BEFORE THE OUTBREAK
The early summer of 1858 found Brown in Kansas instead of Virginia, where he had wished and hoped to be. On the 28th of June in that year, he wrote me from Lawrence a short letter, addressed to “F. B. Sanborn and Dear Friends at Boston, Worcester, and ——,” and containing this passage: “I reached Kansas with friends, on the 26th inst.; came here last night, and leave here today for the neighborhood of late troubles. It seems the troubles are not over yet. … I do hope you will be in earnest now to carry out, as soon as possible, the measure proposed in Mr. Sanborn’s letter inviting me to Boston this last spring.” (This was the raising of money for a campaign in Virginia in 1859, after the Kansas fighting had ended.) “I hope there will be no delay of that matter. Can you send me by express, care of E. B. Whitman, Esqr., half a dozen or a full dozen whistles, such as I described, at once?” These whistles were for use in making signals among his men when in night attacks, or amid woody or mountainous regions in the day-time, and he had both spoken and written to me about them before. They were to be “such as are used by boatswains on ships of war;” and Brown thought them of great service. “Every ten men ought to have one at least.” He had also requested me to procure for him “some little articles as marks of distinction,” — badges, medals, or the like, — to be given to his men in token of good conduct. Happening to be at Dr. Howes house in South Boston one day in the spring of 1858, the doctor (who was a chevalier of the Greek Legion of Honor, for services rendered in the Greek revolution of 1820-27) had shown me his cross of Malta and other decorations, given by the Legion to its members, and some of these seemed to me exactly what Brown would want. I therefore made rude sketches of them and showed these to Brown, who selected the Maltese cross and one or two other designs, as suitable for his badges, but I doubt if they were ever used for that purpose.
In forwarding this letter to Colonel Higginson at Worcester, I wrote as follows, on the 6th of July, 1858: “In accordance with the decision of two meetings in Boston, late in May and early in June, at which all our associates were present except yourself, our shepherd of the people went to Kansas with a few companions, to look after matters in Linn County. The arrangement of the winter still holds good, and is to be put in action next spring, with God’s help.” How well Brown looked after Kansas matters will be seen by the following letter, a very long one for the old soldier to write, which has never before been printed: —
MISSOURI LINE (ON KANSAS SIDE), 20th July, 1858
F. B. Sanborn, esq., and friends at Boston and Worcester: I am here with about ten of my men, located on the same quarter section where the terrible murders of the 19th May were committed, called the Hamilton or Trading Post murders. Deserted farms and dwellings lie in all directions for some miles along the line, and the remaining inhabitants watch every appearance of persons moving about, with anxious jealousy and vigilance. Four of the persons wounded or attacked on that occasion are staying with me. The blacksmith Snyder, who fought the murderers, with his brother and son, are of the number. Old Mr. Hargrove, who was terribly wounded at the same time, is another. The blacksmith returned here with me, and intends to bring back his family on to his claim, within two or three days. A constant fear of new troubles seems to prevail on both sides the line, and on both sides are companies of armed men. Any little affair may open the quarrel afresh. Two murders and cases of robbery are reported of late. I have also a man with me who fled from his family and farm in Missouri but a day or two since, his life being threatened on account of being accused of informing Kansas men of the whereabouts of one of the murderers, who was lately taken and brought to this side. I have concealed the fact of my presence, pretty much, lest it should tend to create excitement; but it is getting leaked out, and will soon be known to all. As I am not here to seek or secure revenge, I do not mean to be the first to reopen the quarrel. How soon it may be raised against me I cannot say, nor am I over-anxious. A portion of my men are in other neighborhoods. We shall soon be in great want of a small amount in a draft or drafts on New York, to feed us. We cannot work for wages, and provisions are not easily obtained on the frontier.
I cannot refrain from quoting, or rather referring to a notice of the terrible affair before alluded to, in an account found in the New York Tribune of May 31st, dated at Westport, May 21st. The writer says: “From one of the prisoners it was ascertained that a number of persons were stationed at Snyder’s, a short distance from the post, a house built in the gorge of two mounds, and flanked by rock walls, a fit place for robbers and murderers.” At a spring in a rocky ravine stands a very small open blacksmith’s shop, made of thin slabs from a saw-mill. This is the only building that has ever been known to stand there, and in that article is called a “fortification.” It is to-day just as it was the 19th May, — a little pent-up shop, containing Snyder’s tools (what have not been carried off), all covered with rust, — and had never been thought of as a “fortification” before the poor man attempted in it his own and his brother’s and son’s defense. I give this as an illustration of the truthfulness of that whole account. It should be left to stand while it may last, and should be known hereafter as Fort Snyder.
