The Anti-Slavery Crusade
Jesse Macy

Part 3 out of 3

of Independence, framed the Constitution, organized state
Governments, and gave to negroes full rights of citizenship,
including the right to vote. But how explain this strange
inconsistency? The Chief Justice was equal to the occasion. He
insisted that in recent years there had come about a better
understanding of the phraseology of the Declaration of
Independence. The words, "All men are created equal," he
admitted, "would seem to embrace the whole human family, and if
they were used in a similar instrument at this day they would be
so understood." But the writers of that instrument had not, he
said, intended to include men of the African race, who were at
that time regarded as not forming any part of the people.
Therefore--strange logic!--these men of the revolutionary era who
treated negroes actually as citizens having full equal rights did
not understand the meaning of their own words, which could be
comprehended only after three-quarters of a century when,
forsooth, equal rights had been denied to all persons of African

The ruling of the Court in the Dred Scott case came at a time
when Northern people had a better idea of the spirit and
teachings of the founders of the Republic regarding the slavery
question than any generation before or since has had. The
campaign that had just closed had been characterized by a high
order of discussion, and it was also emphatically a reading
campaign. The new Republican party planted itself squarely on the
principles enunciated by Thomas Jefferson, the reputed founder of
the old Republican party. They went back to the policy of the
fathers, whose words on the subject of slavery they eagerly read.
>From this source also came the chief material for their public
addresses. To the common man who was thus indoctrinated, the
Chief Justice, in describing the sentiments of the fathers
respecting slavery, appeared to be doing what Horace Greeley was
wont to describe as "saying a thing and being conscious while
saying it that the thing is not true."

The Dred Scott decision laid the Republicans open to the charge
of seeking by unlawful means to deprive slaveowners of their
rights, and it was to the partizan interest of the Democrats to
stand by the Court and thus discredit their opponents. This
action tended to carry the entire Democratic party to the support
of Calhoun's extreme position on the slavery question.
Republicans had proclaimed that liberty was national and slavery
municipal; that slavery had no warrant for existence except by
state enactment; that under the Constitution Congress had no more
right to make a slave than it had to make a king; that Congress
had no power to establish or permit slavery in the Territories;
that it was, on the contrary, the duty of Congress to exclude
slavery. On these points the Supreme Court and the Republican
party held directly contradictory opinions.

The Democratic platform of 1856 endorsed the doctrine of popular
sovereignty as embodied in the Kansas-Nebraska legislation, which
implied that Congress should neither prohibit nor introduce
slavery into the Territories, but should leave the inhabitants
free to decide that question for themselves, the public domains
being open to slaveowners on equal terms with others. But once
they had an organized territorial Government and a duly elected
territorial Legislature, the residents of a Territory were
empowered to choose either slave labor or exclusively free labor.
This at least was the view expounded by Stephen A. Douglas,
though the theory was apparently rendered untenable by the ruling
of the Court which extended protection to slave-owners in all the
Territories remaining under the control of the general
Government. It followed that if Congress had no power to
interfere with that right, much less had a local territorial
Government, which is itself a creature of Congress. A state
Government alone might control the status of slave property. A
Territory when adopting a constitution preparatory to becoming a
State would find it then in order to decide whether the proposed
State should be free or slave. This was the view held by
Jefferson Davis and the extreme pro-slavery leaders. Aided by the
authority of the Supreme Court, they were prepared to insist upon
a new plank in future Democratic platforms which should guarantee
to all slave-owners equal rights in all Territories until they
ceased to be Territories. Over this issue the party again divided
in 1860.

Republicans naturally imagined that there had been collusion
between Democratic politicians and members of the Supreme Court.
Mr. Seward made an explicit statement to that effect, and
affirmed that President Buchanan was admitted into the secret,
alleging as proof a few words in his inaugural address referring
to the decision soon to be delivered. Nothing of the sort,
however, was ever proven. The historian Von Holst presents the
view that there had been a most elaborate and comprehensive
program on the part of the slavocracy to control the judiciary of
the federal Government. The actual facts, however, admit of a
simpler and more satisfactory explanation.

Judges are affected by their environment, as are other men. The
transition from the view that slavery was an evil to the view
that it is right and just did not come in ways open to general
observation, and probably few individuals were conscious of
having altered their views. Leading churches throughout the South
began to preach the doctrine that slavery is a divinely ordained
institution, and by the time of the decision in the Dred Scott
case a whole generation had grown up under such teaching.

A large proportion of Southern leaders had become thoroughly
convinced of the righteousness of their peculiar system. Not
otherwise could they have been so successful in persuading others
to accept their views. Even before the Dred Scott decision had
crystallized opinion, Franklin Pierce, although a New Hampshire
Democrat of anti-slavery traditions, came, as a result of his
intimate personal and political association with Southern
leaders, to accept their guidance and strove to give effect to
their policies. President Buchanan was a man of similar
antecedents, and, contrary to the expectation of his Northern
supporters, did precisely as Pierce had done. It is a matter of
record that the arguments of the Chief Justice had captivated his
mind before he began to show his changed attitude towards Kansas.
In August, 1857, the President wrote that, at the time of the
passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, slavery already existed and
that it still existed in Kansas under the Constitution of the
United States. "This point," said he, "has at last been settled
by the highest tribunal known in our laws. How it could ever have
been seriously doubted is a mystery." Granted that slavery is
recognized as a permanent institution in itself--just and of
divine ordinance and especially united to one section of the
country--how could any one question the equal rights of the
people of that section to occupy with their slaves lands acquired
by common sacrifice? Such was undoubtedly the view of both Pierce
and Buchanan. It seemed to them "wicked" that Northern
abolitionists should seek to infringe this sacred right.

