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48. Why John Brown Broke the Laws (1859)


John Brown, "of Ossawatomie," was an abolitionist of that stern puritanical spirit and narrow-mindedness that feeds upon the Old Testament. In himself he saw a chosen instrument for visiting the iniquity of slavery upon its advocates. In Kansas he began retaliation upon pro-slavery settlers, and his desire for action in the antislavery cause culminated in his ill-planned raid on Harper's Ferry; but in defeat he showed himself such a man that he won the admiration of his enemies. This extract is from an interview, after his capture, with Senator Mason, Congressman Vallandigham, and others. For Brown, see J. E. Chamberlin, John Brown, 135-138.— Bibliography as in No. 41 above.


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R. MASON - If you would tell us who sent you here - who provided the means that would be information of some value. Mr. BROWN -I will answer freely and faithfully about what concerns myself I will answer anything I can with honor-but not about others.

Mr. VALLANDIGHAM (member of Congress from Ohio, who had just entered) — Mr. Brown, who sent you here?

Mr. BROWN No man sent me here; it was my own prompting and that of my Maker, or that of the devil, which ever you please to ascribe it to. I acknowledge no man [master] in human form.

Mr. VALLANDIGHAM- Did you get up the expedition yourself?
Mr. BROWN-I did. . . .


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How many are engaged with you in this movement? I ask those questions for our own safety.



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- Any questions that I can honorably answer I will, not So far as I am myself concerned I have told everything I value my word, sir.



- What was your object in coming?

- We came to free the slaves, and only that.

A YOUNG MAN (in the uniform of a volunteer company) -How many men in all had you?

Mr. BROWN-I came to Virginia with eighteen men only, besides myself.


What in the world did you suppose you could do here in Virginia with that amount of men?

Mr. BROWN-Young man, I don't wish to discuss that question here.

VOLUNTEER-You could not do anything.


Mr. BROWN-Well, perhaps your ideas and mine on military subjects. would differ materially.

Mr. MASON - How do you justify your acts?

Mr. BROWN-I think, my friend, you are guilty of a great wrong against God and humanity - I say it without wishing to be offensive — and it would be perfectly right for any one to interfere with you so far as to free those you wilfully and wickedly hold in bondage. I do not say this insultingly.

Mr. MASON I understand that.

Mr. BROWN-I think I did right, and that others will do right who interfere with you at any time and all times. I hold that the golden rule, "Do unto others as you would that others should do unto you," applies to all who would help others to gain their liberty.

Lieut. STEWART — But you don't believe in the Bible.

Mr. BROWN - Certainly I do. . . .

Mr. VALLANDIGHAM When in Cleveland did you attend the Fugitive Slave Law Convention there?

Mr. BROWN - No. I was there about the time of the sitting of the court to try the Oberlin rescuers. . .

Mr. VALLANDIGHAM- Did you see anything of Joshau [Joshua] R. Giddings there?

Mr. BROWN-I did meet him. . .

Mr. VALLANDIGHAM Will you answer this: Did you talk with Giddings about your expedition here?

Mr. BROWN-No, I won't answer that, because a denial of it I would not make, and to make any affirmation of it I should be a great dunce. Mr. VALLANDIGHAM-Have you had any correspondenc[e] with parties at the North on the subject of this movement?

Mr. BROWN-I have had correspondence.


render to God.


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Do you consider this a religious movement?
It is, in my opinion, the greatest service a man can

Do you consider yourself an instrument in the hands of

-I do.

BYSTANDER-Upon what principle do you justify your acts?

Mr. BROWN-Upon the golden rule. I pity the poor in bondage that have none to help them; that is why I am here; not to gratify any personal animosity, revenge or vindictive spirit. It is my sympathy with

the oppressed and the wronged, that are as good as you and as precious in the sight of God.

BYSTANDER-Certainly. But why take the slaves against their will? Mr. BROWN-I never did. . .


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.. I want you to understand gentlemen (and to the reporter of the Herald) you may report that I want you to understand that I respect the rights of the poorest and weakest of colored people, oppressed by the slave system, just as much as I do those of the most wealthy and powerful. That is the idea that has moved me, and that alone. We expected no reward except the satisfaction of endeavoring to do for those in distress and greatly oppressed as we would be done by. The cry of distress of the oppressed is my reason, and the only thing that prompted me to come here.

A BYSTANDER - Why did you do it secretly?

Mr. BROWN - Because I thought thht [that] necessary to success; no other reason.

