Ladies and gentlemen: Of course I do not expect — speaking from this platform, and to you — to say anything on the vital question of the hour which you have not already heard.
But, when a great question divides the community, all men are called upon to vote, and I feel to-night that I am simply giving my vote.
I am only saying “ditto” to what you hear from this platform day after day. And I would willingly have avoided, Ladies and Gentlemen, even at this last moment, borrowing this hour from you. I tried to do better by you. Like the Irishman in the story, I offered to hold the hat of Hon. Thomas Corwin
, [enthusiastic applause,] if he would only make a speech, and, I am sorry to say, he declines, most unaccountably, this generous offer.
[Laughter.] So I must fulfil my appointment, and deliver my lecture myself.
“ The Lesson of the Hour?”
I think the lesson of the hour is insurrection.
[Sensation.] Insurrection of thought always precedes the insurrection of arms.
The last twenty years have been an insurrection of thought.
We seem to be entering on a new phase of this great American struggle.
It seems to me that we have never
, we have never accepted our own civilization.
We have held back from the inference which we ought to have drawn from the admitted principles which underlie our life.
We have all the timidity of the Old World, when we think of the people; we shrink back, trying to save ourselves from the inevitable might of the thoughts of the millions.
The idea on the other side of the water seems to be, that man is created to be taken care of by somebody else.
God did not leave him fit to go alone; he is in everlasting pupilage to the wealthy and the educated.
The religious or the comfortable classes are an ever-present probate court to take care of him. The Old World, therefore, has always distrusted the average conscience,--the common sense of the millions.
It seems to me the idea of our civilization, underlying all American life, is, that men do not need any guardian.
We need no safeguard.
Not only the inevitable, but the best power this side of the ocean, is the unfettered average common sense of the masses.
Institutions, as we are accustomed to call them, are but pasteboard, and intended to be, against the thought of the street.
Statutes are mere milestones, telling how far yesterday's thought had travelled; and the talk of the sidewalk to-day is the law of the land.
You may regret this; but the fact stands; and if our fathers foresaw the full effect of their principles, they must have planned and expected it. With us, Law is nothing unless close behind it stands a warm, living public opinion.
Let that die or grow indifferent, and statutes are waste paper, lack all executive force.
You may frame them strong as language can make; but once change public feeling, and through them or over them rides the real wish of the people.
The good sense and conscience of the masses are our only title-deeds and police force.
The Temperance cause, the antislavery movement, and
your Barnburner party prove this.
You may sigh for a strong government, anchored in the convictions of past centuries, and able to protect the minority against the majority,--able to defy the ignorance, the mistake, or the passion, as well as the high purpose, of the present hour; you may prefer the unchanging terra firma
of despotism; but still the fact remains, that we are launched on the ocean of an unchained democracy, with no safety but in those laws of gravity which bind the ocean in its bed,--the instinctive love of right in the popular heart,--the divine sheet-anchor, that the race gravitates towards right, and that the right is always safe and best.
Somewhat briefly stated, such is the idea of American civilization; uncompromising faith — in the average selfishness, if you choose-of all classes, neutralizing each other, and tending towards that fair play which Saxons love.
But it seems to me that, on all questions, we dread thought; we shrink behind something; we acknowledge ourselves unequal to the sublime faith of our fathers; and the exhibition of the last twenty years and of the present state of public affairs is, that Americans
dread to look their real position in the face.
They say in Ireland
that every Irishman thinks he was born sixty days too late, [laughter,] and that the world owes him sixty days. The consequence is, when a trader says such a thing is so much for cash, the Irishman thinks cash means to him a bill for sixty days. [Laughter.] So it is with Americans
They have no idea of absolute right.
They were born since 1787, and absolute right means the truth diluted by a strong decoction of the Constitution
They breathe that atmosphere; they do not want to sail outside of it; they do not attempt to reason outside of it. Poisoned with printer's-ink, or choked with cotton-dust, they stare at absolute right as the dream of madmen.
For the last twenty years there
has been going on, more or less heeded and understood in different States, an insurrection of ideas against this limited, cribbed, cabined, isolated American civilization, an insurrection to restore absolute right.
If you said to an American, for instance, anything in regard to temperance, slavery, or anything else, in the course of the last twenty years,--anything about a principle,--he ran back instantly to the safety of such a principle, to the possibility of its existing with a particular sect, with a church, with a party, with a constitution, with a law. He had not yet raised himself to the level of daring to trust justice, which is the preliminary consideration to trusting the people; for whether native depravity be true or not, it is a truth, attested by all history, that the race gravitates towards justice, and that, making fair allowance for differences of opinion, there is an inherent, essential tendency to the great English principle of fair play at the bottom of our natures.
[Loud applause.] The Emperor Nicholas, it is said, ordered his engineers to lay down for him a railway from St. Petersburg
, and presently the engineers brought him a large piece of card-paper, on which was laid down, like a snake, the designed path for the iron locomotive between the two capitals.
