The demented John Brown has been described as a political assassin, one who desires “not simply to murder, but also to attract attention – to incite and terrify as many people as possible.” This new type of assassin was praised through skillful propaganda by Northern journalists and hailed by some as a hero of the people. After Southerners learned of the wealthy Northerners who financed and abetted Brown’s terrorism, they realized they were in political Union with an enemy who sought their destruction and took appropriate measures.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
Disunionists of the North
“At Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, in the fall of 1859, Herman Melville beheld “the portent,” the murderous raid that proved to be “the meteor of the war.” For the majority of Northern Americans, John Brown was no hero; he was an incendiary abolitionist.
Boston, New York, Philadelphia all held large public rallies, called “Union meetings,” to denounce and disown him. To be for “the Union” in 1859, it should be recalled, was to be against anti-slavery agitation and anti-Southern politics, so much so that the Republicans took to deprecating those who attended or spoke at such meetings as “Union savers,” an epithet denoting someone who spent to much energy worrying about the future of the union and not enough worrying about the electoral success of the Republican party.
Nathaniel Hawthorne famously wrote of Brown’s execution that “no man was more justly hanged.” That was Philadelphia’s sentiment too. Henry M. Fuller rebuked those Northerners who were treating Brown as a hero and martyr. “We have no sympathy with that modern hero-worship which exalts crime and deifies a felon, which sends comfort, counsel and material aid to the cell of a homicide, encouraging treason and justifying murder.”
John C. Bullitt charged that Brown was the bitter fruit of decades of incendiary abolitionism and anti-Southern rhetoric. “The man must be blind indeed who does not see in it the legitimate fruits of seeds that have been sown, and which have been most industriously cultivated, by certain classes of people until they have germinated in this mad attempt.”
Brown “but was working out practically what for years has been promulgated in various parts of the North, in many newspapers, from the pulpit, and the hustings. What has Virginia done to deserve to be attacked by an armed band of zealots? “She has but maintained her institutions as handed down from the men who framed the government.”
Edward King said that the Southern States were asking for nothing except that the Northern States abide by the Constitution and keep their part of the federal compact, which they “entered into after full deliberation and reflection.” Instead of that, they were “repudiating the Constitution and its concessions, denouncing the domestic institutions of our sister States, calumniating their citizens, instigating in their midst domestic insurrection and revolt, organizing political parties on the basis of interfering with their institutions, and denying their equal, unqualified rights in the common territories of the Union.”
Such conduct was “fast sweeping us into the dark abyss of dissolution and consequent civil war.” Charles Ingersoll too warned that “if this antislavery madness goes on, the Union must be dissolved,” and “with the termination of the partnership, comes the same day, civil war.” He fears it will be a ferocious one, “the most tremendous the world has ever seen.”
(Philadelphia Against the War, Arthur Trask, Northern Opposition to Mr. Lincoln’s War, D. Jonathan White, editor, 2014, Abbeville Institute Press, pp. 247-249)