previous next

Chapter 19: John Brown.—1859.

Garrison notes the Republican party's falling off in principle in view of its approaching electoral triumph; yet judges it fairly in accordance with its own standards. He justifies John Brown's Virginia raid by the Bunker Hill code, and, as a non-resistant, disarms him only while disarming the slave-holder.

The crest of time now reached by the abolition movement, after the lapse of a full generation, was the Pisgah outlook over the Promised Land of universal emancipation. Destined himself to descend into that land, the Moses of the little band who had followed after the banner unfurled in 1831, could see the providence of1 God singularly displayed hitherto in the preservation of the earliest and most prominent of his associates. Yet, on the very threshold, the ranks began to thin with ominous rapidity. Ellis Gray Loring, best of counsellors2 on the Massachusetts Board, and among the first and3 truest of Mr. Garrison's supporters, had departed in May,4 In March, 1859, died Arnold Buffum, one of the founders of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society and5 signers of the Declaration of Sentiments at Philadelphia; to whom Mr. Garrison and the cause owed much in the day of small things. In September, 1859, almost simultaneously, Effingham L. Capron and Samuel Philbrick6 passed away—both birthright Quakers (like Arnold Buffum), and Capron a fellow-signer of the Declaration, who first looked upon the editor of the Liberator with7 tears that forbade utterance; Philbrick, the prudent Treasurer, almost to the last, of the Massachusetts8 Society, and financial care-taker of the Liberator, and9 generous friend-in-need of Mr. Garrison.10

More striking to the public eye, and more untimely, was11 the death of Charles F. Hovey in April, 1859. Not a 12 vet [477] eran of the thirties, like the foregoing, he had nevertheless fought the good fight for nearly two decades with unquenchable ardor and utter devotion. Quincy, whose character of him has already been quoted, renewed his13 testimony to Webb in 1857: “Hovey is, on the whole, the best man I know—the most thoroughly conscientious and truly benevolent and rarely liberal” Ms. Nov. 24, 1857.; and Mr. Garrison bore witness: “What always impressed me was his moral courage. I think if there was ever a man delivered from ‘the fear of man,’ it was Charles F. Hovey.” Lib. 29.87. In his will he not only made specific bequests to certain14 antislavery laborers, Mr. Garrison included, but devised about a quarter of his estate for the active promotion of the antislavery and other reforms. His trustees for this purpose, clothed with absolute discretion, were Phillips, Garrison, S. S. and Abby K. Foster, Parker Pillsbury, H. C. Wright, Francis Jackson, and C. K. Whipple. Seeing the strongest bond of the Union of the States in “the chains upon four millions of slaves, with tyrants at one end and hypocrites at the other,” Lib. 29.92. he desired the trustees to expend his bequest ‘by employing such agents as believe and practise the doctrine of “no union with slaveholders,” religiously or politically, and by the circulation of such publications as tend to destroy every pro-slavery institution.’

‘Our glorious cause,’ said Mr. Garrison at the New England15 Convention, ‘has been before this nation for thirty years, challenging the sympathy and aid of all classes. Many rich men have died during that time;—men of property are dying every day, and are making liberal bequests for charitable purposes. But, mark you! always for those purposes which will be sure to receive the approbation of everybody, but never to promote an unpopular movement. So calculating, timid, and conservative is wealth. Charles F. Hovey is the very first man of property who has died and left a large portion of his means, or any considerable amount, to the anti-slavery cause, or to other kindred enterprises. May he not be the last!’16 [478]

W. L. Garrison to Henry C. Wright.

Boston, June 27, 1859.
17 Mr. Phillips duly communicated to us the letter you sent to18 him, in which you so gratefully and affectionately express your feelings towards my dear wife and myself; and direct him, whenever he receives the legacy left you by Mr. Hovey, to pay one fourth of it over to us, for our benefit, as a token of your appreciation of our friendship and hospitality. . . .

Whatever we have done for you, my dear friend, on the score of hospitality, has always been done as to one of the family, without thought or desire of remuneration at any time. Hence, we are unwilling to consider the relation a different one, by receiving for ourselves the gift you propose. While we live, and have a roof over us, you shall always find ‘a home’ with us, in health or sickness, in strength or in helplessness.

But your instruction to Mr. Phillips is, that the money you proffer us, if declined by us, is to be deposited in some bank for the benefit of Fanny and Franky. As in this case you will take no refusal, we have conferred together about it, and our conclusion is to accept it in trust—with this proviso, that if, from any unforeseen misfortune or destitution on your part, you should need it at any time, it shall be wholly expended for your benefit. Accordingly, it will be safely deposited in the Savings Bank in this city, whenever received.