By a similar process a majority of the Supreme Court justices had
become converts to Calhoun's newly announced theory of 1847. It
undoubtedly seemed strange to them, as it did later to President
Buchanan, that any one should ever have held a different view. If
the Court with the force of its prestige should give legal
sanction to the new doctrine, it would allay popular agitation,
ensure the preservation of the Union, and secure to each section
its legitimate rights. Such apparently was the expectation of the
majority of the Court in rendering the decision. But the decision
was not unanimous. Each judge presented an individual opinion.
Five supported the Chief Justice on the main points as to the
status of the African race and the validity of the Missouri
Compromise. Judge Nelson registered a protest against the
entrance of the Court into the political arena. Curtis and McLean
wrote elaborate dissenting opinions. Not only did the decision
have no tendency to allay party debate, but it added greatly to
the acrimony of the discussion. Republicans accepted the
dissenting opinions of Curtis and McLean as a complete refutation
of the arguments of the Chief Justice; and the Court itself,
through division among its members, became a partizan
institution. The arguments of the justices thus present a
complete summary of the views of the proslavery and anti-slavery
parties, and the opposing opinions stand as permanent evidence of
the impossibility of reconciling slavery and freedom in the same

It was through the masterful leadership of Stephen A. Douglas
that the Lecompton Constitution was defeated. In 1858 an election
was to be held in Illinois to determine whether or not Douglas
should be reelected to the United States Senate. The Buchanan
Administration was using its utmost influence to insure Douglas's
defeat. Many eastern Republicans believed that in this emergency
Illinois Republicans should support Douglas, or at least that
they should do nothing to diminish his chances for reelection;
but Illinois Republicans decided otherwise and nominated Abraham
Lincoln as their candidate for the senatorship. Then followed the
memorable Lincoln-Douglas debates.

This is not the place for any extended account of the famous duel
between the rival leaders, but a few facts must be stated.
Lincoln had slowly come to the perception that a large portion of
the people abhorred slavery, and that the weak point in the armor
of Douglas was to be found in the fact that he did not recognize
this growing moral sense. Douglas had never been a defender of
slavery on ethical grounds, nor had he expressed any distinct
aversion to the system. In support of his policy of popular
sovereignty his favorite dictum had been, "I do not care whether
slavery is voted up or voted down."

This apparent moral obtuseness furnished to Lincoln his great
opportunity, for his opponent was apparently without a conscience
in respect to the great question of the day. Lincoln, on the
contrary, had reached the conclusion not only that slavery was
wrong, but that the relation between slavery and freedom was such
that they could not be harmonized within the same government. In
the debates he again put forth his famous utterance, "A house
divided against itself cannot stand," with the explanation that
in course of time either this country would become all slave
territory or slavery would be restricted and placed in a position
which would involve its final extinction. In other words,
Lincoln's position was similar to that of the conservative
abolitionists. As we know, Birney had given expression to a
similar conviction of the impossibility of maintaining both
liberty and slavery in this country, but Lincoln spoke at a time
when the whole country had been aroused upon the great question;
when it was still uncertain whether slavery would not be forced
upon the people of Kansas; when the highest court in the land had
rendered a decision which was apparently intended to legalize
slavery in all Territories; and when the alarming question had
been raised whether the next step would not be legalization in
all the States.

Lincoln was a long-headed politician, as well as a man of sincere
moral judgments. He was defining issues for the campaign of 1860
and was putting Douglas on record so that it would be impossible
for him, as the candidate of his party, to become President.
Douglas had many an uncomfortable hour as Lincoln exposed his
vain efforts to reconcile his popular sovereignty doctrine with
the Dred Scott decision. As Lincoln expected, Douglas won the
senatorship, but he lost the greater prize.

The crusade against slavery was nearing its final stage. Under
the leadership of such men as Sumner, Seward, and Lincoln, a
political party was being formed whose policies were based upon
the assumption that slavery is both a moral and a political evil.
Even at this stage the party had assumed such proportions that it
was likely to carry the ensuing presidential election. Davis and
Yancey, the chief defenders of slavery, were at the same time
reaching a definite conclusion as to what should follow the
election of a Republican President. And that conclusion involved
nothing less than the fate of the Union.


The crusade against slavery was based upon the assumption that
slavery, like war, is an abnormal state of society. As the tyrant
produces the assassin, so on a larger scale slavery calls forth
servile insurrection, or, as in the United States, an implacable
struggle between free white persons and the defenders of slavery.

The propaganda of Southern and Western abolitionists had as a
primary object the prevention of both servile insurrection and
civil war. It was as clear to Southern abolitionists in the
thirties as it was to Seward and Lincoln in the fifties that,
unless the newly aroused slave power should be effectively
checked, a terrible civil war would ensue. To forestall this
dreaded calamity, they freely devoted their lives and fortunes.
Peaceable emancipation by state action, according to the original
program, was prevented by the rise of a sectional animosity which
beclouded the issue. As the leadership drifted into the hands of
extremists, the conservative masses were confused, misled, or
deceived. The South undoubtedly became the victim of the
erroneous teachings of alarmists who believed that the anti-
slavery North intended, by unlawful and unconstitutional federal
action, to abolish slavery in all the States; while the North had
equally exaggerated notions as to the aggressive intentions of
the South.

