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The Growing Confidence of Pro-Slavery Forces
Digital History ID 352

Author:   Hugh C. Irish


John Brown was executed on December 2, 1859. Across the North, church bells tolled, flags flew at half-mast, and buildings were draped in black bunting. Ralph Waldo Emerson compared Brown to Jesus Christ and declared that his death made "the gallows as glorious as the cross."

Prominent northern Democrats and Republicans, including Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, spoke out forcefully against Brown's raid and his tactics. Lincoln denounced Brown's raid as an act of "violence, bloodshed, and treason that deserved to be punished by death" (although he also had some surprisingly empathetic words to say about Brown). But southern whites refused to believe that politicians like Lincoln and Douglas represented the true opinion of most Northerners. These men condemned Brown's "invasion," observed a Virginia senator, "only because it failed."

This newspaper article suggests the growing confidence of antislavery forces in the North.

Document: The late elections having demonstrated that the Opposition of the North are abundantly able to elect a President, we may as well prepare for a stormy session of Congress and a prodigious foaming of slaveholders. To be sure, the people of the country are pretty well used to the raw-head-and-bloody-bone tactics of these gentlemen, but we shall be surprised if they do not outdo all they have ever done in this line, between now and next November. We counsel our readers, in advance, to prepare their minds for such shrieks from the howling Dervishes of our politics as they have never yet heard. A specimen card, a sample of cargo has, to be sure, been on the bulletin board since the advent of John Brown, and by his small specimen we can measure the great things to come. In the attempt to get up a terror in this quarter over the proceedings of Mr. Brown, we have witnessed both the ludicrous and the atrocious--Party spite and falsehood and imposition never attempted anything more foul than to implicate the leading Republicans in the proceedings at Harper's Ferry. But the spasm of detraction has been brief. The engineers of falsehood and alarm did the best they could in the space of time which they had to work in. But it must be remembered that the period was brief. The whole thing was over almost as soon as it was begun, and the actors are now only laughed at for their pains, or denounced for the audacity of their villainy....

Considering the results of last week, it would seem that, if ever a party fairly earned a claim to the title of the "unterrified" it is the Republicans. They gather round their standard in such numbers as to put to flight every suspicion that either calumny or threats can drive them from their convictions or their post, either now or hereafter. Yet the old Union-saving machinery will all be put in motion again, just as though the people could be frightened and just as though they could be driven from their purpose....

We may look for Special Conventions and General Conventions, for State action and the action of States united. In a word, we may look for a copious supply of thunder and lightning on wheels always ready to be carted out at just these special and prodigious conjectures that the managers may be able to create.

Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: Paterson Daily Guardian [Vol. VI, no. 934 (November 22, 1859)]

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