“That's the best road,” was the reply.
“What do you make it crooked for?”
“Why, we turn this way to touch this great city, and to the left to reach that immense mass of people, and to the right again to suit the business of that district.”
turned the card over, made a new dot for Moscow
, and another for St. Petersburg
, took a ruler, made a straight line, and said, “Build me that road.”
“But what will become of this depot of trade?
of that town?”
“I don't know; they must look out for themselves.”
[Cheers.] And intelligent democracy
says of slavery, or of a church, “This is justice, and that iniquity; the track of God's thunderbolt is a straight line from one to the other, and the church or state that cannot stand it must get out of the way.”
[Cheers.] Now our object for twenty years has been to educate the mass of the American
people up to that level of moral life which shall recognize that free speech carried to this extent is God's normal school, educating the American
mind, throwing upon it the grave responsibility of deciding a great question, and by means of that responsibility lifting it to a higher level of intellectual and moral life.
Responsibility educates, and politics is but another name for God's way of teaching the masses ethics, under the responsibility of great present interest.
To educate man is God's ultimate end and purpose in all creation.
Trust the people with the gravest questions, and in the long run you educate the race; while, in the process, you secure, not perfect, but the best possible institutions.
Now scholarship stands on one side, and, like your Brooklyn Eagle
, says, “This is madness!”
Well, poor man, he thinks so!
[Laughter.] The very difficulty of the whole matter is, that he does think so, and this normal school that we open is for him. His seat is on the lowest end of the lowest bench.
[Laughter and applause.] But he only represents that very chronic distrust which pervades all that class, specially the timid educated mind of these Northern States.
went into the forum at Athens
, and heard a case argued by the great minds of the day, and saw the vote.
He walked out into the streets, and somebody said to him, “What think you of Athenian liberty?”
“I think,” said he, “wise men argue causes, and fools decide them.”
Just what the timid scholar two thousand years ago said in the streets of Athens
, that which calls itself the scholarship of the United States
says to-day of popular agitation, that it lets wise
men argue questions, and fools decide them.
But that unruly Athens
, where fools decided the gravest questions of polity and right and wrong, where it was not safe to be just, and where property, which you had garnered up by the thrift and industry of to-day, might be wrung from you by the caprices of the mob to-morrow,--that very Athens
probably secured the greatest human happiness and nobleness of its era, invented art, and sounded for us the depths of philosophy: God lent to it the noblest intellects, and it flashes to-day the torch that gilds yet the mountain-peaks of the Old World; while Egypt
, the hunker conservative of antiquity, where nobody dared to differ from the priest, or to be wiser than his grandfather,--where men pretended to be alive, though swaddled in the grave-clothes of creed and custom as close as their mummies in linen,--is hid in the tomb it inhabited; and the intellect which Athens
has created for us digs to-day those ashes to find out what hunkerism knew and did. [Cheers.] Now my idea of American civilization is, that it is a second part, a repetition of that same sublime confidence in the public conscience and the public thought which made the groundwork of Grecian Democracy.
We have been carrying on this insurrection of thought for thirty years. There have been various evidences of growth in education: I will tell you of one.
The first evidence that a sinner, convicted of sin, and too blind or too lazy to reform, the first evidence he gives that his nature has been touched, is, that he becomes a hypocrite; he has the grace to pretend to be something.
Now the first evidence the American
people gave of that commencing grace of hypocrisy was this: in 1831, when we commenced the antislavery agitation, the papers talked about slavery, bondage, American slavery, boldly, frankly, and bluntly.
In a few years it sounded hard; it had a grating effect; the toughest throat of the hardest Democrat felt it
as it came out. So they spoke of the “patriarchal institution,” [laughter,] then of the “domestic institution,” [continued laughter,] and then of the “peculiar institution,” [laughter,] and in a year or two it got beyond that.
published a report from her Senate, in which she went a stride further, and described it as “economic subordination,” and baptized it by statute “warranteeism.”
[Renewed laughter.] A Southern Methodist bishop was taken to task for holding slaves in reality, but his Methodist brethren were not courageous enough to say “slaves” right out in meeting, and so they advised the bishop to get rid of his “impediment” [loud laughter]; and the late Mr. Rufus Choate
, in the last Democratic canvass of my own State, undertaking and obliged to refer to the institutions of the South
, and unwilling that his old New England
lips, which had spoken so many glorious free truths, should foul their last days with the hated word, phrased it “a different type of industry.”
Now, hypocrisy — why, “it is the homage that Vice renders to Virtue.”
When men begin to weary of capital punishment, they banish the gallows inside the jail-yard, and let nobody see it without a special card of invitation from the sheriff.
And so they have banished slavery into pet phrases and fancy flash-words.