The legacies of our lamented friend Hovey have attracted a great deal of attention, and made a marked sensation, in various quarters. No doubt the pseudo-religionists and heartless conservatives of our times are much disturbed and chagrined in view of their appropriation. Forty thousand dollars to be expended for the promotion of the most radical and unpopular reforms! Did the world ever hear of such a thing before! Is it not enough to throw all hunkerdom into convulsions? And then, six thousand dollars distributed among such ‘fanatical,’ ‘infidel,’ ‘disorganizing’ persons as Henry C. Wright, Parker Pillsbury, Stephen S. Foster, and William Lloyd Garrison, and their families! Verily, this is to cause endurance to pass its bounds! It is quite insufferable!

I am more and more struck with the moral courage and deliberate purpose manifested by our departed friend Hovey, in these bequests. He had a host of friends, and many in the antislavery ranks to whom he was strongly attached, and whom he held in the highest esteem; but no other half-dozen in the land [479] were so proscribed and denounced by the scribes and pharisees and hypocrites in the Church, and by the time-servers and demagogues in the State, as those to whom he specifically gave in his will the tokens of his respect, confidence, and undying friendship. It was his last and most striking testimony of his interest in the most radical reformers. We were singled out for no other purpose. It was his ‘ruling passion strong in death.’

It is a great trust which has been committed to us—the expenditure of eight thousand dollars per annum for five years in the cause of anti-slavery, woman's rights, peace, temperance, etc.19 No doubt we shall be bored with all sorts of applications, from all sorts of persons; indeed, they already begin to pour in. But the estate is not yet settled.

Hovey,’ to quote Quincy again,“is the best Christian I know, though he is a professing Infidel. He cannot stand Theodore Parker, even,” Ms. Nov. 24, 1857, to R. D. Webb. adds the writer playfully, ‘and looks upon him as not much better than the common run of infidels.’ This great preacher had, on the morning of January 9, 1859, been attacked with bleeding from the20 lungs, which admonished him that his end was approaching. It was a Sunday morning, when his sermon would have been ‘On the Superiority of Good Will to Man over Belief in Theological Fancies.’

‘There is,’ said Mr. Garrison, who once more filled the place21 of the absent pastor, on January 23, with a discourse on ‘What is Infidelity? and who are the Infidels?’—

There is much pious exultation, I hear, in various quarters at the illness of Mr. Parker, as though it were a visitation of divine displeasure on account of his alleged “infidelity;” as though it were in direct answer to the stupid and superstitious, the ferocious and malignant prayers that were made in the Park-Street Vestry, during the late artificial revival, that the Lord would put a22 hook into his jaws, or paralyze his tongue, or in some way break him down, empty Music Hall, and scatter his congregation to the winds. . . . There is no such God in the universe. No—it is not for his “theological heresies,” or his “pernicious teachings,” that your beloved minister has been stricken down, but for his unwearied zeal and devotion in the cause of mental freedom, of religious liberty, of suffering [480] humanity, which have overtaxed his brain and drawn exhaustingly upon his vital powers. . . . No matter who may seek to disparage or revile him; we know him as one who has proved his love to God by the love he bears for his fellow-men —and every other test is worthless. . . .

“By their fruits ye shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?” — “He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” — “Which, now, of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among thieves?”

It was quickly decided that Mr. Parker must seek a warmer climate for the bare chance of recovery, and on February 4 he sailed for the West Indies.23

W. L. Garrison to Theodore Parker.

Boston, January 15, 1859.
24 As an act of friendly consideration, I have forborne calling to see you, knowing you need to be kept very secluded, and rejoicing to hear that you are so well guarded in this respect; yet I hope it may be possible for me to give you the parting hand, and my benediction at the same time, without burdening you, before you leave the city. Of that you and Mrs. Parker must be the judge.

I shall try to look wholly on the bright side, and hope for the best results in regard to your voyage and a change of climate. Life with you, I am sure, is mainly desirable that you may continue your labors in the field of humanity, and for the good of all mankind. How much you have done for the freedom of the human mind, for the exposure of political corruption, for the removal of theological error, for the suppression of religious bigotry and superstition, for the overthrow of injustice, for the slave in his fetters, for the prisoner in his cell, for the ‘perishing classes’ of every description, it is not for you to know, it is not for me to compute. You have touched, quickened, inspired thousands of minds, which in their turn shall impregnate other minds with generous and noble sentiments, down through the centuries to come,—an ever-widening circle, on both sides of the Atlantic. ‘The past, at least, is secure.’ What the future has in store, only the Infinite Father knows. His will be done!