The opposing forces finally met on the plains of Kansas, and
extreme Northern opposition became personified in John Brown of
Osawatomie. He was born in Connecticut in May, 1800, of New
England ancestry, the sixth generation from the Mayflower. A
Calvinist, a mystic, a Bible-reading Puritan, he was trained to
anti-slavery sentiments in the family of Owen Brown, his father.
He passed his early childhood in the Western Reserve of Ohio, and
subsequently moved from Ohio to New York, to Pennsylvania, to
Ohio again, to Connecticut, to Massachusetts, and finally to New
York once more. He was at various times tanner, farmer, sheep-
raiser, horse-breeder,wool-merchant, and a follower of other
callings as well. From a business standpoint he may be regarded
as a failure, for he had been more than once a bankrupt and
involved in much litigation. He was twice married and was the
father of twenty children, eight of whom died in infancy.

Until the Kansas excitement nothing had occurred in the history
of the Brown family to attract public attention. John Brown was
not conspicuous in anti-slavery efforts or in any line of public
reform. As a mere lad during the War of 1812 he accompanied his
father, who was furnishing supplies to the army, and thus he saw
much of soldiers and their officers. The result was that he
acquired a feeling of disgust for everything military, and he
consistently refused to perform the required military drill until
he had passed the age for service. Not quite in harmony with
these facts is the statement that he was a great admirer of
Oliver Cromwell, and Rhodes says of him that he admired Nat
Turner, the leader of the servile insurrection in Virginia, as
much as he did George Washington. There seems to be no reason to
doubt the testimony of the members of his family that John Brown
always cherished a lively interest in the African race and a deep
sympathy with them. As a youth he had chosen for a companion a
slave boy of his own age, to whom he became greatly attached.
This slave, badly clad and poorly fed, beaten with iron shovel or
anything that came first to hand, young Brown grew to regard as
his equal if not his superior. And it was the contrast between
their respective conditions that first led Brown to "swear
eternal war with slavery." In later years John Brown, Junior,
tells us that, on seeing a negro for the first time, he felt so
great a sympathy for him that he wanted to take the negro home
with him. This sympathy, he assures us, was a result of his
father's teaching. Upon the testimony of two of John Brown's sons
rests the oft-repeated story that he declared eternal war against
slavery and also induced the members of his family to unite with
him in formal consecration to his mission. The time given for
this incident is previous to the year 1840; the idea that he was
a divinely chosen agent for the deliverance of the slaves was of
later development.

As early as 1834 Brown had shown some active interest in the
education of negro children, first in Pennsylvania and later in
Ohio. In 1848 the Brown family became associated with an
enterprise of Gerrit Smith in northern New York, where a hundred
thousand acres of land were offered to negro families for
settlement. During the excitement over the Fugitive Slave Act of
1850 Brown organized among the colored people of Springfield,
Massachusetts, "The United States League of Gileadites." As an
organization this undertaking proved a failure, but Brown's
formal written instructions to the "Gileadites" are interesting
on account of their relation to what subsequently happened. In
this document, by referring to the multitudes who had suffered in
their behalf, he encouraged the negroes to stand for their
liberties. He instructed them to be armed and ready to rush to
the rescue of any of their number who might be attacked:

"Should one of your number be arrested, you must collect together
as quickly as possible, so as to outnumber your adversaries who
are taking an active part against you. Let no able-bodied man
appear on the ground unequipped, or with his weapons exposed to
view: let that be understood beforehand. Your plans must be known
only to yourself, and with the understanding that all traitors
must die, wherever caught and proven to be guilty. "Whosoever is
fearful or afraid, let him return and depart early from Mount
Gilead" (Judges, vii. 3; Deut. xx. 8). Give all cowards an
opportunity to show it on condition of holding their peace. Do
ANY OTHERS. By going about your business quietly, you will get
the job disposed of before the number that an uproar would bring
together can collect; and you will have the advantage of those
who come out against you, for they will be wholly unprepared with
either equipments or matured plans; all with them will be
confusion and terror. Your enemies will be slow to attack you
after you have done up the work nicely; and if they should, they
will have to encounter your white friends as well as you; for you
may safely calculate on a division of the whites, and may by that
means get to an honorable parley."

He gives here a distinct suggestion of the plans and methods
which he later developed and extended.

When Kansas was opened for settlement, John Brown was fifty-four
years old. Early in the spring of 1855, five of his sons took up
claims near Osawatomie. They went, as did others, as peaceable
settlers without arms. After the election of March 30, 1855, at
which armed Missourians overawed the Kansas settlers and thus
secured a unanimous pro-slavery Legislature, the freestate men,
under the leadership of Robinson, began to import Sharp's rifles
and other weapons for defense. Brown's sons thereupon wrote to
their father, describing their helpless condition and urging him
to come to their relief. In October, 1855, John Brown himself
arrived with an adequate supply of rifles and some broadswords
and revolvers. The process of organization and drill thereupon
began, and when the Wakarusa War occurred early in December,
1855, John Brown was on hand with a small company from Osawatomie
to assist in the defense of Lawrence. The statement that he
disapproved of the agreement with Governor Shannon which
prevented bloodshed is not in accord with a letter which John
Brown wrote to his wife immediately after the event. The Governor
granted practically all that the freestate men desired and
recognized their trainbands as a part of the police force of
the Territory. Brown by this stipulation became Captain John
Brown, commander of a company of the territorial militia.

