Digital History>eXplorations>John Brown: Hero or Terrorist?>The Public Response>Senator Henry Wilson

Senator Henry Wilson, Republican of Massachusetts, December 6, 1859

Source: Congressional Globe (1860), 11

Now, sir, the Senator from Virginia [Mr. Hunter] has alluded to the public sentiment of the country. I believe I utter but the sentiment of all Senators around me from the free States when I say, that when the intelligence of this movement was first received, it was regarded by the public press and by the people as a strike of the workmen at the armory. When the intelligence came of its real character, it was received by the press and the people with emotions of sincere and profound regret. But, sir, an election was pending in the States of New Jersey and New York, and, for mere partisan purposes, one or two papers in the city of New York opened the most violent assault and made the most false and infamous charges against public men and the masses of the people in the free States. This course excited universal indignation. That such charges were made against men who never dreamed of a thing of that kind, excited and aroused the people. I venture to say that not one in ten thousand of the people of the free States ever dreamed that such a movement was on foot or knew anything about it or had any connection with it, and they felt outraged by the cruel and unjust accusations made against the people of the free States.

It was my fortune to spend two or three weeks in the States of New York and New Jersey pending that election. I never saw a man in either of these States, during that canvass, who did not regret it. The leader of that movement at Harper's Ferry, by his bearing, his courage, his words, his acts, has excited the deepest sympathy of many men, and extorted the admiration of all, during his trial and during all the scenes that have since taken place. I believe that to be the sentiment of the country generally. Men believed that he was sincere, that he had violated the law, but that he had followed out his deepest and sincerest convictions, and was willing to take the consequences of his acts. Then to add to the rest, the present Governor of Virginia, by his mode of dealing with this question, by his evident attempt to make political capital out of it, by his effort to get up a panic and to make a parade, has excited a feeling of derision and contempt among the masses of the people. In my judgement, the sympathy and the popular feeling manifested towards John Brown are owing more to the conduct of Governor Wise than to any other source whatever . . . .

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