I may continue here for some time. Mr. Russell and other friends at New Haven assured me before I left that, if the Lecompton abomination should pass through Congress, something could be done there to relieve me from a difficulty I am in, and which they understand. Will not some of my Boston friends “stir up their minds” in the matter? I do believe they would be listened to.1
You may use this as you think best. Please let friends in New York and at North Elba2 hear from me. I am not very stout, have much to think of and to do, and have but little time or chance for writing. The weather of late has been very hot. I will write you all when I can.
I believe all honest, sensible Free State men in Kansas consider George Washington Brown’s Herald of Freedom one of the most mischievous, traitorous publications in the whole country.
July 23d. Since the previous date, another Free State Missourian has been over to see us, who reports great excitement on the other side of the line, and that the house of Mr. Bishop (the man who fled to us) was beset during the night after he left; but, on finding he was not there, they left. Yesterday a pro-slavery man from West Point (Missouri) came over, professing that he wanted to buy Bishop’s farm. I think he was a spy. He reported all quiet on the other side. At present, along this part of the line the Free State men may be said in some sense to “possess the field”, but we deem it wise to “be on the alert.” Whether Missouri people are more excited through fear than otherwise I am not yet prepared to judge. The blacksmith (Snyder) has got his family back; also some others have returned, and a few new settlers are coming in. Those who fled or were driven off will pretty much lose the season. Since we came here, about twenty-five to thirty of Governor Denver’s men have moved a little nearer to the line, I believe.
August 6th. Have been down with the ague since last date, and had no safe way of getting off my letter. I had lain every night without shelter, suffering from cold rains and heavy dews, together with the oppressive beat of the days. A few days since, Governor Denver’s officer then in command bravely moved his men on to the line, and on to the next adjoining claim with us. Several of them immediately sought opportunity to tender their service to me secretly. I, however, advised them to remain where they were. Soon after I came on to the line, my right name was reported, but the majority did not credit the report.
I am getting better. You will know the true result of the election of the 2d inst. much sooner than I shall, probably. I am in no place for correct general information. May God bless you all.
Inclose in envelope directed to Augustus Wattles, Moneka, Linn County, Kansas; inside directed to S. Morgan.
* * *
Some of the incidents and allusions in the above letter need to be further explained. The “Hamilton murders” are better known in border story as the Marais des Cygnes Massacre, — a tragedy which Whittier has celebrated in verse. Near the river named by the old French voyageurs of Louisiana “The Swan’s Marsh” (Marais des Cygnes or du Cygne), in Southern Kansas, was a little settlement of Northern farmers. As they were planting their fields and fencing them, in May, 1858, an unprovoked assault was made on them by a party from Missouri, under the lead of three brothers named Hamilton, from Georgia; five farmers were killed and five wounded. The murderers were not Missourians, but men from farther South, who had been in Kansas but were driven out in some of the contests of 1856-57. They marched over in an armed band from Missouri, gathered up their victims from the prairie farms and the lonely roads, or took them from their cabins, formed them into a line, and shot them down by a platoon discharge. Then the invaders gave out word that they meant to shoot all the Free State settlers in Linn County in the same way. The farmers mustered for defense, in a band of two hundred, near the Missouri line, and detailed a company of mounted men to stand guard, or to ride up and down the line, and keep watch of the Hamiltons and their band. When Brown reached the spot a month later, he put his own men on guard, and the settlers went back to their work. The Governor of Kansas, Denver, also sent armed men, perhaps United States troops, to keep the peace, and it is to these that Brown alludes as having offered to serve under him. Brown went to the spot where the massacre took place, assuming the name of “Captain Morgan” for the occasion, fortified himself, and gave out that he was there to fight or be peaceable as the other side might choose; they could make him as good a neighbor or as bad as they pleased. Gradually his secret came out, and the terror of his name frightened the enemy away; the Hamiltons left the neighborhood, and the troubles there ceased. But Brown himself fell sick and was obliged to take shelter for a few weeks with his friend Wattles, at Moneka. I wrote to him early in July a letter which reached him there, and to which he replied as follows: —
OSAWATOMIE, KANSAS, 10th September, 1858.