Soon after the Battle of Wakarusa, Captain Brown passed the
command of the company of militia to his son John, while he
became the leader of a small band composed chiefly of members of
his own family. Writing to his wife on April 7, 1856, he said:
"We hear that preparations are making in the United States Court
for numerous arrests of free-state men. For one I have not
desired (all things considered) to have the slave power cease
from its acts of aggression. 'Their foot shall slide in due
time.'" This letter of Brown's indicates that the writer was
pleased at the prospect of approaching trouble.

When, six weeks later, notice came of the attack upon Lawrence,
John Brown, Junior, went with the company of Osawatomie Rifles to
the relief of the town, while the elder Brown with a little
company of six moved in the same direction. In a letter to his
wife, dated June 26, 1856, more than a month after the massacre
in Pottawatomie Valley, Brown said:

"On our way to Lawrence we learned that it had been already
destroyed, and we encamped with John's company overnight .... On
the second day and evening after we left John's men, we
encountered quite a number of pro-slavery men and took quite a
number of prisoners. Our prisoners we let go, but kept some four
or five horses. We were immediately after this accused of
murdering five men at Pottawatomie and great efforts have been
made by the Missourians and their ruffian allies to capture us.
John's company soon afterwards disbanded, and also the Osawatomie
men. Since then, we have, like David of old, had our dwelling
with the serpents of the rocks and the wild beasts of the

There will probably never be agreement as to Brown's motives in
slaying his five neighbors on May 24, 1856. Opinions likewise
differ as to the effect which this incident had on the history of
Kansas. Abolitionists of every class had said much about war and
about servile insurrection, but the conservative people of the
West and South had mentioned the subject only by way of warning
and that they might point out ways of prevention. Garrison and
his followers had used language which gave rise to the impression
that they favored violent revolution and were not averse to
fomenting servile insurrection. They had no faith in the efforts
of Northern emigrants to save Kansas from the clutches of the
slaveholding South, and they denounced in severe terms the
Robinson leadership there, believing it sure to result in
failure. To this class of abolitionists John Brown distinctly
belonged. He believed that so high was the tension on the slavery
question throughout the country that revolution, if inaugurated
at any point, would sweep the land and liberate the slaves. Brown
was also possessed of the belief that he was himself the divinely
chosen agent to let loose the forces of freedom; and that this
was the chief motive which prompted the deed at Pottawatomie is
as probable as any other.

Viewed in this light, the Pottawatomie massacre was measurably
successful. Opposing forces became more clearly defined and were
pitted against each other in hostile array. There were reprisals
and counter-reprisals. Kansas was plunged into a state of civil
war, but it is quite probable that this condition would have
followed the looting of Lawrence even if John Brown had been
absent from the Territory.

Coincident with the warfare by organized companies, small
irregular bands infested the country. Kansas became a paradise
for adventurers, soldiers of fortune, horse thieves, cattle
thieves, and marauders of various sorts. Spoiling the enemy in
the interest of a righteous cause easily degenerated into common
robbery and murder. It was chiefly in this sort of conflict that
two hundred persons were slain and that two million dollars'
worth of property was destroyed.

During this period of civil war the members of the Brown family
were not much in evidence. John Brown, Junior, captain of the
Osawatomie Rifles, was a political prisoner at Topeka. Swift
destruction of their property was visited upon all those members
who were suspected of having a share in the Pottawatomie murders,
and their houses were burned and their other property was seized.
Warrants were out for the arrest of the elder Brown and his sons.
Captain Pate who, in command of a small troop, was in pursuit of
Brown and his company, was surprised at Black Jack in the early
morning and induced to surrender. Brown thus gained control of a
number of horses and other supplies and began to arrange terms
for the exchange of his son and Captain Pate as prisoners of war.
The negotiations were interrupted, however, by the arrival of
Colonel Sumner with United States troops, who restored the horses
and other booty and disbanded all the troops. With the Colonel
was a deputy marshal with warrants for the arrest of the Browns.
When ordered to proceed with his duty, however, the marshal was
so overawed that, even though a federal officer was present, he
merely remarked, "I do not recognize any one for whom I have

After the capture of Captain Pate at Black Jack early in June,
little is known about Brown and his troops for two months. Apart
from an encounter of opposing forces near Osawatomie in which he
and his band were engaged, Brown took no share in the open
fighting between the organized companies of opposing forces, and
his part in the irregular guerrilla warfare of the period is
uncertain. Towards the close of the war one of his sons was shot
by a preacher who alleged that he had been robbed by the Browns.
After peace had been restored to Kansas by the vigorous action of
Governor Geary, Brown left the scene and never again took an
active part in the local affairs of the Territory.

John Brown's influence upon the course of affairs in Kansas, like
William Lloyd Garrison's upon the general anti-slavery movement
of the country, has been greatly misunderstood and exaggerated.
Brown's object and intention were fundamentally contradictory to
those of the freestate settlers. They strove to build a free
commonwealth by legal and constitutional methods. He strove to
inaugurate a revolution which would extend to all pro-slavery
States and result in universal emancipation. John Brown was in
Kansas only one year, and he never made himself at one with those
who should have been his fellow-workers but went his solitary
way. Only in three instances did he pretend to cooperate with the
regular freestate forces. He could not work with them because his
conception of the means to be adopted to attain the end was
different from theirs. Probably before he left the Territory in
1856, he had realized that his work in Kansas was a failure and
that the law-and-order forces were too strong for the execution
of his plans. Certain it is that within a few weeks after his
departure he had transferred the field of his operations to the
mountains of Virginia. Kansas became free through the persistent
determination of the rank and file of Northern settlers under the
wise leadership of Governor Robinson. It is difficult to
determine whether the cause of Kansas was aided or hindered by
the advent of John Brown and the adventurers with whom his name
became associated.