If, one hundred years hence, you should dig our Egyptian Hunkerism up from the grave into which it is rapidly sinking, we should need a commentator of the true German blood to find out what all these queer, odd, peculiar imaginative paraphrases meant in this middle of the nineteenth century.
This is one evidence of progress.
I believe in moral suasion.
The age of bullets is over.
The age of ideas is come.
I think that is the rule of our age. The old Hindoo
dreamed, you know, that he saw the human race led out to its varied fortune.
First, he saw men bitted aid curbed, and the reins went back to an
But his dream changed on and on, until at last he saw men led by reins that came from the brain, and went back into an unseen hand.
It was the type of governments; the first despotism, palpable, iron; and the last our government, a government of brains, a government of ideas.
I believe in it,--in public opinion.
Yet, let me say, in passing, I think you can make a better use of iron than forging it into chains.
If you must have the metal, put it into Sharpe
It is a great deal better used that way than in fetters; types are better than bullets, but bullets a thousand times rather than a clumsy statue of a mock great man, for hypocrites to kneel down and worship in a State-House yard.
[Loud and renewed cheers, and great hissing.] I am so unused to hisses lately, that I have forgotten what I had to say. [Laughter and hisses.] I only know I meant what I did say.
My idea is, public opinion, literature, education, as governing elements.
Some men seem to think that our institutions are necessarily safe, because we have free schools and cheap books, and a public opinion that controls.
But that is no evidence of safety.
had schools for fifteen hundred years. And books, it is said, were once as cheap in Central and Northern Asia
as they are in New York.
But they have not secured liberty, nor a controlling public opinion to either nation.
for three centuries had municipalities and town governments, as independent and self-supporting, and as representative of thought, as New England
or New York has. But that did not save Spain
says that, fifty years before the great revolution, public opinion was as omnipotent in France
as it is to-day, but it did not make France
You cannot save men by machinery.
wanted was live men, and that is what we want
to-day; men who are willing to look their own destiny, and their own responsibilities, in the face.
me to see, and Ajax
asks no more,” was the prayer the great poet put into the lips of his hero in the darkness which overspread the Grecian
All we want of American citizens is the opening of their own eyes, and seeing things as they are. The intelligent, thoughtful, and determined gaze of twenty millions of Christian people there is nothing,--no institution wicked and powerful enough to be capable of standing against it. In Keats
's beautiful poem of “Lamia
,” a young man had been led captive by a phantom girl, and was the slave of her beauty, until the old teacher came in and fixed his thoughtful eye upon the figure, and it vanished.
You see the great Commonwealth of Virginia
fitly represented by a pyramid standing upon its apex.
A Connecticut-born man entered at one corner of her dominions, and fixed his cold gray eye upon the government of Virginia
, and it almost vanished in his very gaze.
For it seems that Virginia
, for a week, asked leave “to be” of John Brown
at Harper's Ferry
[Cheers and applause.] Connecticut
has sent out many a schoolmaster to the other thirty States; but never before so grand a teacher as that Litchfield-born schoolmaster at Harper's Ferry
, writing as it were upon the Natural Bridge
, in the face of nations, his simple copy,--“Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.”
I said that the lesson of the hour was insurrection.
I ought not to apply that word to John Brown
, for there was no insurrection in his case.
It is a great mistake to call him an insurgent.
This principle that I have endeavored so briefly to open to you, of absolute right and wrong, states what?
Just this: “Commonwealth of Virginia
There is no such thing.
Law. less, brutal force is no basis of a government, in the true
sense of that word.
Quae est enim Civitas?
asks Cicero Omnis ne conventus etiam ferorum et immanium?
Omnis ne etiam, fugitivorum ac latronum congregata unum in locum multitudo?
No civil society, no government, can exist except on the basis of the willing submission of all its citizens, and by the performance of the duty of rendering equal justice between man and man.
Whatever calls itself a government, and refuses that duty, or has not that assent, is no government.
It is only a pirate ship.
, the Commonwealth
She is only a chronic insurrection.
I mean exactly what I say. I am weighing my words now. She is a pirate ship, and John Brown
sails the sea a Lord High Admiral
of the Almighty, with his commission to sink every pirate he meets on God's ocean of the nineteenth century [Cheers and applause.] I mean literally and exactly what I say. In God's world there are no majorities no minorities; one, on God's side, is a majority.
You have often heard here, doubtless, and I need not tell you, the ground of morals.
The rights of that one man are as sacred as those of the miscalled Commonwealth of Virginia
is only another Algiers
The barbarous horde who gag each other, imprison women for teaching children to read, prohibit the Bible
, sell men on the auction-block, abolish marriage, condemn half their women to prostitution, and devote themselves to the breeding of human beings for sale, is only a larger and blacker Algiers
The only prayer of a true man for such is, “Gracious Heaven I unless they repent, send soon their Exmouth
has twice as much right to hang Governor Wise
, as Governor Wise
has to hang him. [Cheers and hisses.] You see I am talking of that absolute essence of things which lives in the sight of the Eternal
and the Infinite; not as men judge it in the rotten morals of the nineteenth century, among a herd of States
that calls itself an empire, because it raises cotton and sells slaves.