Dear Friend, and other friends, — Your kind and very welcome letter of the 11th July was received a long time since, but I was sick at the time, and have been ever since until now; so that I did not even answer the letters of my own family, or any one else, before yesterday, when I began to try. I am very weak yet, but gaining well. All seems quiet now. I have been down about six weeks. As things now look I would say that, if you have not already sent forward those little articles,3 do not do it. Before I was taken sick there seemed to be every prospect of some business very soon; and there is some now that requires doing; but, under all the circumstances, I think not best to send them.
I have heard nothing direct from Forbes for months, but expect to when I get to Lawrence. I have but fourteen regularly employed hands, the most of whom are now at common work, and some are sick. Much sickness prevails. How we travel may not be best to write. I have often met the “notorious” Montgomery,4 and think very favorably of him.
It now looks as though but little business can be accomplished until we get our mill in operation. I am most anxious about that, and want you to name the earliest date possible, as near as you can learn, when you can have your matters gathered up. Do let me hear from you on this point (as soon as consistent), so that I may have some idea how to arrange my business. Dear friends, do be in earnest; the harvest we shall reap, if we are only up and doing.
13th September, 1858. Yours of the 25th August, containing draft of Mr. S. for fifty dollars is received. I am most grateful for it, and to you for your kind letter. This would have been sooner mailed but for want of stamps and envelopes. I am gaining slowly, but hope to be on my legs soon. Have no further news.
Mailed, September 15th. Still weak.
* * *
The money which I sent to Brown, as above acknowledged, was probably contributed by Gerrit Smith, who, first and last, gave Brown or sent him about one thousand dollars. Most of the smaller sums which Brown received during the years 1858-59, I suppose, passed through my hands, while the larger sums were paid to him directly by Mr. Stearns or other contributors. Most of the correspondence on this Virginia business also went through my hands; it being Brown’s custom to write one letter to be read by the half-dozen persons with whom he desired to communicate; and this letter generally (by no means always) coming to me in the first instance. My custom was to show it to Mr. Parker and Dr. Howe, when they were at home, then to send it to Mr. Stearns, who sometimes forwarded it to Colonel Higginson or some more distant correspondent, and sometimes returned it to me. It appears that both the letters just quoted came back to me in October, 1858, and were by me forwarded to Higginson on the 13th of that month, with this comment: —
“I received the inclosed letter from our friend a week or two since. You see he is anxious about future operations. Can you do anything for him before next March, and if so, what? The partners in Boston have talked the matter over, but have not yet come to any definite proposal. I send you also an older letter, which should have been sent to you, but, by some fault of others, was not.”
Colonel Higginson expressed the hope that the enterprise would not be deferred longer than the spring of 1859, and made some contribution to the fund, as also did Mr. Parker and the other members of the secret committee. No active movement to raise money was undertaken, however, until the winter and spring of 1859. On the 19th of January, 1859, three weeks after Brown’s incursion into Missouri, where he freed a dozen slaves, I wrote thus to Colonel Higginson: “I have had no private advices from J. B. since I wrote you. He has begun the work in earnest, I fancy, and will find enough to do where he is for the present. I earnestly hope he may not fall into the hands of the United States or Missouri. If he does not, I think we may look for treat results from this spark of fire. If Forbes is a traitor, he will now show his hand, and we can pin him in some way.” On the 4th of March I wrote again: “Brown was at Tabor (Iowa) on the 10th February, with his stock in fine condition, as he says in a letter to G. Smith. He also says he is ready with some new men to set his mill in operation, and seems to be coming East for that purpose. Mr. —— proposes to raise one thousand dollars for him, and to contribute one hundred dollars himself. I think a larger sum ought to be raised, but can we raise so much as this? Brown says he thinks any one of us who talked with him might raise the sum if we should set about it; perhaps this is so, but I doubt. As a reward for what he has done, perhaps money might he raised for him. At any rate, he means to do the work, and I expect to hear of him in New York within a few weeks. Dr. Howe thinks J. F. and some others, not of our party, would help the project if they knew of it.”
