THE HISTORY
OF THE
UNITED STATES

FROM 1492 TO 1920

BY JULIAN HAWTHORNE

P F COLLIER & SONS COMPANY, NEW YORK 1920

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CHAPTER  XXXII
JOHN BROWN (Part 2)

 

Sunday evening villagers, who have never seen a shot fired in anger, are not likely to put up much of a fight )n so brief warning; and Brown and his army succeeded in getting into the arsenal without loss, except of the one recusant recruit above mentioned, who was free, indeed, however abruptly. He was the only slave whom Brown succeeded in freeing with his own hands.

But the first step in the great campaign was a success; and Brown fortified himself in his narrow quarters, and was ready for a siege; meanwhile he posted guards on the railway bridge, and, not to be unprovided with all supplies which an army should have, he captured a couple of prisoners. When the train came along, he stopped it; but presently allowed it to continue on its way to the North, possibly imagining that it would come back filled with armed abolitionists. No other evidence is needed to prove that he had no conception whatever of the position he occupied in the eyes of the entire law-abiding population of the United States. The North was just as anxious to put a stop to him as the South was; even Wendell Phillips and Lloyd Garrison did not start :or Harper's Ferry. The inhabitants of that village, in addition to keeping up a desultory firing on the arsenal, had dispatched telegrams up and down the line, whose tenor indicated that a vast slave rebellion had broken out, and that everybody was going to be massacred out of hand, and by morning of the 17th of October, soldiers were on their way to the seat of war, not knowing how many hundred thousand desperate revolutionists they would have to encounter. The Mayor of Harper's Ferry and a few other citizens had been killed or wounded by the fire from the arsenal' before the soldiers arrived. It was not until after dark that night that a soldier who had seen war, Colonel Robert E. Lee,- with a detachment of marines, appeared on the scene, and upon learning that the entire revolution, so far as was yet known, was cooped up in that little arsenal, felt like the leader of a fire brigade which rushes to extinguish the conflagration of a city, and finds only a burning matchbox. Artillery was not needed, he thought, to reduce this fortification; a scaling ladder applied as a battering ram would suffice. It was desirable to take this army prisoners; and besides, there were, citizens of Harper's Ferry inside there, whose lives must not be endangered. So the marines, under his directions, advanced with the heavy ladder, and pounded in the door; and there knelt John Brown, a ghastly spectacle, with six or seven wounds on his body, two of his sons dead on the floor beside him, and eight other men beside them. The war of emancipation was at an end; now were, to follow the consequences.

Brown and the other prisoners were jailed, and they were tried and hanged with inspiring promptness. One can imagine what a red-handed ogre of iniquity Brown must have appeared to the South. But, in fact, the letting of blood, and the refusal of a single slave to join his banner, had cleared the brain of the old man, and he realized his mistake. Possibly, too, he realized that his defeat and death would win for his cause more than he himself could have hoped to gain. He did not assume the airs of a martyr; sensational to the last degree though his exploit was, he was not in the least capable of conscious scenic display. He sat, with his wounds, amid his enemies, quiet and unrepining, ready for the end, reasonable and gentle enough, but if he had any regrets they were not that he had wished and tried to free the slaves, but that he had lacked the means to do it. He loved the negroes with the strange, impersonal love of the fanatic; and the little negro pickaninny that he kissed on his way to the scaffold was to him a symbol of the race-no more. He maintained his rude dignity and stoic courage to the end; and the authorities, as they choked the life out of him, doubtless wished, like Othello, that the wretch had twenty thousand lives: one was too poor, too weak for their revenge. But it turned out, later, that the execution of a single John Brown was quite as much as this nation could .afford. His body moldered in its grave, but his soul, militant still, marched from battlefield to battlefield, and witnessed the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of human lives, poured out to defend or to defeat the cause for the sake of which he had put his head in the halter. The excuse of the Civil War was indeed secession; but its reason was slavery. And after all had been said as to Brown's insanity, and folly, and treason, and unconstitutionality, and bloodthirstiness, and wickedness, our people saw only the figure of a man who had laid down his life for an idea, and a noble and unselfish one. It was a revelation, for it was not a tendency, nor a purpose, but an accomplished fact. A man had been found, not to talk about this thing, but to actually do it. And he was not a pale priest or a metaphysical ascetic, but a plain ordinary American such as you may meet in the village grocery on Saturday afternoons. He had' done and suffered terrible things, but so may any plain American with strong thoughts in his mind and little education; and with a heart that could be both fierce and tender. The North understood him, felt with him, pitied him and gloried in him; and his name and story were better known to this nation than those of any. other man of that age. There was nothing factitious in the feeling he aroused; it grew slowly, but it gathered strength surely; and the final verdict of history, now that passion is no more, is spectful than ever to Old Brown.

