Digital History>eXplorations>John Brown: Hero or Terrorist?>The Public Response>New York Times

The Execution of Brown

The New York Times, December 3, 1859

John Brown has paid the penalty of his crime. He was executed yesterday according to appointment, with due solemnity and under a very imposing display of the military strength of the State of Virginia. The event created a good deal of feeling throughout the country. Our columns contain notices of meetings and other indications of sympathy, held in various sections of the Northern States. In this City two churches were opened for public service one the Shiloh Church of colored worshipers, and the other the church of Dr. Cheever. No other public demonstration took place here, and even at these churches the attendance was not large. In other places, according to our advices, a very small minority only of the people took part in these public proclamations of sympathy. In both branches of the Massachusetts Legislature a motion to adjourn received but a very meagre support. Half a dozen individuals, in any village, it must be borne in mind, can hold a meeting, or ring bells, or fire minute guns, and so attract as much attention at a distance as if the whole population had been engaged in the affair.

It is but just to add, however, that hundreds and thousands of persons in the City and throughout the North, were deeply moved by personal sympathy for Brown who were still too thoroughly convinced of the legal justice of his execution, to make any outward show of their commisseration. There is not, as we have had occasion to say repeatedly, any general or even any considerable sympathy with Brown's invasion of Virginia or with the object which took him there, in the North. But there is a very wide and profound conviction in the public mind that he was personally honest and sincere, -that his motives were such as he deemed honorable and righteous, and that he believed himself to be doing a religious duty in the work which he undertook. And the public heart a ways weighs the motives, as well as the acts, of men, and gives its compassion and its pity freely to the man who stakes everything upon the performance of what he believes to be his duty. We do not believe that one tenth of the people of the Northern States would assent to the justice of Brown's views of duty, or deny that he had merited the penalty which has overtaken his offence. But we have just as little doubt that a majority of them pity his fate and respect his memory, as that of a rave, conscientious and misguided man. Now that the curtain has fallen upon this sad tragedy, we trust the public feeling will resume a healthier tone, especially in the Southern States, where it has risen to an unreasonable and a perilous heat . . . .

So far as this outbreak of violent sentiment has been the work of partisans, it is quite useless to protest against it. Some of these men aim at disunion, and they naturally avail themselves of every opportunity to stimulate the distrust, resentment and hatred of the two sections towards each other. Others among them aim only at the ascendancy of their own sectional party in the national councils; and they use these incidents merely to unite the South and coerce the North into conformity to their desires. And still another class aim merely to crush some local competitor, or overbear some local clique, by arousing a public sentiment powerful enough to sweep away all who hesitate about yielding to its current. As these men are thoroughly and recklessly selfish in their aims, no considerations of the public good would check their insane endeavors. It is their determination to goad the South into the conviction that the whole North is bent on waging active war upon Slavery in the Southern States, and that John Brown's troop was only the advanced guard of the general army. They deliberately and willfully falsify the sentiment of the North upon this subject. They represent the Northern people as all Abolitionists, all fanatics, all reckless of Southern rights and Southern interests, all ready to plunge Southern society into the horrors of anarchy and servile insurrection. Whatever ministers to this belief is lavishly used for that purpose; whatever corrects it, is ignored or discredited. The harangues of Phillips, the sermons of Cheever, the diatribes of our Abolition orators and journalists, are greedily copied in Southern prints and put forward as illustrations of Northern sentiment; while the conservative declarations which emanate from our pulpits, our rostrums, and our presses, are utterly unnoticed. We cannot wonder that, under such tuition and discipline, the people of the South, come to regard every Northern man as their enemy . . . .


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