During the fall of 1856 and until the late summer of 1857 Brown
was in the East raising funds for the redemption of Kansas and
for the reimbursement of those who had incurred or were likely to
incur losses in defense of the cause. For the equipment of a
troop of soldiers under his own command he formulated plans for
raising $30,000 by private subscription, and in this he was to a
considerable extent successful. It can never be known how much
was given in this way to Brown for the equipment of his army of
liberation. It is estimated that George L. Stearns alone gave in
all fully $10,000. Because Eastern abolitionists had lost
confidence in Robinson's leadership, they lent a willing ear to
the plea that Captain Brown with a well-equipped and trained
company of soldiers was the last hope for checking the enemy. Not
only would Kansas become a slave State without such help, it was
said, but the institution of slavery would spread into all the
Territories and become invincible.

The money was given to Brown to redeem Kansas, but he had
developed an alternative plan. Early in the year 1857, he met in
New York Colonel Hugh Forbes, a soldier of fortune who had seen
service with Garibaldi in Italy. They discussed general plans for
an aggressive attack upon the South for the liberation of the
slaves, and with these plans the needs of Kansas had little or no
connection. "Kansas was to be a prologue to the real drama,"
writes his latest biographer; "the properties of the one were to
serve in the other." In April six months' salary was advanced out
of the Kansas fund to Forbes, who was employed at a hundred
dollars a month to aid in the execution of their plans. Another
significant expenditure of the Kansas fund was in pursuance of a
contract with a Mr. Blair, a Connecticut manufacturer, to furnish
at a dollar each one thousand pikes. Though the contract was
dated March 80, 1857, it was not completed until the fall of
1859, when the weapons were delivered to Brown in Pennsylvania
for use at Harper's Ferry.

Instead of rushing to the relief of Kansas, as contributors had
expected, the leader exercised remarkable deliberation. When
August arrived, it found him only as far as Tabor, Iowa, where a
considerable quantity of arms had been previously assembled. Here
he was joined by Colonel Forbes, and together they organized a
school of military tactics with Forbes as instructor. But as
Forbes could find no one but Brown and his son to drill, he soon
returned to the East, still trusted by Brown as a co-worker. It
would seem that Forbes himself wished to play the chief part in
the liberation of America.

While he was at Tabor, Brown was urged by Lane and other former
associates of his in Kansas to come to their relief with all his
forces. There had, indeed, been a full year of peace since
Geary's arrival, but early in October there was to occur the
election of a territorial Legislature in which the free-state
forces had agreed to participate, and Lane feared an invasion
from Missouri. But although the appeal was not effective, the
election proved a complete triumph for the North. Late in
October, after the signal victory of the law-and-order party at
the election, Brown was again urged with even greater insistence
to muster all his forces and come to Kansas, and there were hints
in Lane's letter that an aggressive campaign was afoot to rid the
Territory of the enemy. Instead of going in force, however, Brown
stole into the Territory alone. On his arrival, two days after
the date set for a decisive council of the revolutionary faction,
he did not make himself known to Governor Robinson or to any of
his party but persuaded several of his former associates to join
his "school" in Iowa. From Tabor he subsequently transferred the
school to Springdale, a quiet Quaker community in Cedar County,
Iowa, seven miles from any railway station. Here the company went
into winter quarters and spent the time in rigid drill in
preparation for the campaign of liberation which they expected to
undertake the following season.

While he was at Tabor, Brown began to intimate to his Eastern
friends that he had other and different plans for the promotion
of the general cause. In January, 1858, he went East with the
definite intention of obtaining additional support for the
greater scheme. On February 22, 1858, at the home of Gerrit Smith
in New York, there was held a council at which Brown definitely
outlined his purpose to begin operations at some point in the
mountains of Virginia. Smith and Sanborn at first tried to
dissuade him, but finally consented to cooperate. The secret was
carefully guarded: some half-dozen Eastern friends were apprised
of it, including Stearns, their most liberal contributor, and two
or three friends at Springdale.

As early as December, 1857, Forbes began to write mysterious
letters to Sanborn, Stearns, and others of the circle, in which
he complained of ill-usage at the hands of Brown. It appears that
Forbes erroneously assumed that the Boston friends were aware of
Brown's contract with him and of his plans for the attack upon
Virginia; but, since they were entirely ignorant on both points,
the correspondence was conducted at cross-purposes for several
months. Finally, early in May, 1858, it transpired that Forbes
had all the time been fully informed of Brown's intentions to
begin the effort for emancipation in Virginia. Not only so, but
he had given detailed information on the subject to Senators
Sumner, Seward, Hale, Wilson, and possibly others. Senator Wilson
was told that the arms purchased by the New England Aid Society
for use in Kansas were to be used by Brown for an attack on
Virginia. Wilson, in entire ignorance of Brown's plans, demanded
that the Aid Society be effectively protected against any such
charge of betrayal of trust. The officers of the Society were, in
fact, aware that the arms which had been purchased with Society
funds the year before and shipped to Tabor, Iowa, had been placed
in Brown's hands and that, without their consent, those arms had
been shipped to Ohio and just at that time were on the point of
being transported to Virginia. This knowledge placed the officers
of the New England Aid Society in a most awkward position.
Stearns, the treasurer, had advanced large sums to meet pressing
needs during the starvation times in Kansas in 1857. Now the arms
in Brown's possession were, by vote of the officers, given to the
treasurer in part payment of the Society's debt, and he of course
left them just where they were.* On the basis of this arrangement
Senator Wilson and the public were assured that none of the
property given for the benefit of Kansas had been or would be
diverted to other purposes by the Kansas Committee. It was
decided, however, that on account of the Forbes revelations the
attack upon Harper's Ferry must be delayed for one year and that
Brown must go to Kansas to take part in the pending elections.