Following up this last suggestion, I sounded several antislavery men of wealth and influence in the spring of 1859, and did obtain some subscriptions from persons who were willing to give to a brave man forcibly interfering with slavery, without inquiring very closely what he would do next. But on the other hand I found that Brown’s manly action in Missouri had made some of our friends more shy of him. A striking example of this change of feeling has been furnished me by an old abolitionist of Western Iowa, who vouches for the anecdote.
Early in February, 1859, Brown was at Tabor, as he had often been before, but this time with a party of Missouri fugitive slaves. Now although the little village had got the name of being a “station on the Underground Railroad,” very few fugitives had been openly brought there, and none under such appalling circumstances. These slaves had actually been taken from their masters’ houses, and one of the slave-holders, while aiming his revolver at one of the liberators, was himself shot down. After many skirmishes and narrow escapes, Brown had reached Tabor with his party, expecting friends and aid there; but great was his surprise to find himself disowned by the very men who had aided him before. A slave-holder from Missouri happened to be visiting in the village, and it was judged best to satisfy him that Tabor was not the home of abolitionists. A public meeting was called for Monday morning, and announced in the churches of that whole region on the Sunday preceding. The people flocked in, and the slave-holder was there as well as John Brown and his true men; among them his lieutenant, John Henry Kagi, who was killed at Harper’s Ferry. The meeting was addressed by one Deacon C——, who had hitherto been reckoned n active coadjutor of Brown, but who now called on his neighbors and fellow-Christians to declare that the forcible rescue of slaves was robbery and might lead to murder, and that the citizens of Tabor “had no sympathy with John Brown in his late acts.” When the deacon had offered his resolution and made his speech, the opposite opinion was advocated by James Vincent, a minister, who had been an active abolitionist in England and America, and who had supposed the meeting called to devise means for aiding the fugitives. Mr. Vincent asked, “Have we not all, citizens of Tabor, aided John Brown before? has he not counseled with us and we with him, and has he not been sent on his way with our money and our prayers? Suppose our brother, Deacon C——, were traveling in Missouri with his covered wagon, and his own brother, a slave, should ask to be carried into Iowa, to escape being sold away from his family; who believes that our neighbor would turn from his own brother and refuse him?” To which the poor deacon replied that he would not aid a slave to escape in Missouri, not even his own brother. Mr. Vincent then offered an ironical resolution, drawn up by Kagi, to this effect: “Whereas, John Brown and his associates have been guilty of robbery and murder in the State of Missouri, Resolved, That we, the citizens of Tabor, repudiate his conduct and theirs, and will hereupon take them into custody and hold them to await the action of the Missouri authorities.” The meeting evaded this caustic test of its sincerity, but went on denouncing Brown and his acts. In the midst of these natural but disgraceful proceedings, John Brown arose, speechless with astonishment and grief, and went his way from the meeting and from the town, to which he never returned. In the whole assembly there were but four persons who were willing, to stand by their old friend, and to have it known that they had helped him. “I often think,” writes one of the four, “of John Brown as I saw him in that last sad meeting. He listened to these bitter reproaches of old-time friends in silence, and offered no reply. As he left the house he put me in mind of the Saviour, his whole bearing was so lofty, so dignified, so full of meekness; yet his countenance indicated a tremendous conflict within. The thought of that scene fills my heart anew with anguish, yet gratitude that, by the help of God, I was enabled to withstand the tide that had set in against him.”
