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46. "Niggers to the Niggerless" (1859)
BY SENATOR BENJAMIN FRANKLIN WADE
Wade was a typical self-made man, a true representative of the vigorous farmers of Connecticut stock in northern Ohio. His fearlessness in opposing slavery made him prominent in the Senate, where his rugged style of oratory and his disinclination to mince his words often led to an exchange of pertinent remarks with prominent defenders of slavery. This speech is in reply to an equally sharp harangue by Toombs, the question at issue being one of precedence between the homestead bill and a bill to appropriate money with which to purchase Cuba. The burden of Toombs's remarks had been a sneer at the "land to the landless" bill. - For Wade, see A. G. Riddle, Life of Benjamin F. Wade. — Bibliography as in No. 44 above.
AM very glad that this question has at length come up : I am glad, too, that it has antagonized with this nigger question. We are "shivering in the wind," are we, sir, over your Cuba question? You may have occasion to shiver on that question before you are through with it. Now, sir, I have been trying here for nearly a month to get a straight forward vote upon this great measure of land to the landless. I glory in that measure. It is the greatest that has ever come before the American Senate, and it has now come so that there is no dodging it. The question will be, shall we give niggers to the niggerless, or land to the landless? ...
. . . I will meet that measure. I do not tremble before them or their owners, or anybody else; and it does not become gentlemen of the Senate to tremble over a measure. Sir, it is not very senatorial language. God knows, I never tremble before anybody. I do not expect to tremble before anybody. I do not expect to use language that ought to be offensive to anybody here, and I will not submit to it from anybody. I moved some days ago to take up this subject. It was said then that there was an appropriation bill that stood in the way of this great question being settled. The Senator from Virginia had his appropriation bills. It was important, then, that they should be settled at once; there was danger that they would be lost, and the Government would stop in consequence, and an appeal was made to gentlemen to give this bill the go-by for the time being, at all events, and the appeal was successful. Gentlemen said the appropriation bills must be passed; and, although they were anxious for the passage of this bill, nevertheless it must be postponed for the appropriation bills. The appropriation bills lie very easy now behind this nigger operation. When you come to niggers for the niggerless, all other questions sink into perfect insignificance. But,
sir, we will antagonize these measures. I appeal to the country upon them. I ask the people do you choose that we should go through the earth hunting for niggers, for really that is the whole purpose of the Democratic party? They can no more run their party without niggers than you could run a steam engine without fuel. That is all there is of Democracy; and when you cannot raise niggers enough for the market, then you must go abroad fishing for niggers through the whole world. Are you going to buy Cuba for land for the landless? What is there? You will find three quarters of a million of niggers, but you will not find any land; not one foot, not an inch. I am exceedingly glad that the question has come up. Let us now see who are the friends of this land measure; let us vote it through; and then, without fear or trembling, take up the nigger bill.
I say there is no excuse for gentlemen who are really in favor of this measure. Tell, me, sir, that you skulked behind this Cuba bill? It would be a very poor story to tell those landless men of whom the gentleman speaks. These lacklanders will say to you: "When we lacked
land, and you had it in your power to give it to us, you went off fishing for niggers." Will that satisfy them? It may, and it may not. I fear that there will be trembling in some quarters over this question. I hope the vote will be taken, and I warn every man who is a friend of this bill that now is the time; now or never. Give this homestead bill the goby now, and it dies, and every man knows it. Therefore it is idle to tell me that any man is a friend of the homestead bill who will not give it his support now.
Mr. President, I do not like these taunts and threats about fearing one question or another. I do not very much fear anybody or anything. It would be a very uncomfortable state of mind, I should think. But, sir, I am in favor of this measure. The merits of it, I suppose, are open to discussion. I think it would be easy to show that there has not been, at any time, a measure so fraught with benefit to the people all over the country, as this great measure-the homestead bill. If gentlemen see fit, they can pass it in ten minutes; and then we can go back to the nigger bill, and take that up, and make the best headway we can with that. You need not be ten minutes in passing the bill, if you are true to yourselves, true to your constituents, and faithful to those who have asked at the hands of every honest man that this measure should pass. I say, again, there is no reason to skulk it now. It is fairly up. It is in contrast with the other measure; and no man can fail to see that he
who votes and prefers one to the other, has done it because his soul was steeped in the nigger bill.
Congressional Globe, 35 Cong., 2 sess. (John C. Rives, Washington, 1859), 1354 passim, February 25, 1859.
47. Capture of the Engine-House (1859)
BY COLONEL ROBERT EDWARD LEE
Robert E. Lee, son of "Light-Horse Harry" Lee of Revolutionary fame, and one of the most prominent of the younger officers in the army, had served with distinction during the Mexican War. Later, when the Civil War threatened, he refused the suggestion of high rank in the Union army, and followed his state, Virginia, in her secession; later he accepted a command in the Confederate army, and showed himself the greatest soldier on his side. - For Lee, see W. P. Trent, Robert E. Lee, 132-135.- Bibliography of Harper's Ferry Raid as in No. 41 above.