I thank you for the many kind words you have spoken in my behalf, and for various acts of kindness done to me and mine. [481] As I have nothing to offer in return but my grateful acknowledgments, I must ever remain your debtor. If, however, at any time or in any way, I can be of service to you, it will give me great pleasure to perform it.

Theodore Parker to W. L. Garrison.

Boston, January 31, 1859.
25 I thank you heartily for your very kind note, and beg you to come and let me take you by the hand once more before we go. I can't talk much, so let me say now a brief word with the pen.

I knew you long before you ever heard of me, and often heard you speak—never without instruction and admiration. Three men now living have done New England and the North great service. They are quite unlike, but all are soldiers in the same great cause—Wm. L. Garrison, Horace Mann, and R. W. Emerson. You took the most dangerous and difficult part, and no soldier ever fought with more gallant hardihood, no martyr ever more nobly bore what came as the earthly reward of his nobleness. The great work of a great man— Himself, his character—that is sure to do its work though his special labors fail of immediate triumph. I am to thank you for what your character has taught me—it has been a continual Gospel of Strength. I value Integrity above all human virtues. I never knew yours fail—no, nor even falter. God bless you for it!

But it is getting late, and I must write no more, or Dr. Cabot26 will ask, ‘What brought your pulse up so high?’ Remember me kindly to your wife and your children, to Mr. Wallcut, Mr.27 May, Mr. Nell, and the Yerrintons, at the office, and believe me

Affectionately and thankfully yours,

All these losses to the working strength of the abolition body were in the course of nature. When we turn to the political opposition to the Slave Power, we behold a woful spiritual falling off caused by the approaching election. No matter of what party or epoch, our politicians have alternately shrunk and expanded as they had or had not visions of the White House. We may liken them to the [482] fabled ‘spiry trees’ that sprung from the tomb of Protesilaus

And ever, when such stature they had gained28
That Ilium's walls were subject to their view,
The trees' tall summits withered at the sight:
A constant interchange of growth and blight!

The gubernatorial messages of the three leading Republican States, at the opening of the year, gave dismal foreboding of what would attend Republican successes in 1860. Governor Morgan of New York proclaimed the readiness29 of that State to submit if the voice of the country should30 prove to be for slavery extension. The ambitious Governor of Ohio, Salmon P. Chase, “a political huckster who hopes to carry his principles to the Presidential market” Lib. 29.107. (in Quincy's phraseology), was silent on the absorbing31 national topic; in Massachusetts, Governor Banks, “a Presidential baby at nurse,” Lib. 29.107. was equally dumb. Later on, both Chase and Banks prevented their respective legislatures from passing laws such as Vermont had enacted32 to make the trial or rendition of slaves impossible on her soil.33 Chase's successor, William Dennison, taking the34 stump on his own behalf in the fall of 1859, declared the Republican Party a white man's party, repudiated for himself the name of abolitionist, and said he had no desire ‘to disturb the relation of master and slave where it exists under the sanction and protection of State Law.’

It was not surprising that, in view of such manifestations, a portion of the abolitionists, particularly those whose labors in the field had acquainted them with the [483] lack of anti-slavery vitality in Republican communities, and subjected them to the abuse of Republican journals,35 denounced the party as the greatest obstacle in the path of the slave. In their endeavors to commit the36 antislavery organization to this doctrine, they encountered the optimism and fair-mindedness of Mr. Garrison, in37 discussions that led to no little personal feeling and alienation, which time would make more visible. ‘As to the Republican Party,’ said he, at the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, ‘every political party will be proportionate to the character of the people. This one,’ he continued, not mincing his words, “is a time-serving, a temporizing, a cowardly party, . . . a piebald, a heterogeneous party, very diverse in the constituents which compose it. It has never professed, as the old Liberty Party did, to be an anti-slavery party. It claims only to oppose the extension of slavery, and it does oppose it.” Jan. 27, 1859, Lib. 29.17. It must be measured by its own standard:

I have not said that they have made it [the non-extension38 of slavery] a vital principle, and declared that the Union should be dissolved if they were overcome. That is not the issue. But I say that, up to that point, they do carry out all their professions of resistance to the extension of slavery. I hold that I may give them all credit for what they have done, without at all compromising the anti-slavery cause, and without at all diminishing my right to say to that party— “You are on a sandy foundation, after all; and though you may think you can do something for liberty, I believe you will fail in the end.” The Republican Party has certainly been consistent in its efforts to prevent the extension of slavery; it has spent a vast amount of money for the purpose of enlightening the public sentiment so as to save Kansas and Nebraska, and the vast territories of the West, from the encroachments of the Slave Power. Let the party have the credit of it. Why not? I know of nothing in this anti-slavery cause which justifies me in being uncharitable or unfair. Give to every party its due; and I say that, up to this time, the Republican Party has tried to prevent the extension of slavery, and has suffered greatly on that account. Tell me that it is to be put in the same scale with the Democratic Party—that party which is ready for everything that the South [484] desires, in the way of extending and eternizing slavery! How was it in the last Presidential election? Was it nothing to the credit of the Republican Party that no representative of John C. Fremont could stand upon Southern soil, except in peril of his life–when the whole party was outlawed in all the Southern States—when no electoral ticket bearing his name could have been tolerated in Georgia, or Alabama, or Carolina, or any Southern State—and when, if Henry Wilson had dared to go down South and advocate his election to the Presidency, he would have gone there as a man goes to the grave, and never would have come back to Massachusetts alive? When a party stands in that attitude to slavery, and slavery stands in that relation to it, I hold it is unfair and unjust to say that, after all, it is as bad as the party that goes all lengths for the extension and eternization of slavery. . . .

And yet, this being conceded, it does not follow that I may not here, as I do everywhere, say that the Republican Party, being a compromising party, never will succeed in heading off the Slave Power, and preventing what it is laboring to prevent; and I think it does not preclude me from saying, that to attempt to make a geographical distinction in regard to the law of God and the rights of man, is a great moral absurdity, or from saying to the party that it cannot maintain its position against the inexorable logic of the South; for, granting that it is right, constitutional, and proper to hold slaves in fifteen States of the Union, the argument is irresistible that it is right, constitutional, and proper to hold them in the Territories also, and in any additional States that may be brought into the Union.

My hope is in the great Republican Party——not where it stands, but it has materials for growth. The men who have gone into it are men who have suffered, or lost caste, to some extent, because they would not go with the Whig Party or the Democratic Party, in their wickedness, on the side of the Slave Power. They have something of self-respect and manhood left; and they have said: “We are not prepared for disunion yet; we trust it will not be necessary to divide; we will endeavor to prevent the extension of slavery, and that, in process of time, will bring slavery to an end.” I believe this is a delusion; but to their minds it does not appear so. It is an experiment, and they have got to learn, as we have had to learn, that all compromising expedients are hopeless as against the domineering Slave Power; for we ourselves have had to change our position again and again. Twenty years ago, I thought I was an abolitionist, [485] but I had not then cleared myself from all actual complicity with slavery, because I had not then seen to the extent I now see. If any man had said to me, twenty years ago: “ You talk about being an abolitionist, do you? and there you are voting at the polls, and sustaining the pro-slavery Constitution of the United States,” I should have been dumb. I might have said, perhaps: “I do not comprehend this; I will look into the matter” ; but he, seeing exactly what was involved in a vote, might very properly have said: “ Sir, you are not a consistent, thorough-going abolitionist.” So, in the spirit of justice and true charity, we must confer with each other, argue and reason with each other, and endeavor to enlighten each other; and he who thinks his feet are planted upon the solid rock, let him say to those who may be standing, in his judgment, upon the sand: “You cannot remain where you are with safety; here is solid footing; come up hither, and you shall conquer”

I am not here to say anything by way of apology for the Republican Party; it is not my vocation, and I know it not to be my duty. I have said what I have as a matter of justice. The Republican Party is true to its idea, the non-extension of slavery, while, at the same time, its guilt, its awful guilt, consists in giving its consent and support to the existence of slavery in fifteen States of the Union, under the constitutional proslavery compromises. I have said this again and again, and the party has nothing to say in reply, and cannot or will not complain that I am unjust, or that I utter an untruth, when I say, that between the Democratic and Republican parties, under the Constitution of the United States, in regard to slavery where it is now established, there is not a hair's-breadth of difference. That is, they agree to let slavery alone; they agree that slaves may be hunted all over the North; they agree that slave representatives may be permitted in Congress; they agree that the whole force of the nation may be pledged to put down a slave insurrection; and to that extent there is no difference between the parties. But in regard to the component parts, the men who make up the parties, there is a great difference. The Republican Party is only pro tempore; it is to be broken up, undoubtedly; and the men who compose it will, I trust, take a much higher position, and give, at last, a firm support to the only rational, consistent, and victorious doctrine in this conflict with the demon of slavery— “No Union with Slaveholders, Governmentally or Religiously!”


