Digital History>eXplorations>John Brown: Hero or Terrorist?>Teacher Resources>The Public Response

What Did Harpers Ferry Mean?

Group Meaning of Harpers Ferry Attack for this group Quote:
Slaveholders and sympathizers The attack was a criminal and murderous attack upon slavery, an institution sanctioned by law and justified by an idelogy which regarded slavery as a part of the very nature of things "Pirates have died as resolutely as martyrs. If the firmness displayed by John Brown proves anything, the composure of a Thug, dying by the cord with which he strangled so many victims, proves just as much."
Baltimore American
Southerners in general The attack was symbolic of what could happen multiplied tenfold under a government committed to a defense of slavery. "It (the Federal Government) has already declared war against you and your institutions...defend yourselves! The enemy is at your door, wait not to meet him at your hearthstone; meet him at the doorsill, and drive him from the Temple of Liberty, or pull down the pillars and involve him in the common ruin."
Robert Toombs speaking in the Senate, January 1859.
anti-slavery groups
The attack represented the highest idealism: the willingnesss to sacrifice one's life and possessions for freedom and welfare of one's fellow man. "The saint, whose fate yet hangs in suspense, but whose martyrdom, if it shall be perfected, will make the gallows as glorious as the Cross."
Ralph Waldo Emerson in a lecture on Nov. 8, 1859
Abolitionists The attack represented the beginning of emancipation. "History will date Virginia emancipation from Harper's Ferry. True, the slave is still there. So when a tempest uproots a pine on your hills, it looks green for months...still it is timber, not a tree. John brown has loosened the roots of the slave system; it only breathes, - it does not live, - hereafter.
Wendell Phillips
some historians The attack was the work of a fanatic. "a narrow-minded and possibly insane religious fanatic."
George M. Fredrickson, The Inner Civil War (New York, 1965), 38
Copyright Digital History 2018