What I say is this: Harper's Ferry
was the only government in that vicinity.
Look at the trial.
, true to herself, has shown exactly the same haste that the pirate does when he tries a man on deck, and runs him up to the yard-arm.
Unconsciously she is consistent.
Now you do not think this to-day, some of you, perhaps.
But I tell you what absolute History shall judge of these forms and phantoms of ours.
began his life, his public life, in Kansas
The South planted that seed; it reaps the first fruit now. Twelve years ago, the great men in Washington
, the Websters and the Clays, planted the Mexican
war; and they reaped their appropriate fruit in General Taylor
and General Pierce
pushing them from their statesmen's stools.
The South planted the seeds of violence in Kansas
, and taught peaceful Northern men familiarity with the bowie-knife and revolver.
They planted nine hundred and ninety-nine seeds, and this is the first one that has flowered; this is the first drop of the coming shower.
People do me the honor to say, in some of the Western
papers, that this is traceable to some teachings of mine.
It is too much honor to such as me. Gladly, if it were not fulsome vanity, would I clutch this laurel of having any share in the great resolute daring of that man who flung himself against an empire in behalf of justice and liberty.
They were not the bravest men who fought at Saratoga
, in the war of 1776. 0 no I it was rather those who flung themselves at Lexington
, few and feeble, against the embattled ranks of an empire, till then thought irresistible.
Elderly men, in powdered wigs and red velvet, smoothed their ruffles, and cried, “Madmen!”
Full-fed custom-house clerks said, “A pistol-shot against Gibraltar
But Captain Ingraham
, under the stars and stripes, dictating terms to the fleet of the Caesars, was only the echo of that Lexington
gun. Harper's Ferry
is the Lexington
Up to this moment, Brown
's life has been one unmixed success.
Prudence, skill, courage, thrift, knowledge of his time, knowledge of his opponents, undaunted daring,--he had all these.
He was the man who could leave Kansas
, and go into Missouri
, and take eleven men, give them liberty, and bring them off on the horses which he carried with him, and two which he took as tribute from their masters in order to facilitate escape.
Then, when he had passed his human proteges
from the vulture of the United States
to the safe shelter of the English
lion, this is the brave, frank, and sublime truster in God's right and absolute justice, who entered his name in the city of Cleveland
, “John Brown
, of Kansas
,” advertised there two horses for sale, and stood in front of the auctioneer's stand, notifying all bidders of-what some would think — the defect in the title.
[Laughter.] But he added, with nonchalance, when he told me the story, “They brought a very excellent price.”
[Laughter.] This is the man who, in the face of the nation, avowing his right, and laboring with what strength he had in behalf of the wronged, goes down to Harper's Ferry
to follow up his work.
Well, men say he failed.
Every man has his Moscow
Suppose he did fail, every man meets his Waterloo
There are two kinds of defeat.
Whether in chains or in laurels, liberty knows nothing but victories.
Soldiers call Bunker Hill
a defeat; but Liberty dates from it, though Warren
lay dead on the field.
Men say the attempt did not succeed.
No man can command success.
Whether it was well planned, and deserved
to succeed, we shall be able to decide when Brown
is free to tell us all he knows.
Suppose he did fail, in one sense, he has done a great deal still.
Why, this is a decent country to live in now. [Laughter and cheers.] Actually, in this Sodom
of ours, twenty-two men have been found ready to die for an idea.
God be thanked for John Brown
, that he has discovered or, created them [Cheers.] I should feel some pride, if I was in Europe
now, in confessing that I was an American.
[Applause.] We have redeemed the long infamy of sixty years of subservience.
But look back a bit. Is there anything new about this?
Nothing at all. It is the natural result of antislavery teaching.
For one, I accept it; I hoped for it. I cannot say that I prayed for it; I cannot say that I expected it. But at the same time, no sane man has looked upon this matter for twenty years, and supposed that we could go through this great moral convulsion, the great classes of society crashing and jostling against each other like frigates in a storm, and that there would not come such scenes as these.
In 1835 it was the other way. Then it was my bull that gored your ox. Then ideas came in conflict, and men of violence, men who trusted in their own right hands, men who believed in bowie-knives
,--such sacked the city of Philadelphia
; such made New York to be governed by a mob; Boston
saw its mayor suppliant and kneeling to the chief of a broadcloth mob in broad daylight.
It was all on that side.
The natural result, the first result of this starting of ideas, is like people who get half awaked, and use the first weapons that lie at hand.
The first show and unfolding of national life were the mobs of 1835.
People said it served us right; we had no right to the luxury of speaking our own minds; it was too expensive; these lavish, prodigal, luxurious persons walking about here, and actually saying what they think.