The debate was renewed at the New England 39 AntiSlavery Convention in May, but the year gave promise of being a quiet one in anti-slavery annals when the setting up of a statue to Daniel Webster, procured by private subscriptions, in the State-House grounds, created in Boston an excitement almost comparable to that experienced in fugitive cases. Consistently with his opposition to Personal Liberty laws, Governor Banks had40 recommended that the Legislature receive the statue which above all others symbolized Northern subserviency to the Slave Power. Its removal, as the special anti-slavery duty of the hour, was called for by the abolitionists before41 it was set up, and petitions were quickly put in motion;42 Wendell Phillips attacked it in one of his most trenchant43 Orations—but without avail. A larger agitation was impending, and interest in the brazen image of a Doughface44 was suddenly transferred to the living likeness of a Man.

On the night of October 16-17, 1859, John Brown, with45 eighteen companions, seized the United States armory at Harper's Ferry, Va. Twenty-four hours later, Col. Robert E. Lee, despatched from Washington with a company of marines, retook the building, and found Brown's band reduced to six, and the chief, a wounded and apparently dying prisoner. The Liberator of October 21 contained this brief editorial reference to an event which filled the South with consternation, and drove to its highest pitch the wave of anti-slavery sentiment in the North:

The particulars of a misguided, wild, and apparently insane, though disinterested and well-intended effort by insurrection to emancipate the slaves in Virginia, under the leadership of Capt. Brown, alias ‘OsawatomieBrown, may be found on our third page. Our views of war and bloodshed, even in the best of causes, are too well known to need repeating here; but let no one who glories in the Revolutionary struggle of 1776 deny the right of the slaves to imitate the example of our fathers. Lib. 29.166.

Time has not invalidated this judgment, which was passed before Mr. Garrison could have seen the New York [487] Herald's report of the interview between Brown on his46 pallet, Senator J. M. Mason of Virginia, and C. L. Vallandigham, a Democratic Representative from Ohio. This report not only saved Brown's wrecked enterprise from moral fiasco, but first made public his real purpose, which ‘insurrection’ did not fairly describe. On this point Mr.47 Garrison had no secret information. His non-resistant views had marked him as an impossible confidant. At the Massachusetts Society's anniversary meeting on January48 27, 1859, he listened without suspicion to Mr. Higginson's mention of Brown's December raid from Kansas into49 Missouri—carrying off eleven slaves, whom he conducted to Canada—‘as an indication of what may come before long’; the speaker himself only alluding at that time to “[Underground] Railroad business on a somewhat extended scale,” Sanborn's Brown, p. 436. to use Brown's own words to him. The nearest Mr. Garrison had come to accidental cognizance of Brown's designs, was the receipt, in June, 1858, of a50 letter from Sydney Howard Gay, asking his good offices with the Boston Kansas Committee on behalf of Col.51 Hugh Forbes-known neither to Mr. Gay nor to Mr. Garrison as Brown's ‘drill-master,’ whose betrayal of confidence had just caused a year's postponement of the52 invasion. To a son of Mr. Garrison's, his playmate, Francis Jackson Meriam, who presently enlisted under53 Brown, had vaguely confided his thought of embarking in the adventure of which he was one of the few uncaptured survivors. Garrison first met John Brown, to know54 him, and face to face,55 one Sunday evening in January, 1857, in Theodore Parker's parlors. He saw in the famous56 Kansas chieftain a tall, spare, farmer-like man, with head disproportionately small, and that inflexible mouth which57 [488] as yet no beard concealed. They discussed peace and nonresistance together, Brown quoting the Old Testament against Garrison's citations from the New, and Parker from time to time injecting a bit of Lexington into the controversy, which attracted a small group of interested listeners. In May, 1859, Brown attended the New58 England Anti-Slavery Convention in Boston, where “he was heard to say, at its conclusion— ‘These men are all talk; what is needed is action—action!’ ” Lib. 30.6, 90; cf. 30.15, and Sanborn's Life of Brown, p. 421.

The non-political abolitionists were generally passed over in the search for Brown's accomplices which immediately began after Harper's Ferry—through the Democratic press, and then through the Senatorial investigating59 committee directed by Senator Mason. The Republican leaders, especially Seward, for his ‘irrepressible conflict,’60 were held responsible; and their organs were quick to repudiate the connection, and to shift the burden on to61 the Garrisonians. For the moment, their fears told them that John Brown had ruined their chances of success at the next Presidential election. In this state of mind Henry Wilson came, on the first tidings of the outbreak, to confer with Mr. Garrison at his home in Dix Place, and departed with cheering assurances that what had happened was all for the best.

To the editor, the presentation of the news of the hour—the recording, “as fully as possible, the amazing outpouring of public sentiment, pro and con, in relation to John BrownMs. Jan. 14, 1860, W. L. G. to S. J. May.—seemed, in the stirring interval between the émeute and the executions at Charlestown, of far more consequence than any extended comments of his own— had there been room for them in the Liberator.