* "When the denouement finally came, however, the public and
press did not take a very favorable view of the transaction; it
was too difficult to distinguish between George L. Stearns, the
benefactor of the Kansas Committee, and George L. Stearns, the
Chairman of that Committee." Villard, "John Brown," p. 341.

Though Brown arrived in Kansas late in June, he took no active
part in the pending measures for the final triumph of the free-
state cause. It is something of a mystery how he was occupied
between the 1st of July and the middle of December. Under the
pseudonym of "Shubal Morgan" he was commander of a small band in
which were a number of his followers in training for the Eastern
mission. The occupation of this band is not matter of history
until December 20, 1858, when they made a raid into the State of
Missouri, slew one white man, took eleven slaves, a large number
of horses, some oxen, wagons, much food, arms, and various other
supplies. This action was in direct violation of a solemn
agreement between the border settlers of State and Territory. The
people in Kansas were in terror lest retaliatory raids should
follow, as would undoubtedly have happened had not the people of
Missouri taken active measures to prevent such reprisals.

Rewards were offered for Brown's arrest, and free-state residents
served notice that he must leave the Territory. In the dead of
winter he started North with some slaves and many horses,
accompanied by Kagi and Gill, two of his faithful followers. In
northern Kansas, where they were delayed by a swollen stream, a
band of horsemen appeared to dispute their passage. Brown's party
quickly mustered assistance and, giving chase to the enemy, took
three prisoners with four horses as spoils of war. In Kansas
parlance the affair is called "The Battle of the Spurs." The
leaders in the chase were seasoned soldiers on their way to
Harper's Ferry with the intention of spending their lives
collecting slaves and conducting them to places of safety. For
this sort of warfare they were winning their spurs. It was their
intention to teach all defenders of slavery to use their utmost
endeavor to keep out of their reach. As Brown and his company
passed through Tabor, the citizens took occasion at a public
meeting to resolve "that we have no sympathy with those who go to
slave States to entice away slaves, and take property or life
when necessary to attain that end."

A few days later the party was at Grinnell, Iowa. According to
the detailed account which J. B. Grinnell gives in his
autobiography, Brown appeared on Saturday afternoon, stacked his
arms in Grinnell's parlor and disposed of his people and horses
partly in Grinnell's house and barn and partly at the hotel. In
the evening Brown and Kagi addressed a large meeting in a public
hall. Brown gave a lurid account of experiences in Kansas,
justified his raid into Missouri by saying the slaves were to be
sold for shipment to the South, and gave notice that his surplus
horses would be offered for sale on Monday. "What title can you
give?" was the question that came from the audience. "The best--
the affidavit that they were taken by black men from land they
had cleared and tilled; taken in part payment for labor which is
kept back."

Brown again addressed a large meeting on Sunday evening at which
each of the three clergymen present invoked the divine blessing
upon Brown and his labors. The present writer was told by an eye-
witness that one of the ministers prayed for forgiveness for any
wrongful acts which their guest may have committed. Convinced of
the rectitude of his actions, however, Brown objected and said
that he thanked no one for asking forgiveness for anything he had

Returning from church on Sunday evening, Grinnell found a message
awaiting him from Mr. Werkman, United States marshal at Iowa
City, who was a friend of Grinnell. The message in part read:
"You can see that it will give your town a bad name to have a
fight there; then all who aid are liable, and there will be an
arrest or blood. Get the old Devil away to save trouble, for he
will be taken, dead or alive." Grinnell showed the message to
Brown, who remarked: "Yes, I have heard of him ever since I came
into the State . . . . Tell him we are ready to be taken, but
will wait one day more for his military squad." True to his word
he waited till the following afternoon and then moved directly
towards Iowa City, the home of the marshal, passing beyond the
city fourteen miles to his Quaker friends at Springdale. Here he
remained about two weeks until he had completed arrangements for
shipping his fugitives by rail to Chicago. In the meantime, where
was Marshal Werkman of Iowa City? Was he of the same mind as the
deputy marshal who had accompanied Colonel Sumner? Two of Brown's
men had visited the city to make arrangements for the shipment.
The situation was obvious enough to those who would see. The
entire incident is an illuminating commentary on the attitude of
both government and people towards the Fugitive Slave Law. In
March the fugitives were safely landed in Canada and the rest of
the horses were sold in Cleveland, Ohio. The time was approaching
for the move on Virginia.

