his execution together with that on Calvary. Not all the disclaimers of politicians, the resolves of conventions, could reassure the South, after that day of mourning with which Northern towns solemnized John Brown's death. What wonder that an ardent Southerner like Toombs, speaking to his constituents a few months later, called on them to meet the enemy at the door-sill.” And what wonder
that the Southern people were inclined as never before to look upon the Northern people as their foes ?
The more deeply we study human life, the more do we realize that as to individual responsibility “to understand is to forgive.” Half a century after the event, we may well have forgiveness—not of charity, but of justice—for John Brown, and for the Governor who signed his deathwarrant; we can sympathize with those who honored and wept for him, and with those who shuddered at his deed. But, for the truth of history and for the guidance of the future, we must consider not only the intentions of men, but the intrinsic character of their deeds; not only John Brown himself, but John Brown's acts. And in that long series of deeds of violence and wrong which wrought mutual hatred and fratricidal war between the two sections of a people, that midnight attack on the peaceful Virginia village must bear its heavy condemnation. Hitherto aggression had been almost entirely from the South ; this was a counter-stroke, and told with dire force against the hope of a peaceable and righteous settlement.
Probably most readers of to-day will wonder at the degree of admiration and praise which Brown received. It must be ascribed in part to some quality in his personality, which cast a kind of glamour on some of those who met him, and inspired such highly idealized portraiture as Emerson's. But there remains the extraordinary fact that men like Theodore Parker and Gerritt Smith and Dr. S. G. Howe gave countenance and aid to Brown's project. Before history's bar, their responsibility seems heavier than his; they, educated, intelligent, trained in public service; he an untaught, ill-balanced visionary, who at least staked his life on his faith. Their complicity in his plot illustrates how in some moral enthusiasts the hostility to slavery had distorted their perception of reality. Such men saw the
Southern communities through the medium of a single institution, itself half-understood. They saw, so to speak, only the suffering slave and his oppressor. They failed to see or forgot the general life of household and neighborhood, with its common, kindly, human traits. They did not recognize that Harper's Ferry was made up of much the same kind of people, at bottom, as Concord. They did not realize that a slave insurrection meant a universal social conflagration. Indeed, Brown's original scheme of a general flight of slaves to a mountain stronghold had a fallacious appearance of avoiding a violent insurrection, and it was with the background of this plan that Brown, a wounded prisoner with death impending, appealed to the Northern imagination as a hero and martyr.
But this glorification of him wrought a momentous effect in the South. It is best described by those who witnessed it. John S. Wise, son of the Governor who signed Brown's death-warrant, writes in his graphic reminiscences, The End of an Era: “While these scenes were being enacted” —the trial and execution of Brown and the Northern comments—“a great change of feeling took place in Virginia toward the people of the North and toward the Union itself. Virginians began to look upon the people of the North as hating them, and willing to see them assassinated at midnight by their own slaves, led by Northern emissaries; as Alinging away all pretense of regard for laws protecting the slave-owner; as demanding of them the immediate freeing of their slaves, or that they prepare against further attacks like Brown's, backed by the moral and pecuniary support of the North. During the year 1860 the Virginians began to organize and arm themselves against such emergencies.”
The spirit of proscription against all anti-slavery men broke out afresh. At Berea, Kentucky, a little group of anti
slavery churches and schools had been growing for six years, championed by the stalwart Cassius M. Clay, and with the benignant and peaceful John G. Fee as their leader. A month after Brown's foray a band of armed horsemen summoned twelve of their men to leave the State. Governor Magoffin said he could not protect them, and with their families they went into exile-stout-heartedly chanting at their departure the 37th Psalm: “Fret not thyself because of evil-doers."
In the South itself there had been developing recently an antagonism to the slave power. Its strength lay not in the moral opposition to slavery, which indeed always existed, but was quiet and apparently cowed; but rather in the growing class of city residents,-merchants and professional men,—whose interests and feelings were often antagonistic to the large planters. The hostility to slavery on economic grounds, and in the white man's interest, found passionate expression in Helper's Impending Crisis, and in a milder form was spreading widely. But at the menace of invasion and servile insurrection all classes drew together. Especially the women of the South became suddenly and intensely interested in the political situation. The suggestion of personal peril appealed to them, and to the men who were their natural defenders. The situation is well described in Prof. J. W. Burgess's The Civil War and the Constitution,-a generally impartial book, written with personal appreciation of the Southern standpoint: “No man who is acquainted with the change of feeling which occurred in the South between the 16th of October, 1859, and the 16th of November of the same year can regard the Harper's Ferry villainy as anything other than one of the chiefest crimes of our history. It established and reestablished the control of the great radical slaveholders over the non-slaveholders, the little slaveholders, and the more