the question is, Did John Brown fail? He certainly did fail
to get out of Harpers Ferry before being beaten down by United
States soldiers; he did fail to save his own life, and to lead
a liberating army into the mountains of Virginia. But he did
not go to Harpers Ferry to save his life.
true question is, Did John Brown draw his sword against slavery
and thereby lose his life in vain? And to this I answer ten
thousand times, No! No man fails, or can fail, who so grandly
gives himself and all he has to a righteous cause. No man, who
in his hour of extremest need, when on his way to meet an ignominious
death, could so forget himself as to stop and kiss a little
child, one of the hated race for whom he was about to die, could
by any possibility fail.
John Brown fail? Ask Henry A. Wise in whose house less than
two years after, a school for the emancipated slaves was taught.
John Brown fail? Ask James M. Mason, the author of the inhuman
fugitive slave bill, who was cooped up in Fort Warren, as a
traitor less than two years from the time that he stood over
the prostrate body of John Brown.
John Brown fail? Ask Clement C. Vallandingham, one other of
the inquisitorial party; for he too went down in the tremendous
whirlpool created by the powerful hand of this bold invader.
If John Brown did not end the war that ended slavery, he did
at least begin the war that ended slavery. If we look over the
dates, places and men for which this honor is claimed, we shall
find that not Carolina, but Virginia, not Fort Sumter, but Harpers
Ferry, and the arsenal, not Col. Anderson, but John Brown, began
the war that ended American slavery and made this a free Republic.
Until this blow was struck, the prospect for freedom was dim,
shadowy and uncertain. The irrepressible conflict was one of
words, votes and compromises.
John Brown stretched forth his arm the sky was cleared. The
time for compromises was gone – the armed hosts of freedom
stood face to face over the chasm of a broken Union –
and the clash of arms was at hand. The South staked all upon
getting possession of the Federal Government, and failing to
do that, drew the sword of rebellion and thus made her own,
and not Brown's, the lost cause of the century."