John Brown’s deadly insurrection at Harper’s Ferry in 1859 destroyed the South’s belief that conservative gentlemen ruled the North and understood the slavery they had been saddled with. After all, New England merchants and their ships had profited greatly from the many Africans brought to these shores, who raised the raw cotton spun in New England mills. The Brown raid changed all that – DeBow’s Review wrote that the North “has sanctioned and applauded theft, murder, treason”; a Baltimore editorial asked how the South could any longer afford” to live under a government, a majority of whose subjects or citizens regard John Brown as a martyr and a Christian hero?” Not mentioned below among those fleeing to Canada was Frederick Douglass, who was to join Brown as a “liaison officer” to the slaves expected to join his band.
Notably, Brown was sentenced to hang for committing treason against Virginia, one of “them” (States) identified in Article III, Section 3 of the United States Constitution.
Paving the Way for Final Catastrophe
“Although more than 400 miles lay between Harper’s Ferry, Virginia and Boston, Massachusetts, John Brown’s raid made that distance seem much shorter. A number of prominent Boston men had been associated with John Brown over the past three or four years, and now it looked as though they were implicated in a criminal conspiracy. It was well known that industrialists such as Amos A. Lawrence, William Appleton and Edward Atkinson had sent both money and guns to “Captain” Brown during his military exploits in Kansas. George Luther Stearns, a wealthy Boston businessman, had made unlimited funds available to Brown and was later found to be one of the “Secret Six” who had conspired to assist Brown in his new undertaking.
Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, prominent physician and reformer, had become one of Brown’s closest associates in the East; preachers such as Unitarian Thomas Wentworth Higginson and the Transcendentalist Theodore Parker had also become ardent Brown supporters; Wendell Phillips, the “golden trumpet” for Garrison’s abolition movement, spoke out on his behalf; and young Franklin B. Sanborn, a Concord schoolteacher just recently out of Harvard, was a disciple of the Old Man from Kansas.
Suddenly Senator Jefferson Davis, the Mississippi statesman who had been wined and dined in Boston only a year earlier, became nemesis in the North, avenger of the South.
Some of Brown’s supporters remained steadfast in supporting their hero during the Senate’s investigations. Theodore Parker was still in Europe, but wrote back his approval of what Brown [had] done; Thomas Wentworth Higginson dared the Southern senators to call him to the witness stand. But many more feared losing their good names, their businesses, and quite possibly their freedom. Franklin Sanborn, Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, George Luther Stearns, and several other Boston residents suddenly decided it was time to pay a visit to Canada “for reasons of health.”
Conservatives throughout Boston were appalled by the aftereffects from John Brown’s raid. Mournfully, Edward Everett warned his friend Robert C. Winthrop that this event would surely pave the way for “final catastrophe.” The most influential figure in the Emigrant Aid Society, Amos A. Lawrence, still would not join the Republican party. Lawrence feared that the Republican party, with its openly sectional appeal, would further alienate the South and endanger the Union.”
(Civil War Boston: Home Front and Battlefield, Thomas O’Connor, Northeastern University Press, 1997, pp. 38-40)