Why it was like speaking loud in the midst of the avalanches.
To say “Liberty” in a loud tone, the Constitution
of 1789 might come down,--it would not do. But now things have changed.
We have been talking thirty years Twenty years we have talked everywhere, under all circumstances; we have been mobbed out of great cities,
and pelted out of little ones; we have been abused by great men and by little papers.
[Laughter and applause.] What is the result?
The tables have been turned; it is your bull that has gored my ox now. And men who still believe in violence, the five points of whose faith are the fist, the bowie-knife, fire, poison, and the pistol, are ranged on the side of Liberty, and, unwilling to wait for the slow but sure steps of thought, lay on God's altar the best they have.
You cannot expect to put a real Puritan Presbyterian, as John Brown
is,--a regular Cromwellian dug up from two centuries,--in the midst of our New England
civilization, that dares not say its soul is its own, nor proclaim that it is wrong to sell a man at auction, and not have him show himself as he is. Put a hound in the presence of a deer, and he springs at his throat if he is a true bloodhound.
Put a Christian in the presence of a sin, and he will spring at its throat if he is a true Christian.
Into an acid we may throw white matter, but unless it is chalk, it will not produce agitation.
So if in a world of sinners you were to put American Christianity, it would be calm as oil. But put one Christian
, like John Brown
, and he makes the whole crystallize into right and wrong, and marshal themselves on one side or the other.
God makes him the text, and all he asks of our comparatively cowardly lips is to preach the sermon, and say to the American
people that, whether that old man succeeded in a worldly sense or not, he stood a representative of law, of government, of right, of justice, of religion, and they were a mob of murderers who gathered about him, and sought to wreak vengeance by taking his life.
The banks of the Potomac
, doubly dear now to history and to man!
The dust of Washington
rests there; and history will see forever on that river-side the brave old man on his pallet, whose dust, when God calls him hence, the Father
of his Country would be proud to
make room for beside his own. But if Virginia
tyrant dare hang him, after this mockery of a trial, it will take two more Washingtons at least to make the name of the State
anything but abominable in time to come.
[Applause and hisses.] Well, I say what I really think.
[Cheers, and cries of “Good!
Good!” ] George Washington
was a great man. Yet I say what I really think.
And I know, Ladies and Gentlemen, that, educated as you have been by the experience of the last ten years here, you would have thought me the silliest as well as the most cowardly man in the world, if I should have come, with my twenty years behind me, and talked about anything else to-night except that great example which one man has set us on the banks of the Potomac
You expected, of course, that I should tell you my real opinion of it.
I value this element that Brown
has introduced into American politics.
The South is a great power,--no cowards in Virginia
[Laughter.] It was not cowardice.
[Laughter.] Now, I try to speak very plain, but you will misunderstand me. There is no cowardice in Virginia
The South are not cowards.
The lunatics in the Gospel were not cowards when they said, “Art thou come to torment us before the time?”
[Laughter.] They were brave enough, but they saw afar off. They saw the tremendous power which was entering into that charmed circle; they knew its inevitable victory.
did not tremble at an old gray-headed man at Harper's Ferry
; they trembled at a John Brown
in every man's own conscience.
He had been there many years, and, like that terrific scene which Beckford
has drawn for us in his Hall of Eblis
, where the crowd runs around, each man with an incurable wound in his bosom, and agrees not to speak of it; so the South
has been running up and down its political and social life, and every man keeps his right hand pressed on the secret and incurable sore, with an
understood agreement, in church and state, that it never shall be mentioned, for fear the great ghastly fabric should come to pieces at the talismanic word.
uttered it; cried, “Slavery is sin come, all true men, help pull it down,” and the whole machinery trembled to its very base.
I value this movement for another reason.
Did you ever see a blacksmith shoe a restless horse?
If you have, you have seen him take a small cord and tie the upper lip. Ask him what he does it for, he will tell you to give the beast something to think of. [Laughter.] Now, the South
has extensive schemes.
She grasps with one hand a Mexico, and with the other she dictates terms to the Church
, she imposes conditions on the state, she buys up Webster
with a little or a promise, and Everett
[Great laughter and applause.] John Brown
has given her something else to think of. He has turned her attention inwardly.
He has taught her that there has been created a new element in this Northern mind; that it is not merely the thinker, that it is not merely the editor, that it is not merely the moral reformer, but the idea has pervaded all classes of society.
Call them madmen if you will.
Hard to tell who's mad. The world says one man is mad. John Brown
said the same of the Governor
You remember the madman in Edinburgh
A friend asked him what he was there for. “Well,” cried he, “they said at home that I was mad; and I said I was not; but they had the majority.”