Similar experiences, though less painful and less dramatic in their incidents, awaited Brown in other places. When he reached Boston in May, he was invited to dine one Saturday at the Bird Club, and there for the first time met Senator Wilson, now Vice-President of the United States, who has thus de- scribed the interview: “The last of May, 1859, I met John Brown at the Parker House in Boston. There were a dozen persons present; Brown came in with somebody,5 and was introduced to quite a number of gentlemen who were there. I was introduced to him, and he, I think, did not recollect my name. I stepped aside. In a moment, after speaking to somebody else, he came up again, and said to me that he did not understand my name when it was mentioned. He then said, in a very calm but firm tone, ‘I understand you do not approve of my course;’ referring, as I supposed, to his going into Missouri and getting slaves, and running them off. It was said with a great deal of firmness of manner, and it was the first salutation after speaking to me. I said I did not; I believed it to be a very great injury to the antislavery cause; that I regarded every illegal act, and every imprudent act, as being against it. I said that, if this action had been a year or two before, it might have been followed by the invasion of Kansas by a large number of excited people on the border, and a great many lives might have been lost, lie said he thought differently, believed he had acted right, and that it would have a good influence.” If Brown had known Senator Wilson as well as he did that Kansas friend who reproved him for the same cause, he would perhaps have gone further, and given the senator the same answer:6 “Brown called in to see me, in going out of Kansas in 1859, and I censured him for going into Missouri and getting those slaves. He said, ‘I considered the matter well; you will have no more attacks from Missouri. I shall now leave Kansas; probably you will never see me again. I consider it my duty to draw the scene of the excitement to some other part of the country.’” In this aim he certainly succeeded.
Even Dr. Howe, who had been concerned in the Greek revolution, the French revolution of July, 1830, and the Polish revolution of 1831, was distressed, on his return from Cuba in the spring of 1859, to find that Brown had actually been taking the property of slave-holders with which to give their escaping slaves an outfit, and for a time withdrew his support from the veteran, who chafed greatly at this unexpected rebuff. I have an impression that Dr. Howe, on his way home from Cuba (whither he accompanied Theodore Parker in February, 1859), had journeyed through the Carolinas, and had there accepted the splendid hospitality of the rich planters; and that it shocked him to think he might have been instrumental in giving up to fire and pillage the noble mansions where he had been entertained. If so, it was a generous reluctance which held him back from heartily entering again into John Brown’s plans; nor did he after 1858 so completely support them as, although he never withdrew from the secret committee, and continued to give money to the enterprise. Parker never returned to Boston, but died in Florence soon after Brown’s execution. He contributed nothing after 1858, nor did Higginson give so much, or interest himself so warmly in the enterprise after its first postponement. All this would have made it more difficult, during 1859, to raise the money which Brown needed, had it not been for the munificence of Mr. Stearns, who, at each emergency, came forward with his indispensable gifts. After placing about twelve hundred dollars in Brown’s hands in the spring and summer of 1859, he still continued to aid him in one way and another, until almost the day of the outbreak, which was delayed by the slowness of Brown’s own movements during the spring and summer of 1859.7
Up to this time the enterprise of Brown, aiming at the very heart of slavery, and destined to be successful by its rebound, even when failing signally in its immediate effect, had wholly escaped public notice. The disclosures of Forbes, such as they were, left no permanent impression on the mind of any person not previously acquainted with the plot. In the summer of 1859, less than two months before Harper’s Ferry was captured, a second and more direct disclosure was made, in a letter written from Cincinnati to the Secretary of War at Washington. This official was then a Virginian, John B. Floyd, after wards in high command in the Confederate army; but although the information sent to him was in the main very exact, and though one would have supposed a Virginian specially sensitive to such intelligence, it does not appear that General Floyd gave the matter more than a passing thought. He received the letter quoted below while at a Virginian watering-place, but probably did not read it twice, although he laid it away at first as a paper of some moment. It has never been ascertained who wrote the letter, but it has been ascribed to a young man then connected with one of the Cincinnati newspapers. This person had become acquainted with a Hungarian refugee, formerly in the suite of Kossuth, then living in Kansas under the name of Leonhard or Lenhart. The Hungarian had fought in Kansas on the side of the North, possibly under Brown himself, and had learned in some detail the plan of the Virginia campaign, which it is believed he communicated in an unguarded moment to the Cincinnati reporter, who could not contain the secret, but sat down at once (it is said), and wrote thus to the Secretary of War:
CINCINNATI, August 20, 1859.
Sir, — I have lately received information of a movement of so great importance that I feel it to be my duty to impart it to you without delay. I have dis- covered the existence of a secret association, having for its object the liberation of the slaves at the South by a general insurrection. The leader of the movement is Old John Brown, late of Kansas. He has been in Canada during the winter, drilling the negroes there, and they are only waiting his word to start for the South to assist the slaves. They have one of their leading men, a white man, in an armory in Maryland; where it is situated I have not been able to learn. As soon as everything is ready, those of their number who are in the Northern States and Canada are to come in small companies to their rendezvous, which is in the mountains of Virginia. They will pass down through Pennsylvania and Maryland, and enter Virginia at Harper’s Ferry. Brown left the North about three or four weeks ago, and will arm the negroes and strike the blow in a few weeks, so that whatever is done must be done at, once. They have a large quantity of arms at their rendezvous, and are probably distributing them already. As I am not fully in their confidence, this is all the information I can give you. I dare not sign my name to this, but trust that you will not disregard the warning on that account.