‘As to Capt. Brown,’ he wrote in his paper of October 28,62

all who know him personally are united in the conviction that a more honest, conscientious, truthful, brave, disinterested man (however misguided or unfortunate) does not exist; that he possesses a deeply religious nature, powerfully wrought upon by the trials through which he has passed; that he as sincerely believes himself to have been raised up by God to deliver the [489] oppressed in this country, in the way he has chosen, as did63 Moses in relation to the deliverance of the captive Israelites that when he says he aims to be guided by the Golden Rule, it is no cant from his lips, but a vital application of it to his own soul, “remembering those that are in bonds as bound with them” ; that when he affirms, that he had no other motive for his conduct at Harper's Ferry except to break the chains of the oppressed, by the shedding of the least possible amount of human blood, he speaks “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” ; and that if he shall be (as he will speedily, beyond a peradventure) put to death, he will not die ignobly, but as a martyr to his sympathy for a suffering race, and in defense of the sacred and inalienable rights of man, and will therefore deserve to be held in grateful and honorable remembrance to the latest posterity, by all those who glory in the deeds of a Wallace or Tell, a Washington or Warren. Read his64 replies to the interrogatories propounded to him by Senator Mason65 and others! Is there another man, of all the thirty millions of people inhabiting this country, who could have answered more wisely, more impressively, more courageously, or with greater moral dignity, under such a trying ordeal? How many hearts will be thrilled and inspired by his utterances! Read, too, his replies in court with reference to his counsel! Where shall a66 more undaunted spirit be found? In vain will the sanguinary tyrants of the South, and their Northern minions, seek to cover him with infamy:—

Courts, judges can inflict no brand of shame,
Or shape of death, to shroud him from applause.

And, on November 25:

In recording the expressions of sympathy and admiration67 which are so widely felt for John Brown, whose doom is so swiftly approaching, we desire to say—once for all—that, judging him by the code of Bunker Hill, we think he is as deserving of high-wrought eulogy as any who ever wielded sword or battle-axe in the cause of liberty; but we do not and cannot approve any indulgence of the war spirit. John Brown has, perhaps, a right to a place by the side of Moses, Joshua,68 Gideon, and David; but he is not on the same plane with Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John, the weapons of whose warfare were not carnal, though mighty to the pulling down of strongholds. But the professedly Christian church, with all Christendom, rejects [490] our peaceful interpretation of Christianity, and has no right, therefore, to measure him by any higher standard than its own.

He joined with the Executive Committee of the69 American Anti-Slavery Society in recommending a wide-spread observance of December 2, the day on which John Brown was to be hung. At the solemn Boston meeting at70 Tremont Temple, presided over by Samuel E. Sewall, he was greeted with great applause as he came forward to read Brown's address to the Court which had sentenced him to die for ‘treason’ to Virginia. Every line of this address Mr. Garrison, both from principle and experience, was able to invest with a kindred feeling of moral elevation.

In the first place, I deny everything but what I have all71 along admitted—the design on my part to free the slaves. I intended, certainly, to have made a clean thing of that matter, as I did last winter, when I went into Missouri, and there took slaves without the snapping of a gun on either side, moved them through the country, and finally left them in Canada. I designed to have done the same thing again,72 on a larger scale. That was all I intended. I never did intend murder, or treason, or the destruction of property, or to excite or incite slaves to rebellion, or to make insurrection.

I have another objection: and that is, it is unjust that I should suffer such a penalty. Had I interfered in the manner which I admit, and which I admit has been fairly proved (for I admire the truthfulness and candor of the greater portion of the witnesses who have testified in this case)—had I so interfered in behalf of the rich, the powerful, the intelligent, the so-called great, or in behalf of any of their friends, either father, mother, brother, sister, wife, or children, or any of that class, and suffered and sacrificed what I have in this interference, it would have been all right, and every man in this court would have deemed it an act worthy of reward rather than punishment.

This court acknowledges, as I suppose, the validity of the law of God. I see a book kissed here which I suppose to be the Bible, or at least the New Testament. That teaches me that all things whatsoever I would that men should do me, I should do [491] even so to them. It teaches me, further, to “remember them that are in bonds as bound with them.” I endeavored to act up to that instruction. I say, I am yet too young to understand that God is any respecter of persons. I believe that to have interfered as I have done—as I have always freely admitted I have done—in behalf of his despised poor, was not wrong, but right. Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children, and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments—I submit: so let it be done!73

From Mr. Garrison's speech on the same evening, we select the passage distinguishing himself from the subject of his eulogy:

A word upon the subject of Peace. I am a non-resistant—74 a believer in the inviolability of human life, under all circumstances; I, therefore, in the name of God, disarm John Brown, and every slave at the South. But I do not stop there; if I did, I should be a monster. I also disarm, in the name of God, every slaveholder and tyrant in the world. For wherever that principle is adopted, all fetters must instantly melt, and there can be no oppressed and no oppressor, in the nature of things. How many agree with me in regard to the doctrine of the inviolability of human life? How many non-resistants are there here to-night? (A single voice— “I.” ) There is one! Well, then, you who are otherwise, are not the men to point the finger at John Brown and cry “traitor” —judging you by your own standard. Nevertheless, I am a non-resistant, and I not only desire, but have labored unremittingly to effect, the peaceful abolition of slavery, by an appeal to the reason and conscience of the slaveholder; yet, as a peace man—an “ultra” peace man —I am prepared to say: “ Success to every slave insurrection at75 the South, and in every slave country.” And I do not see how I compromise or stain my peace profession in making that [492] declaration. Whenever there is a contest between the oppressed and the oppressor,—the weapons being equal between the parties,—God knows that my heart must be with the oppressed, and always against the oppressor. Therefore, whenever commenced, I cannot but wish success to all slave insurrections. I thank God when men who believe in the right and duty of wielding carnal weapons, are so far advanced that they will take those weapons out of the scale of despotism, and throw them into the scale of freedom. It is an indication of progress, and a positive moral growth; it is one way to get up to the sublime platform of non-resistance; and it is God's method of dealing retribution upon the head of the tyrant. Rather than see men wearing their chains in a cowardly and servile spirit, I would, as an advocate of peace, much rather see them breaking the head of the tyrant with their chains. Give me, as a non-resistant, Bunker Hill, and Lexington, and Concord, rather than the cowardice and servility of a Southern slave-plantation.

Their common human kindness and hatred of slavery, and their Old Testament inspiration, furnish grounds for an instructive parallel between Garrison and John Brown. ‘He was of the old Puritan stock,’ said the former at76 Tremont Temple; “a Cromwellian who ‘believed in God,’ and at the same time ‘in keeping his powder dry.’ He believed in ‘the sword of the Lord and of Gideon,’ and acted accordingly. Herein I differed from him. But, certainly, he was no ‘infidel’ —oh, no! How it would have added to the fiendish malignity of the New York if John Brown had only been an ‘ infidel,’ evangelically speaking!” Lib. 29.177. On the other hand, Brown—in virtue of what, unless of bloodshed?—became at once a hero to clergymen who had long ago branded Garrison as an infidel because of his non-resistance. Both brought the Bible to bear against slavery; but the reformer who clung to the Christian doctrine of suffering, and laid the foundations of his policy in non-resistance, was reviled77 as the offscouring of earth by a Christian community. Again by way of contrast, we cannot imagine Garrison, in his attack upon slavery, going under assumed names, concealing his designs under false pretences, or shooting [493] innocent fellow-creatures in the dark. John Brown did this because there was a place in his Christianity for war, and such conduct is ‘fair in war.’ Both earned the name of fanatic, if only one the name of infidel. So far as fanaticism implies an inability to see things as they are, or to adapt one's means to one's ends, the epithet did not apply to Garrison. Had, moreover, the Liberator not preceded John Brown, the attempt on Harper's Ferry not only would have seemed the height of madness, but would have made hardly a ripple on the surface of American politics–exciting universal horror and reprobation in place of sentiments of pity and esteem. Had John Brown been, in action, a contemporary of Lovejoy, still more would the Austins have said of him, “He died as the fool dieth.” Lib. 7.202. ‘The sympathy and admiration now so widely felt for him,’ said Mr. Garrison, “prove how marvellous has been the change effected in public opinion during thirty years of moral agitation—a change so great, indeed, that whereas, ten years since, there were thousands who could not endure my lightest word of rebuke of the South, they can now easily swallow John Brown whole, and his rifle into the bargain. In firing his gun, he has merely told us what time of day it is. It is high noon, thank God!” Speech at Mass. A. S. S. annual meeting, Jan. 27, 1860; Lib. 30.26.

1 Lib. 29.87.

2 Lib. 28.91.

3 Ante, 1.223.

4 Lib. 28.86, 91, 100; 29.83.

5 Lib. 29.42, 48, 55, 71; ante, 1.280, 395, 398.

6 Lib. 29.150.

7 Ante, 1.398; Lib. 29.150.

8 Lib. 29.130, 150.

9 Ante, 2.332.

10 Mr. Philbrick left a bequest of $500 to Mr. Garrison (Ms. Oct. 11, 1859, Edward S. Philbrick to W. L. G.)

11 Lib. 29.70, 83, 87.

12 Apr. 28.

13 Ante, p. 220.

14 Lib. 29.92.

15 May 26, 1859; Lib. 29.87.

16 A letter of Wendell Phillips to Francis Jackson, Oct. 9, 1858 (Ms.), seemingly relates to the latter's intention to provide a fund for the benefit of fugitive slaves in his lifetime, as was afterwards effected in his will.