[Laughter.] Just so it is in regard to John Brown
The nation says he is mad. I appeal from Philip drunk to Philip sober; I appeal from the American
people, drunk with cotton, and the New York Observer, [loud and long laughter,] to the American
people fifty years hence, when the light of civilization has had more time to penetrate, when self-interest has been rebuked by the world rising and giving its verdiet
on these great questions, when it is not a small band of Abolitionists, but the civilization of the twentieth century, in all its varied forms, interests, and elements, which undertakes to enter the arena, and discuss this last great reform.
When that day comes, what will be thought of these first martyrs, who teach us how to live and how to die?
Has the slave a right to resist his master?
I will not argue that question to a people hoarse with shouting ever since July 4, 1776, that all men are created equal, that the right to liberty is inalienable, and that “resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.”
But may he resist to blood --with rifles?
What need of proving that to a people who load down Bunker Hill
with granite, and crowd their public squares with images of Washington
; ay, worship the sword so blindly that, leaving their oldest statesmen idle, they go down to the bloodiest battle-field in Mexico
to drag out a President?
But may one help the slave resist, as Brown
on his death-bed in the marshes of Missolonghi.
Ask the Hudson
as its waters kiss your shore, what answer they bring from the grave of Kosciusko
I hide the Connecticut Puritan
, bleeding at Brandywine
, in behalf of a nation his rightful king forbade him to visit.
But John Brown
violated the law. Yes.
On yonder desk lie the inspired words of men who died violent deaths for breaking the laws of Rome
Why do you listen to them so reverently?
violated laws; why honor them?
, had he been caught before 1783, would have died on the gibbet, for breaking the laws of his sovereign.
Yet I have heard that man praised within six months. Yes, you say, but these men broke bad
Just so. It is honorable, then, to break bad
laws, and such law-breaking history loves and God blesses!
Who says, then, that slave laws are
not ten thousand times worse than any those men resisted?
Whatever argument excuses
them, makes John Brown
Suppose John Brown
had not stayed at Harper's Ferry
Suppose on that momentous Monday night, when the excited imaginations of two thousand Charlestown
people had enlarged him and his little band into four hundred white men and two hundred blacks, he had vanished, and when t:.e gallant troops arrived there, two thousand strong, they had found nobody!
The mountains would have been peopled with enemies; the Alleghanies
would have heaved with insurrection!
You never would have convinced Virginia
that all Pennsylvania
was not armed and on the hills.
, free Massachusetts
, had not given the world the telegraph, to flash news like sunlight over half the globe.
Then Tuesday would have rolled away, while slow spreading through dazed Virginia
crawled the news of this event.
Meanwhile, a hundred men having rallied to Brown
's side, he might have marched across the quaking State to Richmond
and pardoned Governor Wise
's success, in 1831, shows this would have been possible.
Free thought, mother of invention, not Virginia
, baffled Brown
But free thought, in the long run, strangles tyrants.
has not slept sound since Nat Turner
led an insurrection in 1831, and she bids fair never to have a nap now. [Laughter.] For this is not an insurrection; this is the penetration of a different element.
Mark you, it is not the oppressed race rising.
There never was a race held in actual chains that vindicated its own liberty but one.
There never was a serf nor a slave whose own sword cut off his own chain but one.
Blue-eyed, light-haired Anglo-Saxon
, it was not our race.
We were serfs for three centuries, and we waited till commerce and Christianity and a different law had melted our fetters.
We were crowded down
into a villanage which crushed out our manhood so thoroughly that we had not vigor enough left to redeem ourselves.
, neither the Northern
nor the Southern
races of Europe
have that bright spot on their escutcheon, that they put an end to their own slavery.
Blue-eyed, haughty, contemptuous Anglo-Saxons, it was the black,--the only race in the record of history that ever, after a century of oppression, retained the vigor to write the charter of its emancipation with its own hand in the blood of the dominant race.
Despised, calumniated, slandered San Domingo
is the only instance in history where a race, with indestructible love of liberty, after bearing a hundred years of oppression, rose up under their own leader, and with their own hands wrested chains from their own limbs.
Wait, garrulous, ignorant, boasting Saxon
, till you have done half as much, before you talk of the cowardice of the black race!
The slaves of our country have not risen, but, as in most other cases, redemption will come from the interference of a wiser, higher, more advanced civilization on its exterior.
It is the almost universal record of history, and ours is a repetition of the same drama.
We have awakened at last the enthusiasm of both classes,--those that act from impulse and those that act from calculation.
It is a libel on the Yankee
to think that it includes the whole race, when you say that if you put a dollar on the other side of hell, the Yankee
will spring for it at any risk [laughter]; for there is an element even in the Yankee
blood which obeys ideas; there is an impulsive, enthusiastic aspiration, something left to us from the old Puritan
stock; that which made England
what she was two centuries ago; that which is fated to give the closest grapple with the Slave Power
This is an invasion by outside power.