* * *
As will be seen by referring to what I have written above, and in previous chapters, the writer of this letter knew more about the details of Brown’s movements, in some particulars, than his Massachusetts committee did; more even than his own followers generally did at that time. It was not until a month after the letter was written that Frederick Douglass learned from Brown in Chambersburg of his purpose to attack at Harper’s Ferry, nor did Brown’s soldiers know it till about the same time. I had myself supposed that the blow would be struck farther west, and nearer to Ohio than to Baltimore and Washington. Another of Brown’s principal friends had looked to Kentucky as the point of attack. Whoever wrote this letter then, though “not fully in their confidence,” must have derived his information from some one very near to Brown himself, and must have been duly impressed with the value of the secret he made haste to reveal. But he might as well have written his message in the waters of the Ohio River. The secretary, in his testimony before Senator Masons committee, the next winter, thus described his state of mind upon receiving the mysterious letter: —
“My attention was a little more than usually attracted by it, and therefore I laid it away in my trunk. I do not know but that I should have paid some little attention to it, notwithstanding it was anonymous (as the man seemed to be particular in the details), but he confused me a little by saying these people were at work in an armory in Maryland. I knew there was no armory in Maryland, and supposed, therefore, that he had gone into details for the purpose of exciting the alarm of the Secretary of War, and to have a parade about that for nothing; and that mistake in the statement satisfied me there was nothing in it.8 Besides, I was satisfied in my own mind that a scheme of such wickedness and outrage could not be entertained by any citizen of the United States. I put the letter away and thought no more of it until the raid broke out. I showed it to nobody, I believe, except some members of my family, until the outbreak. I have no means of knowing who wrote it, or what the object in writing it was.”
It is now plain, of course, that the writer’s object was to put the government on its guard; but why he did not afterwards disclose himself, and claim the credit of his revelation, is somewhat mysterious. Perhaps even now, if he is living, this letter-writer will make himself known, and tell the source of his intelligence.
Another warning was more publicly given by a well-known opponent of slavery, the late Gerrit Smith, but this also passed unheeded. Writing to the colored men of Syracuse, New York, a week later than the date of this Cincinnati letter (August 27, 1859), Mr. Smith said, among other things, “It is, perhaps, too late to bring slavery to an end by peaceable means—too late to vote it down. For many years I have feared, and published my fears, that it must go out in blood. These fears have grown into belief. So debauched are the white people by slavery that there is not virtue enough left in them to put it down. If I do not misinterpret the words and looks of the most intelligent and noble of the black men who fall in my way, they have come to despair of the accomplishment of this work by the white people. The feeling among the blacks that they must deliver themselves gains strength with fearful rapidity. No wonder, then, is it that intelligent black men in the States and in Canada should see no hope for their race in the practice and policy of white men. No wonder they are brought to the conclusion that no resource is left to them but in God and insurrections. For insurrections then we may look any year, any month, any day. A terrible remedy for a terrible wrong! But come it must, unless anticipated by repentance and the putting away of the terrible wrong.” I have always supposed that Mr. Smith had the plans of John Brown in his mind when writing these words, and still more explicitly in the remarkable passage that follows. He added, at the close of his letter, —
“It will be said that these insurrections will be failures that they will be put down. Yes, but will not slavery nevertheless be put down by them? For what portions are there of the South that will cling to slavery after two or three considerable insurrections shall have filled the whole South with horror? And is it entirely certain that these insurrections will be put down promptly, and before they can have spread far? Will telegraphs and railroads be too swift for even the swiftest insurrections? Remember that telegraphs and railroads can be rendered useless in an hour. Remember too that many, who would be glad to face the insurgents, would be busy in transporting their wives and daughters to places where they would be safe from that worst fate which husbands and fathers can imagine for their wives and daughters. I admit that but for this embarrassment Southern men would laugh at the idea of an insurrection, and would quickly dispose of one. But trembling as they would for their beloved ones, I know of no part of the world where, so much as in the South, men would be like, in a formidable insurrection, to lose the most important time, and be distracted and panic-stricken.
“When the day of her calamity shall have come to the South, and fire and rape and slaughter shall be filling up the measure of her affliction, then will the North have two reasons for remorse: —
“First, That she was not willing (whatever the attitude of the South at this point) to share with her in the expense and loss of an immediate and universal emancipation.
“Second, That she was not willing to vote slavery out of existence.
“But why should I have spoken of the sorrows that await the South? Whoever he may be that foretells the horrible end of American slavery is held both at the North and the South to be a lying prophet—another Cassandra. The South would not respect her own Jefferson’s prediction of servile insurrection. How then can it be hoped that she will respect another’s? If the South will not with her own Jefferson ‘tremble’ when reflecting that ‘God is just,’ if she will not see with her own Jefferson that ‘the Almighty has no attributes which can take side with’ her in ‘a contest’ with her slaves, then who is there, either North or South, that is capable of moving her fears and helping her to safety?”9
Such predictions were indeed looked upon, at the North and at the South, as the ravings of Cassandra. To the unthinking public, slavery had never seemed more secure, or more likely to continue for centuries, than in this very year 1859. But Brown and his friends believed that it could be overthrown; that it must be overthrown, and that speedily, else it would destroy the nation. Unlike Mr. Smith, Brown did not contemplate insurrection, but, as I have said, something like partisan warfare, at first on a small scale, then more extensive. Yet he did not shrink from the extreme consequences of his position. A man of peace for more than fifty years of his life, he nevertheless understood that war had its uses, and that there were worse evils than warfare for a great principle. He more than once said to me, and doubtless said the same to others, “I believe in the Golden Rule and the Declaration of Independence; I think they both mean the same thing; and it is better that a whole generation should pass off the face of the earth—men, women, and children—by a violent death, than that one jot of either should fail in this country. I mean exactly so, sir.” He also told me that “he had much considered the matter, and had about concluded that a forcible separation of the connection between master and slave was necessary to fit the blacks for self-government.” First a soldier, then a citizen, was his plan with the liberated slaves. “When they stand like men, the nation will respect them,” he said; “it is necessary to teach them this.” He looked forward, no doubt, to years of conflict, in which the blacks, as in the later years of the civil war, would be formed into regiments and brigades and be drilled in the whole art of war, as were the black soldiers of Toussaint L’Ouverture and Dessalines, in Hayti. But in his more inspired moments he foresaw a speedier end to the combat which he began. Once he said, “A few men in the right, and knowing they are right, can overturn a mighty king. Fifty men, twenty men, in the Alleghanies, could break slavery to pieces in two years.” Within less than three years from the day he crossed the Potomac with his twenty men, Abraham Lincoln had made his first proclamation of emancipation. Before six years had passed, every one of the four million slaves in our country was a free man. The story of the six weeks (from October 16 to December 2, 1859) in which John Brown wrought his portion of this six years’ work will close the chronicle of his campaign in Virginia.