HEADQUARTERS HARPER'S FERRY,
HAVE the honor to report, for the information of the Secretary of War, that on arriving here on the night of the 17th instant, in obedience to Special Orders No. 194 of that date from your office, I learn that a party of insurgents, about 11 p. m. on the 16th, had seized the watchmen stationed at the armory, arsenal, rifle factory, and bridge across the Potomac, and taken possession of those points. They then dispatched six men, under one of their party, called Captain Aaron C. Stevens, to arrest the principal citizens in the neighborhood and incite the negroes to join in the insurrection. The party took Colonel L. W. Washington from his bed about 1 a. m. on the 17th, and brought him, with four of his servants, to this place. Mr. J. H. Allstadt and six of his servants were in the same manner seized about 3 a. m., and arms placed in the hands of the negroes. Upon their return here, John E. Cook, one of the party sent to Mr. Washington's, was dispatched to Maryland, with Mr. Washington's wagon, two of his servants, and three of Mr. Allstadt's, for arms and ammunition, &c. As day advanced, and the citizens of Harper's Ferry commenced their usual avocations, they were separately captured, to the number of forty, as well as I could learn, and confined in one room of the fire-engine house of the armory, which seems early to have been selected as a point of defense. About 11 a. m. the volunteer companies from Virginia began to arrive, and the Jefferson
Guards and volunteers from Charlestown, under Captain J. W. Rowen, I understood, were first on the ground. The Hamtramck Guards, Captain V. M. Butler; the Shepherdstown troop, Captain Jacob Rienahart; and Captain Alburtis's company from Martinsburg arrived in the afternoon. These companies, under the direction of Colonels R. W. Baylor and John T. Gibson, forced the insurgents to abandon their positions at the bridge and in the village, and to withdraw within the armory inclosure, where they fortified themselves in the fire-engine house, and carried ten of their prisoners for the purpose of insuring their safety and facilitating their escape, whom they termed hostages. . . . After sunset more troops arrived. Captain B. B. Washington's company from Winchester, and three companies from Fredericktown, Maryland, under Colonel Shriver. Later in the evening the companies from Baltimore, under General Charles C. Edgerton, second light brigade, and a detachment of marines, commanded by Lieutenant J. Green accompanied by Major Russell, of that corps, reached Sandy Hook, about one and a half mile east of Harper's Ferry. At this point I came up with these last-named troops, and leaving General Edgerton and his command on the Maryland side of the river for the night, caused the marines to proceed to Harper's Ferry, and placed them within the armory grounds to prevent the possibility of the escape of the insurgents. Having taken measures to halt, in Baltimore, the artillery companies ordered from Fort Monroe, I made preparations to attack the insurgents at daylight. But for the fear of sacrificing the lives of some of the gentlemen held by them as prisoners in a midnight assault, I should have ordered the attack at once.
Their safety was the subject of painful consideration, and to prevent, if possible, jeopardizing their lives, I determined to summon the insurgents to surrender. As soon after daylight as the arrangements were made Lieutenant J. E. B. Stewart, 1st cavalry, who had accompanied me from Washington as staff officer, was dispatched, under a flag, with a written summons. . . . Knowing the character of the leader of the insurgents, I did not expect it would be accepted. I had therefore directed that the volunteer troops, under their respective commanders, should be paraded on the lines assigned them outside the armory, and had prepared a storming party of twelve marines, under their commander, Lieutenant Green, and had placed them close to the enginehouse, and secure from its fire. Three marines were furnished with sledge-hammers to break in the doors, and the men were instructed how to distinguish our citizens from the insurgents; to attack with the bayo
net, and not to injure the blacks detained in custody unless they resisted. Lieutenant Stewart was also directed not to receive from the insurgents any counter propositions. If they accepted the terms offered, they must immediately deliver up their arms and release their prisoners. If they did not, he must, on leaving the engine-house, give me the signal. My object was, with a view of saving our citizens, to have as short an interval as possible between the summons and attack. The summons, as I had anticipated, was rejected. At the concerted signal the storming party moved quickly to the door and commenced the attack. The fireengines within the house had been placed by the besieged close to the doors. The doors were fastened by ropes, the spring of which prevented their being broken by the blows of the hammers. The men were therefore ordered to drop the hammers, and, with a portion of the reserve, to use as a battering-ram a heavy ladder, with which they dashed in a part of the door and gave admittance to the storming party. The fire of the insurgents up to this time had been harmless. At the threshold one marine fell mortally wounded. The rest, led by Lieutenant Green and Major Russell, quickly ended the contest. The insurgents that resisted were bayoneted. Their leader, John Brown, was cut down by the sword of Lieutenant Green, and our citizens were protected by both officers and men. The whole was over in a few minutes. . .
From the information derived from the papers found upon the persons and among the baggage of the insurgents, and the statement of those now in custody, it appears that the party consisted of nineteen men-fourteen white and five black. That they were headed by John Brown, of some notoriety in Kansas, who in June last located himself in Maryland, at the Kennedy farm, where he has been engaged in preparing to capture the United States works at Harper's Ferry. He avows that his object was the liberation of the slaves of Virginia, and of the whole South; and acknowledges that he has been disappointed in his expectations of aid from the black as well as white population, both in the Southern and Northern States. The blacks whom he forced from their homes in this neighborhood, as far as I could learn, gave him no voluntary assistance.
The result proves that the plan was the attempt of a fanatic or madman, which could only end in failure; and its temporary success was owing to the panic and confusion he succeeded in creating by magnifying his numbers. . . .
Senate Reports, 36 Cong., I sess. (Washington, 1860), II, No. 278, pp. 40–42 passim.