Civilization in 1600 crept along our shores, now planting her foot, and then retreating; now gaining a foot
hold, and then receding before barbarism, till at last came Jamestown
, and then thirty States.
is perhaps one of Raleigh
's or Gosnold
's colonies, vanishing and to be swept away; by and by will come the immortal one hundred, and Plymouth Rock
, with “manifest destiny
” written by God's hand on their banner, and the right of unlimited “annexation
” granted by Heaven itself.
It is the lesson of the age. The first cropping out of it is in such a man as John Brown
that he did not measure his means; that he was not thrifty as to his method; he did not calculate closely enough, and he was defeated.
What is defeat?
Nothing but education,nothing but the first step to something better.
All that is wanted is, that our public opinion shall not creep round like a servile, coward, corrupt, disordered, insane public opinion, and proclaim that Governor Wise
, because he says
he is a governor, is
a governor; that Virginia
is a State, because she says she is so.
Thank God, I am not a citizen.
You will remember, all of you, citizens of the United States
, that there was not a Virginia gun fired at John Brown
Hundreds of wellarmed Maryland
troops rushed to Harper's Ferry
, and-went away!
shot him Sixteen marines, to whom you pay eight dollars a month,--your own representatives.
When the disturbed State could not stand on her own legs for trembling, you went there and strengthened the feeble knees, and held up the palsied hands.
Sixteen men, with the vulture of the Union
above them, [sensation,] your representatives!
It was the covenant with death and agreement with hell, which you call the Union
of thirty States, that took the old man by the throat with a pirate hand; and it will be the disgrace of our civilization if a gallows is ever erected in Virginia
that bears his body.
“The most resolute man I ever saw,”
says Governor Wise
, “the most daring, the coolest.
I would trust his truth about any question.
Sincerity, courage, resolute daring, beating in a heart that feared God, and dared all to help his brother to liberty,--Virginia
has nothing, nothing for those qualities but a scaffold!
[Applause.] In her broad dominion she can only afford him six feet for a grave!
God help the Commonwealth
which bids such welcome to the noblest qualities that can grace poor human nature!
Yet that is the acknowledgment of Governor Wise
I will not dignify such a
horde with the name of a despotism
; since despotism is sometimes magnanimous.
, covering Schamyl with generous protection.
Compare that with mad Virginia
, hurrying forward this ghastly trial.
They say it cost the officers and persons in responsible positions more effort to keep hundreds of startled soldiers from shooting the five prisoners sixteen marines had made, than it cost those marines to take the armory itself.
Soldiers and civilians,--both alike,--only a mob fancying itself a government And mark you, I have said they were not a government.
They not only are not a government, but they have not even the remotest idea of what a government is. [Laughter.] They do not begin to have the faintest conception of what a civilized government is. Here is a man arraigned before a jury, or about to be. The State of Virginia
, as she calls herself, is about to try him. The first step in that trial is a jury; the second is a judge; and at the head stands the Chief Executive
of the State
, who holds the power to pardon murder; and yet that very Executive, who, according to the principles of the sublimest chapter in Algernon Sidney
's immortal book, is bound by the very responsibility which rests on him to keep his mind impartial as to the guilt of any person arraigned, hastens down to Richmond
, hurries to the platform, and proclaims to the assembled Commonwealth of
, “The man is a murderer, and ought to be hung.”
Almost every lip in the State
might have said it except that single lip of its Governor; and the moment he had uttered these words, in the theory of the English
law, it was not possible to impanel an impartial jury in the Commonwealth
; it was not possible to get the materials and the machinery to try him, according to even the ugliest pattern of English jurisprudence.
And yet the Governor
does not know that he has written himself down non compos
, and the Commonwealth
that he governs supposes itself still a Christian polity.
They have not the faintest conception of what goes to make up a government.
The worst Jeffries
that ever, in his most drunken hour, climbed up a lamp-post in the streets of London
, would not have tried a man who could not stand on his feet.
There is no such record in the blackest roll of tyranny.
could speak, he would thank God that at last his name might be taken down from the gibbet of History, since the Virginia
bench has made his worst act white, set against the blackness of this modern infamy.
[Applause.] And yet the New York press daily prints the accounts of the trial
In the names of Holt
, of Hale
, of Parsons
, and Jay
, I protest against the name.
for life, in Anglo-Saxon
dialect, has a proud, historic meaning.
It includes indictment by impartial peers; a copy of such indictment and a list of witnesses furnished the prisoner, with ample time to scrutinize both; liberty to choose, and time to get counsel; a sound body and a sound mind to arrange one's defence; I need not add, a judge and jury impartial as the lot of humanity will admit; honored bulwarks and safeguards, each one the trophy and result of a century's struggle.
Wounded, fevered, lying half unconscious on his pallet, unable to stand on his feet, the trial half finished before his first request for aid had reached his -
friends,no list of witnesses or knowledge of them till the crier, calling the name of some assassin of his comrades, wakes him to consciousness; the judge a tool, and the prosecutor seeking popularity by pandering to the mob; no decent form observed, and the essence of a fair trial wholly wanting, our history and law alike protest against degrading the honored name of Jury trial
by lending it to such an outrage as this.