Brown now expended much time and attention upon a constitution
for the provisional government which he was to set up. In January
and February, 1858, Brown had labored over this document for
several weeks at the home of Frederick Douglass at Rochester, New
York. A copy was in evidence at the conference with Sanborn and
Gerrit Smith in February, and the document was approved at a
conference held in Chatham, Canada, on May 8, 1858, just at the
time when Forbes's revelations caused the postponement of the
enterprise. It is an elaborate constitution containing forty-
eight articles. The preamble indicates the general purport:

Whereas, Slavery throughout its entire existence in the United
States is none other than a most barbarous, unprovoked, and
unjustifiable war of one portion of its citizens upon another
portion the only conditions of which are perpetual imprisonment
and hopeless servitude or absolute extermination; in utter
disregard and violation of those eternal and self-evident truths
set forth in our Declaration of Independence: Therefore, we the
citizens of the United States, and the Oppressed People, who, by
a decision of the Supreme Court are declared to have no rights
which the White Man is bound to respect; together with all other
people degraded by the laws thereof, Do, for the time being
ordain and establish for ourselves, the following PROVISIONAL
CONSTITUTION AND ORDINANCES, the better to protect our Persons,
Property, Lives and Liberties and to govern our actions.

Article Forty-six reads:

The foregoing articles shall not be construed so as in any way to
encourage the overthrow of any State Government or of the general
government of the United States; and look to no dissolution of
the Union, but simply to Amendment and Repeal. And our flag shall
be the same that our Fathers fought under in the Revolution.

In Article Forty, "profane swearing, filthy conversation, and
indecent behavior" are forbidden. The document indicates an
obvious intention to effect a revolution by a restrained and
regulated use of force.

Mobilization of forces began in June, 1859. Cook, one of the
original party, had spent the year in the region of Harper's
Ferry. In July the Kennedy farm, five miles from Harper's Ferry,
was leased. The Northern immigrants posed as farmers, stock-
raisers, and dealers in cattle, seeking a milder climate. To
assist in the disguise, Brown's daughter and daughter-in-law,
mere girls, joined the community. Even so it was difficult to
allay troublesome curiosity on the part of neighbors at the
gathering of so many men with no apparent occupation. Suspicion
might easily have been aroused by the assembling of numerous
boxes of arms from the West and the thousand pikes from
Connecticut. Late in August, Floyd, Secretary of War, received an
anonymous letter emanating from Springdale, Iowa, giving
information which, if acted upon, would have led to an
investigation and stopped the enterprise.

The 24th of October was the day appointed for taking possession
of Harper's Ferry, but fear of exposure led to a change of plan
and the move was begun on the 16th of October. Six of the party
who would have been present at the later date were absent. The
march from Kennedy farm began about eight o'clock Sunday evening.
Before midnight the bridges, the town, and the arsenal were in
the hands of the invaders without a gun having been fired. Before
noon on Monday some forty citizens of the neighborhood had been
assembled as prisoners and held, it was explained, as hostages
for the safety of members of the party who might be taken.
During the early forenoon Kagi strongly urged that they should
escape into the mountains; but Brown, who was influenced, as he
said, by sympathy for his prisoners and their distressed
families, refused to move and at last found himself surrounded by
opposing forces. Brown's men, having been assigned to different
duties, were separated. Six of them escaped; others were killed
or wounded or taken prisoners. Brown himself with six of his men
and a few of his prisoners made a final stand in the engine-
house. This was early in the afternoon. All avenues of escape
were now closed. Brown made two efforts to communicate with his
assailants by means of a flag of truce, sending first Thompson,
one of his men, with one of his prisoners, and then Stevens and
Watson Brown with another of the prisoners. Thompson was received
but was held as a prisoner; Stevens and Watson Brown were shot
down, the first dangerously wounded and the other mortally
wounded. Later in the afternoon Brown received a flag of truce
with a demand that he surrender. He stated the conditions under
which he would restore the prisoners whom he held, but he refused
the unconditional surrender which was demanded.

About midnight Colonel Robert E. Lee arrived from Washington with
a company of marines. He took full command, set a guard of his
own men around the engine-house and made preparation to effect a
forcible entrance at sunrise on Tuesday morning in case a
peaceable surrender was refused. Lee first offered to two of the
local companies the honor of storming the castle. These, however,
declined to undertake the perilous task, and the honor fell to
Lieutenant Green of the marines, who thereupon selected two
squads of twelve men each to attempt an entrance through the
door. To Lee's aide, Lieutenant Stuart, who had known Brown in
Kansas, was committed the task of making the formal demand for
surrender. Brown and Stuart, who recognized each other instantly
upon their meeting at the door, held a long parley, which
resulted, as had been expected, in Brown's refusal to yield.
Stuart then gave the signal which had been agreed upon to
Lieutenant Green, who ordered the first squad to advance. Failing
to break down the door with sledge-hammers, they seized a heavy
ladder and at the second stroke made an opening near the ground
large enough to admit a man. Green instantly entered, rushed to
the back part of the room, and climbed upon an engine to command
a better view. Colonel Lewis Washington, the most distinguished
of the prisoners, pointed to Brown, saying, "This is Osawatomie."
Green leaped forward and by thrust or stroke bent his light sword
double against Brown's body. Other blows were administered and
his victim fell senseless, and it was believed that the leader
had been slain in action according to his wish.