17 Ms.

18 Wendell Phillips.

19 The one unnamed here was free trade.

20 Lib. 29.6.

21 Lib. 29.11, 14.

22 Ante, p. 465; Lib. 30.148.

23 Lib. 29.23.

24 Ms.

25 Ms., pencilled.

26 Samuel Cabot, Jr.

27 R. F. Wallcut. S. May, Jr. Wm. C. Nell. J. B. and J. M. W. Yerrinton.

28 Wordsworth, Laodameia.

29 E. D. Morgan.

30 Lib. 29.6.

31 Lib. 29.6.

32 Lib. 28.199; 29.22, 44, 122.

33 In the summer of 1858, Mr. Garrison (in company with the Rev. Samuel May, Jr., and the Rev. N. R. Johnston, pastor of the Covenanter Church at Topsham, Vt.), made an anti-slavery tour of the Green Mountain State, which he had not revisited since he left it to join Lundy in Baltimore (Lib. 28.135,146). These speakers urged the sending up of petitions for an anti-slave-catching law, which were promptly heeded by the Legislature (Lib. 29: 22). See Mr. Garrison's cogent speech before the Massachusetts Legislative Committee on behalf of a similar law on Feb. 24, 1859 (Lib. 29: 34). The legislators' oath to support the U. S. Constitution he offset by their oath to the State Constitution, with its Art. 1, ‘All men are born free and equal,’ etc.

34 Lib. 29.145.

35 Cf. ante, pp. 393, 394.

36 Lib. 29.17.

37 MSS. Mar. 24, 1859, P. Pillsbury to S. May, Jr.; June 3, W. L. G. to Pillsbury; July 22, 25, to A. K. Foster.

38 Lib. 29.18.

39 Lib. 29.85.

40 Lib. 29.43, 142.

41 Lib. 29.146.

42 Lib. 29.146.

43 Lib. 29: [158].

44 Lib. 30.19, 34.

45 Lib. 29.167; Sanborn's Life of Brown, p. 552.

46 Lib. 29.169, 170; Sanborn's Life of Brown, p. 562.

47 Lib. 29.175, 198.

48 Lib. 29.18.

49 Lib. 29.7, 18, 47, 55, 119; Sanborn's Life of Brown, p. 481.

50 Ms. June 12.

51 Sanborn's Life of Brown, pp. 425-433.

52 Ibid., p. 460.

53 Ante, p. 424.

54 Sanborn's Brown, p. 445.

55 John Brown wrote to his wife from the jail in Charlestown, Va., Nov. 26, 1859: ‘I once set myself to oppose a mob at Boston where she [Lucretia Mott] was. After I interfered, the police immediately took up the matter, and soon put a stop to mob proceedings. The meeting was, I think, in Marlboroa Street Church, or Hotel, perhaps’ (Sanborn's Life of Brown, p. 605). Does this point to the dedication of the Marlboroa Chapel on May 24, 1838 (ante, 2: 218, 219)?

56 Jan. 4, 11, 18?

57 Ibid., p. 628.

58 May 25, 26.

59 Lib. 29.194, 207.

60 Lib. 29.177, 181, 185.

61 Lib. 29.169, 173, 177.

62 Lib. 29.170.

63 Sanborn's Life of J. Brown, pp. 437, 441, 443.

64 Joseph Warren.

65 Lib. 29.169.

66 Lib. 29.171.

67 Lib. 29.187.

68 Cf. ante, 2.190.

69 Lib. 29.174.

70 Lib. 29.194.

71 Lib. 29.175.

72 I. e., to free the slaves—not to run them off. See Brown's explanation to the prosecutor, Andrew Hunter, Nov. 22, 1859 (Sanborn's “ Life,” p. 584).

73 For the text of this fragment of the address we have followed Sanborn's “Life of John Brown,” p. 584, which is in substantial agreement with R. D. Webb's “Life,” p. 216. Some slight variations may be noticed in the contemporary reports as published in the Liberator (29.175), in the 27th annual report of the American A. S. Society ( “The Anti-slavery history of the John Brown year,” of which C. C. Burleigh was the author), p. 109, and in the pamphlet compiled by Thomas Drew, “The John Brown invasion ” (Boston, 1860), p. 32.

74 Lib. 29.198.

75 Cf. Lib. 30.7.

76 Lib. 29.198.

77 Ante, 1.409.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: