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Governor Wise himself gave high praise to Brown.' Thousands of letters poured in upon him urging Brown's pardon. Many threatened; others deemed the execution ill-advised. Wise's message to the legislature, written after Brown's death, gave good reasons for not taking such advice.2
The emotional feelings among the abolitionists caused throughout the North expressions of an extraordinary character which enthroned Brown among the saints, and scarcely left anything for future use in characterizing our most exalted philosophic or religious ideals. It is painful testimony to a national habit of emotional exaltation. A Virginia transcendentalist could say, "John Brown was executed on December 2, 1859, and two days later my sermon exalted him to the right hand of God." Forty-four years later the same man could say, “Reading his career by the light of subsequent history, I am convinced that few men ever wrought so much evil.” 4
The oratorical governor of Virginia saw in the event principally a means of arming his state to meet events which he too clearly foreboded. The whole available militia of the state was assembled, and Harper's Ferry became a camp of some eighteen hundred men. "I brought the force into the field," said Wise, "in the first place to rouse the military spirit of the state; and in my humble estimation
1 Wise, Wise, 246.
9 Conway, Autobiography, I., 302.
• Ibid., 250-254.
♦ Ibid., 303.
that was worth all the money spent. In the next place . . . to assure the people of the border of their safety and defense." In his message of December 5 he called upon the legislature to "organize and arm."
The South, under the circumstances, was much calmer than might have been expected. This was due in part, no doubt, to a reassurance because the blacks failed to rise, and showed evident loyalty to their masters. Their attitude justified much of what the South had so long upheld as to the contentment of the slaves; and this, with a removal of much of the fear which had hung over the section since Nat Turner's insurrection in 1831, nurtured a satisfaction which did much to offset the indignation which was poured out abundantly upon Brown's northern abettors and upon the many who proclaimed him a martyr. Motions in both houses of the Massachusetts legislature to adjourn on the day of Brown's execution, though lost, very properly rankled in the southern mind, as did also meetings in many parts of the North prompted by ill-advised fanaticism. The strength and extent of this spirit was illustrated by Theodore Parker's belief that "No American has died in this century whose chance of earthly immortality is worth half so much as John Brown's." 2 Parker was also one who could say, "I should like of all things to see
1 Richmond Enquirer (semi-weekly ed.), January 31, 1860. * Frothingham, Parker, 403.
an insurrection of slaves. It must be tried many times before it succeeds, as at last it must, an expression which was the outcome of his own full knowledge as to what was brewing. Of this the others of the Boston secret committee, Parker, Stearns, Higginson, Howe, and Sanborn, as already shown on the authority of the last, also had full information, as had Gerrit Smith, with the exception, perhaps, of the exact place at which Brown was to strike. Brown's funds were supplied by these men, who were accessories before the fact in the fullest meaning of the phrase.
It is impossible to justify such action. That they had full appreciation of the results should Brown succeed is shown in Howe's feeling, when, early in 1859, returning from Cuba and "accepting the hospitality of Wade Hampton and other rich planters . . . it shocked him to think he might be instrumental in giving up to fire and pillage their noble mansions.” 2 If Brown and his coadjutors were justified, then Orsini's attempt, to which Lincoln himself compared Brown's, was justifiable; the death of Lincoln himself was a result of the same want of principle. For the men just mentioned were conspirators in the same sense as those who aided Orsini and Booth, both of whom were acting upon the extreme view of "the higher law" which makes man a law unto himself. Stearns and his fellows were not martyrs; they did not risk their
1 Frothingham, Parker, 475. Sanborn, John Brown, 491.
CAUSES OF THE CIVIL WAR [1859
lives; they were not in open warfare; they were simply in secret conspiracy to carry by bolder instruments throughout the South the horrors of Hayti, still vivid in the recollection of many then yet living.
One can respect the fanatical spirit which so often goes with martyrdom. Brown was undoubtedly willing to lay down his life in order to instigate the blacks to move for freedom. But his willingness was no more a justification than Orsini's or Booth's. No result of the kind intended could possibly have justified the overriding of every law of the country from the formation of the Constitution. That the negroes had themselves a right to rise, and, if necessary to their freedom, to slaughter and burn, cannot be denied. Every man has the right, at all hazards, to resist enslavement; it is a right of nature. But the men who bought the arms and supplied the money for the pikes carried to the Kennedy farm, with full knowledge of the uses which they were to be put to, and the whites who were to use them, were fighting, not against the South, but against all organized society. We could palliate such action on the part of the quarter of a million of free negroes in the North, working in behalf of their race, and respect the southern free negro who was willing to fight for such a cause. But of such willingness there was too faint a sign to suppose such action, unaided by higher leadership, possible.
While Brown had a blood-thirst which made him a willing leader in some of the worst incidents of the bloody epoch in Kansas, he had the high qualities of undaunted courage and an unflinching willingness to give his life for the cause he had at heart. Such willingness is, however, by no means so infrequent that it need elevate such a case as Brown's to a foremost rank of martyrdom. For, however willing to be a martyr, he did not expect that glory; he was, in his own mind, to be the head of a great and successful movement, and herein his conduct showed too much insanity or folly to deserve sympathy. In all the important phases of his plot he showed extreme ignorance and want of good sense. His original scheme was as wild and impossible as could be imagined. It was stamped with ignorance and incapacity. His intent to occupy the rough region of the Alleghanies with a large body of blacks, led by a score of whites, most of whom were mere boys, wanting in any supplies of clothing or food, in an unsettled region, one of the roughest of the continent, was one showing absolute want of the judgment necessary in a leader. Starvation would have met him at the threshold of his eyrie. The choice both of his theatre of action and of the time showed a want of balance of mind. The theatre was a region where the whites were in an overpowering majority; the time the beginning of the season when the support of life is most difficult and in which the negro would be most unlikely