The first of the twelve men to attempt to follow their leader was
instantly killed by gunshot. Others rushed in and slew two of
Brown's men by the use of the bayonet. To save the prisoners from
harm, Lee had given careful instruction to fire no shot, to use
only bayonets. The other insurgents were made prisoners. "The
whole fight," Green reported, "had not lasted over three

Of all the prisoners taken and held as hostages, not one was
killed or wounded. They were made as safe as the conditions
permitted. The eleven prisoners who were with Brown in the
engine-house were profoundly impressed with the courage, the
bearing, and the self-restraint of the leader and his men.
Colonel Washington describes Brown as holding a carbine in one
hand, with one dead son by his side, while feeling the pulse of
another son, who had received a mortal wound, all the time
watching every movement for the defense and forbidding his men to
fire upon any one who was unarmed. The testimony is uniform that
Brown exercised special care to prevent his men from shooting
unarmed citizens, and this conduct was undoubtedly influential in
securing generous treatment for him and his men after the

For six weeks afterwards, until his execution on the 2d of
December, John Brown remained a conspicuous figure. He won
universal admiration for courage, coolness, and deliberation, and
for his skill in parrying all attempts to incriminate others.
Probably less than a hundred people knew beforehand anything
about the enterprise, and less than a dozen of these rendered aid
and encouragement. It was emphatically a personal exploit. On the
part of both leader and followers, no occasion was omitted to
drive home the lesson that men were willing to imperil their
lives for the oppressed with no hope or desire for personal gain.
Brown especially served notice upon the South that the day of
final reckoning was at hand.

It is natural that the consequences of an event so spectacular as
the capture of Harper's Ferry should be greatly exaggerated.
Brown's contribution to Kansas history has been distorted beyond
all recognition. The Harper's Ferry affair, however, because it
came on the eve of the final election before the war, undoubtedly
had considerable influence. It sharpened the issue. It played
into the hands of extremists in both sections. On one side, Brown
was at once made a martyr and a hero; on the other, his acts were
accepted as a demonstration of Northern malignity and hatred,
whose fitting expression was seen in the incitement of slaves to
massacre their masters.

The distinctive contribution of John Brown to American history
does not consist in the things which he did but rather in that
which he has been made to represent. He has been accepted as the
personification of the irrepressible conflict.

Of all the men of his generation John Brown is best fitted to
exemplify the most difficult lesson which history teaches: that
slavery and despotism are themselves forms of war, that the
shedding of blood is likely to continue so long as the rich, the
strong, the educated, or the efficient, strive to force their
will upon the poor, the weak, and the ignorant. Lincoln uttered a
final word on the subject when he said that no man is good enough
to rule over another man; if he were good enough he would not be
willing to do it.


Among the many political histories which furnish a background for
the study of the anti-slavery crusade, the following have special

J. F. Rhodes, "History of the United States from the Compromise
of 1860," 7 vols. (1893-1906). The first two volumes cover the
decade to 1860. This is the best-balanced account of the period,
written in an admirable judicial temper. H. E. von Holst,
Constitutional anal Political History of the United States," 8
vols. (1877-1892). A vast mine of information on the slavery
controversy. The work is vitiated by an almost virulent antipathy
toward the South. James Schouler, "History of the United States,"
7 vols. (1895-1901). A sober, reliable narrative of events.
Henry Wilson, "History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power
in America," 3 vols. (1872-1877). The fullest account of the
subject, written by a contemporary. The material was thrown
together by an overworked statesman and lacks proportion.

Three volumes in the "American Nation Series" aim to combine the
treatment of special topics of commanding interest with general
political history. A. B. Hart's "Slavery and Abolition" (1906)
gives an account of the origin of the controversy and carries the
history down to 1841. G. P. Garrison's "Westward Extension"
(1906) deals especially with the Mexican War and its results. T.
C. Smith's "Parties and Slavery" (1906) follows the gradual
disruption of parties under the pressure of the slavery

>From the mass of contemporary controversial literature a few
titles of more permanent interest may be selected. William
Goodell's "Slavery and Anti-slavery" (1852) presents the
anti-slavery arguments. A. T. Bledsoe's "An Essay on Liberty and
Slavery" (1856) and "The Pro-slavery Argument" (1852), a series
of essays by various writers, undertake the defense of slavery.

Only a few of the biographies which throw light on the crusade
can be mentioned. "William Lloyd Garrison," 4 vols. (1885-1889)
is the story of the editor of the Liberator told exhaustively by
his children. Less voluminous but equally important are the
following: W. Birney, "James G. Birney and His Times" (1890); G.
W. Julian, "Joshua R. Giddings" (1892); Catherine H. Birney,
"Sarah and Angelina Grimke" (1885); John T. Morse, "John Quincy
Adams." Those who have not patience to read E. L. Pierce's
ponderous "Memoir and Letters of Charles Sumner," 4 vols. (1877-
1893), would do well to read G. H. Haynes's "Charles Sumner"

The history of the conflict in Kansas is closely associated with
the lives of two rival candidates for the honor of leadership in
the cause of freedom. James Redpath in his "Public Life of
Captain John Brown" (1860), Frank B. Sanborn in his "Life and
Letters of John Brown" (1885), and numerous other writers give to
Brown the credit of leadership. The opposition view is held by F.
W. Blackmar in his "Life of Charles Robinson" (1902), and by
Robinson himself in his Kansas Conflict (2d ed., 1898). The best
non-partizan biography of Brown is O. G. Villard's "John Brown, A
Biography Fifty Years After" (1910).

The Underground Railroad has been adequately treated in W. H.
Siebert's "The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom"
(1898), but Levi Coffin's "Reminiscences" (1876) gives an earlier
autobiographical account of the origin and management of an
important line, while Mrs. Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" throws the
glamour of romance over the system.

For additional bibliographical information the reader is referred
to the articles on "Slavery, Fugitive Slave Laws, Kansas, William
Lloyd Garrison, John Brown, James Gillespie Birney," and
"Frederick Douglass" in "The Encyclopaedia Britannica" (11th


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