- The allusion here is probably to Brown’s contract with Charles Blair of Collinsville, Connecticut, the blacksmith who was to make the thousand pikes which were afterwards captured in Maryland. Brown had engaged them in 1857, and had paid in that year five hundred and fifty of the thousand dollars which the pikes were to cost when finished. In 1858 Brown had not been able for lack of money, to complete the payment, and was afraid his contract would be forfeited and the money already paid would he lost. He therefore communicated (as I suppose) the facts in the case to Mr. Russell, who was then the head of a military school at New Haven and had some assurance from him of money to he raised in Connecticut to meet this Connecticut contract. But I do not remember that anything was done concerning the pikes until 1859, when Brown paid for them with money contributed in Boston. ↩
- His wife and children. ↩
- The boatswain’s whistles. ↩
- This was James Montgomery, one of the bravest partisans on the Kansas border, and during the civil war colonel of a black regiment in South Carolina. ↩
- The late Major Stearns, of Medford. ↩
- Testimony before Senator Mason’s committee. ↩
- I find this in one of my letters, dated “Concord, June 4, 1859:” “Brown has set out on his expedition, having got some eight hundred dollars from all sources except from Mr. Stearns, and from him the balance of two thousand dollars; Mr. S—— being a man who, ‘having put his hand to the plow, turneth not back.’ Brown left Boston for Springfield and New York on Wednesday morning at 8.30, and Mr. Stearns has probably gone to New York today, to make final arrangements for him. Brown means to be on the ground as soon as he can, perhaps so as to begin by the 4th of July. He could not say where he should be for a few weeks but letters are addressed to him, under cover to his son John, Jr., at West Andover, Ohio. This point is not far from where Brown will begin, and his son will communicate with him. Two of his sons will go with him. He is desirous of getting some one to go to Canada and collect recruits for him among the fugitives, — with Harriet Tubman or alone, as the case may be.” This letter shows I had then no thought that the attack would be made at Harper’s Ferry, nor had Mr. Stearns, to whom I was then in the habit of talking or writing about this matter every few days. I have no doubt he knew as much as I did about the general plan. On the 18th of August, Brown sent me word from Chambersburg that be was again delayed for want of money, and must have three hundred dollars which I undertook to raise for him. On the 4th of September I had sent him two hundred dollars, of which Dr. Howe gave fifty; on the 14th of September I had all but thirty-five dollars of the remaining hundred, Colonel Higginson having sent me twenty dollars. I think the balance was paid by Mr. Stearns, who on the 8th of September had written thus to one of the secret committee: “By reading Mr. Sanborn’s note to me a second time, I see that the inclosed ought to have been sent to you with his note. Please read it and inclose again to him. I hope you will be able to get the fifty dollars. We have done all we could and fall short another fifty as yet.” The “inclosed” here was an urgent appeal from Chambersburg for money. On the 6th of October—ten days before the attack was made—I wrote to Higginson, “The three hundred dollars desired has been made up and received. Four or five men will be on the ground next week, from these regions and elsewhere.” These facts were all known to Mr. Stearns, who within a fortnight of the outbreak was in consultation with Mr. Lewis Hayden, and other colored men of Boston, about forwarding recruits to Brown. I think he paid some of the expenses of recruits, but am not certain. ↩
- The armory or arsenal at Harper’s Ferry (a place named in the letter) was less than a mile, I believe, from Maryland, yet Mr. Floyd does not seem to have thought of it. ↩
- Soon after the capture of Brown’s papers at the Kennedy farm, a letter of Gerrit Smith’s, found among them, was published in all the newspapers, and was the first occasion of connecting his name with that of Brown in the undertaking. But for a misprint, natural enough in copying the almost illegible handwriting of Mr. Smith, the name of Mr. Stearns, as well as mine and that of my friend Morton, would have been at once coupled with John Brown’s. The Mr. “Kearney” thrice mentioned in the letter given below was, in fact, Mr. “Stearns.” The word Washington is also a misprint, but for what I have now forgotten, perhaps Westport, on Lake Champlain, where Brown was soon after the date of the letter. He was at Keene, half-way between Westport and North Elba, on the 9th of June. At this time Brown had left Kansas, expecting never to return. The letter as printed was this: —
PETERBORO’, June 4, 1859.
CAPTAIN JOHN BROWN:
My dear Friend, — I wrote you a week ago, directing my letter to the care of Mr. Kearney. He replied, informing me that he had forwarded it to Washington, but as Mr. Morton received last evening a letter from Mr. Sanborn, saying your address would be your son’s home, namely, West Andover, I therefore write you without delay, and direct your letter to your son. I have done what I could thus far for Kansas, and what I could to keep you at your Kansas work. Losses by indorsement and otherwise have brought me under heavy embarrassment the last two years, but I must, nevertheless, continue to do, in order to keep you at your Kansas work. I send you herewith my draft for two hundred dollars. Let me hear from you on the receipt of this letter. You live in our hearts, and our prayer to God is that you may have strength to continue in your Kansas work.My wife joins me in affectionate regard to you, dear John, whom we both hold in very high esteem.I suppose you put the Whitman note into Mr. Kearney’s hands. It will be a great shame if Mr. Whitman does not pay it.What a noble man is Mr. Kearney. How liberally he has contributed to keep you in your Kansas work.
GERRIT SMITH ↩