- And you think that honorable? Have you read Gerritt

BYSTANDER Smith's last letter?

Mr. BROWN - What letter do you mean?

BYSTANDER - The NEW YORK HERALD of yesterday in speaking of this affair mentions a letter in this way:

Apropos of this exciting news, we recollect a very significant passage in one of Gerrit Smith's letters, published a month or two ago, in which he speaks of the folly of attempting to strike the shackles off the slaves by the force of moral suasion or legal agitation, and predicts that the next movement made in the direction of negro emancipation would be an insurrection in the South.

Mr. BROWN-I have not seen the NEW YORK HERALD for some days past; but I presume, from your remark about the gist of the letter, that I should concur with it. I agree with Mr. Smith that moral suasion is hopeless. I don't think the people of the slave States will ever consider the subject of slavery in its true light till some other argument is resorted to than moral suasion.


case of your success?

Did you expect a general rising of the slaves in

Mr. BROWN-No, sir; nor did I wish it; I expected to gather them up from time to time and set them free.

Mr. VALLANDIGHAM Did you expect to hold possession here till then?

Mr. BROWN-Well, probably I had quite a different idea. I do not know that I ought to reveal my plans. I am here a prisoner and

wounded, because I foolishly allowed myself to be so. You overrate your strength in supposing I could have been taken if I had not allowed it. I was too tardy after commencing the open attack — in delaying my movements through Monday night, and up to the time I was attacked by the government troops. It was all occasioned by my desire to spare the feelings of my prisoners and their families and the community at large. I had no knowledge of the shooting of the negro (Heywood).


Q. Where did you get arms to obtain possession of the armory? A. I bought them.

Q. In what State? A. That I would not state. . .

Reporter of the HERALD—I'do not wish to annoy you; but if you have anything further you would like to say I will report it.

Mr. BROWN-I have nothing to say, only that I claim to be here in carrying out a measure I believe perfectly justifiable, and not to act the part of an incendiary or ruffian, but to aid those suffering great wrong. I wish to say, furthermore, that you had better-all you people at the South-prepare yourselves for a settlement of that question that must come up for settlement sooner than you are prepared for it. The sooner you are prepared the better. You may dispose of me very easily. I am nearly disposed of now; but this question is still to be settled this negro question I mean; the end of that is not yet.

Q. Brown, suppose you had every nigger in the United States, what would you do with them? A. Set them free.

Q. Your intention was to carry them off and free them? A. Not at all. A BYSTANDER—To set them free would sacrifice the life of every man in this community.

Mr. BROWN - I do not think so.

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BYSTANDER - I know it. I think you are fanatical.

Mr. BROWN - And I think you are fanatical. "Whom the gods would destroy they first made mad," and you are mad.

Q. Was it your only object to free the negroes? A. Absolutely our only object.

Q. But you demanded and took Col. Washington's silver and watch? A. Yes; we intended freely to appropriate the property of slaveholders to carry out our object. It was for that, and only that, and with no design to enrich ourselves with any plunder whatever.

New York Herald, October 21, 1859.

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49. Split in the Democratic Party (1860)


Halstead, ever since that time a journalist of national reputation, made the circuit of the political conventions in 1860, acting as correspondent of the Cincinnati Commercial. Later these letters were collected. - Bibliography: J. F. Rhodes, History of the United States, II, 440-454, notes; Channing and Hart, Guide, § 203.

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Resolved, That the platform adopted at Cincinnati be affirmed, with the following resolutions:

1. Resolved, That the Democracy of the United States hold these cardinal principles on the subject of slavery in the Territories: First, That Congress has no power to abolish slavery in the Territories. Second, That the Territorial Legislature has no power to abolish slavery in any Territory, nor to prohibit the introduction of slaves therein, nor any power to exclude slavery therefrom, nor any right to destroy or impair the right of property in slaves by any legislation whatever. . .

3. Resolved, That it is the duty of the Federal Government to protect, when necessary, the rights of persons and property on the high-seas, in the Territories, or wherever else its constitutional authority extends. . .

. . . The resolutions of the minority . . . are as follows:

1. Resolved, That we, the Democracy of the Union, in Convention assembled, hereby declare our affirmance of the resolutions unanimously adopted and declared as a platform of principles by the Democratic Convention at Cincinnati in the year 1856, believing that Democratic principles are unchangeable in their nature when applied to the same subject-matters; and we recommend, as the only further resolutions, the following:

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