The Inquisition used to break every other bone in a man's body, and then lay him on a pallet, giving him neither counsel nor opportunity to consult one, and wring from his tortured mouth something like a confession, and call it a trial.
But it was heaven-robed innocence compared with the trial, or what the New York press call so, that has been going on in crazed and maddened Charlestown
I wish I could say anything worthy of the great deed which has taken place in our day,--the opening of the sixth seal, the pouring out of the last vial but one on a corrupt and giant institution.
I know that many men will deem me a fanatic for uttering this wholesale vituperation, as it will be called, upon a State, and this indorsement of a madman.
I can only say that I have spoken on this antislavery question before the American
people thirty years; that I have seen the day when this same phase of popular feeling — rifles and force — was on the other side.
You remember the first time I was ever privileged to stand on this platform by the magnanimous generosity of your clergyman, when New York was about to bully and crush out the freedom of speech at the dictation of Captain Rynders
From that day to this, the same braving of public thought has been going on from here to Kansas
, until it bloomed in the events of the last three years. It has changed the whole face of the sentiment in these Northern States.
You meet with the evidence of it everywhere.
When the first news from Harper's Ferry
came to Massachusetts
, if you were riding in the cars, if you were walking in the streets, if you met a Democrat or a Whig or a Republican, no matter what his politics, it was a singular circumstance that he did not speak of the guilt of Brown
, of the atrocity of the deed, as you might have expected.
The first impulsive expression, the first outbreak of every man's words was, “What a pity he did not succeed!
[Laughter.] What a fool he was for not going off Monday, when he had all he wanted!
How strange that he did not take his victory, and march away with it!”
It indicated the unconscious leavening of a sympathy with the attempt.
Days followed on; they commenced what they called their trial; you met the same classes again; no man said he ought to be hung; no man said he was guilty; no man predicated anything of his moral position; every man voluntarily and inevitably seemed to give vent to his indignation at the farce of a trial, indicative again of that unheeded, potent, unconscious, but wide-spread sympathy on the side of Brown
Do you suppose that these things mean nothing?
What the tender and poetic youth, as Emerson
says, dreams today, and conjures up with inarticulate speech, is to-morrow the vociferated result of public opinion, and the day after is the charter of nations.
The American people have begun to feel.
The mute eloquence of the fugitive slave has gone up and down the highways and byways of the country; it will annex itself to the great American heart of the North
, even in the most fossil state of its hunkerism, as a latent sympathy with its right side.
This blow, like the first gun at Lexington
, “heard around the world,” this blow at Harper's Ferry
reveals men. Watch those about you, and you will see more of the temper and unconscious purpose and real moral position of men than you would imagine.
This is the way nations are to be judged.
Be not in a hurry; action will come soon enough from
We stereotype feeling into intellect, and then into statutes, and finally into national character.
We have now the first stage of growth.
Nature's live growths crowd out and rive dead matter.
Ideas strangle statutes.
Pulse-beats wear down granite, whether piled in jails or capitols.
The people's hearts are the only title-deeds, after all. Your Barnburners said, “Patroon titles are unrighteous.”
Judges replied, “Such is the law.”
Wealth shrieked, “Vested rights” Parties talked of Constitutions; still, the people said, “Sin.”
They shot a sheriff.
A parrot press cried, “Anarchy” Lawyers growled, “Murder” --still, nobody was hung, if I recollect aright.
To-day, the heart
of the Barnburner beats in the statute-book of your State.
's movement against slavery is exactly the same.
Wait awhile, and you'll all agree with me. What is fanaticism to-day is the fashionable creed to-morrow, and trite as the multiplication-table a week after.
has stirred those omnipotent pulses,--Lydia Maria Child
's is one.
She says, “That dungeon is the place for me,” and writes a letter in magnanimous appeal to the better nature of Governor Wise
She says in it: “John Brown
is a hero; he has done a noble deed.
I think he was all right; but he is sick; he is wounded; he wants a woman's nursing.
I am an Abolitionist; I have been so thirty years. I think slavery is a sin, and John Brown
a saint; but I want to come and nurse him; and I pledge my word that if you will open his prison door, I will use the privilege, under sacred honor, only to nurse him. I enclose you a message to Brown
; be sure and deliver it.”
And the message was, “Old man, God bless you!
You have struck a noble blow; you have done a mighty work; God was with you; your heart was in the right place.
I send you across five hundred miles the pulse of a woman's gratitude.”
And Governor Wise
has opened the door, and announced to the world that she may go in. John Brown
has conquered the pirate.
[Applause.] Hope I there is hope everywhere.
It is only the universal history:--
Right forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne;
But that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.