The South was in a tremor for some time after this episode, for it seemed incredible that Brown had not been the cat's-paw of some gigantic conspiracy in the North, which would be revealed later. But when investigation showed that he had been utterly alone in his enterprise, he was called a murderous madman, and everybody felt relieved; but, all the same, measures were taken by the South to get in a defensive position. If one such madman could come from the North, there might be others. In Congress, defiances were exchanged between Democrats and Republicans. There were a good many outspoken remarks on slavery, pro and con, which would not have been uttered before John Brown died. The North, of course, would not in any way justify his deed; but it felt less inclined than before to maintain a conciliating attitude toward the South. Brown had not been conciliating: why should they ?

In June of this year, Buchanan vetoed the Homestead bill, on the ground that Congress had no power to give away the public domain; but the true reason was lest the lands should pass into the hands of free labor; for Southerners were not able to take advantage of such a law for themselves. Soon after Covode of Pennsylvania carried a motion to investigate the acts of the Administration; and in spite of the President's protests, the inquisitors unearthed a large mass of testimony indicative of corruption, favoritism, bribery, violence and treachery; for, indeed, it was notorious that every kind of political iniquity had flourished under his rule. The committee made no attempt to impeach Buchanan; they were satisfied. to let the matter rest with the exposure; and Buchanan could only say that if wrong had been done, it was inadvertently, in the dispatch of routine business. The inquisition was certainly partisan; it was of no benefit to the country, however much it may have hurt Buchanan; and its chief use was to show, what had been already suspected, that Congress is a place where a great deal of evil may be done. By way of diverting attention, the President tried once more to intrigue the country with Mexico, with a view to further annexation; and there were rich jobs afoot in relation to transit routes across the Isthmus; but no change of policy could be effected. The country was becoming too much absorbed in its own affairs to take interest in anything else.

The Democratic Convention met at Charleston in the spring of 1860. The platform committee reported that Congress and territorial Legislatures had no right to prevent the holding of slaves in any territory; the Douglas men could not accept this except on condition that the Supreme Court first pass upon it; the convention adopted the Douglas side of the argument, and the other delegates thereupon withdrew. They met in a convention of their own, and nominated Breckenridge for President. Douglas was nominated by the others a month later, with Fitzpatrick of Alabama for Vice President. In Baltimore assembled a sort of respectable coalition convention, which named Bell and Everett for their candidates, on the platform of "no political principle other than the Constitution of the country, the Union of the States, and the enforcement of the laws." The Republican Convention met in Chicago, which thus first takes its place in national political history; it already had the indomitable spirit of which we see some of the results to-day. There was danger of the Republicans, in their search for a candidate, going astray among the cranks and hypocrites of whom their ranks afforded many specimens; but Seward, Chase, and Lincoln were finally brought to the front as the best men from whom to select a winner. Seward's long and clear record of ability, and service entitled him to first consideration; but along with many friends he had made many enemies, not all of them outside of his own party; and it was necessary to pick a man who would win. Abraham Lincoln had many friends, and he had kept out of public life to a degree that left him to a great extent unhampered. His speeches during his contest with Douglas two years before were remembered favorably; and things seemed to be coming his way. Chase was also strong, but was thought not to have so good a chance. Other candidates were Bates and Cameron.

The hall in which this convention met had be made for them, and was gayly decorated; there w as space for an enormous audience in addition to the convention members themselves ; and the most lively interest was shown. Seward led in the first ballot; but Lincoln, greeted with a great shouting, was second. The next ballot gave Lincoln all Cameron's votes, and brought him within three of Seward, amid great excitement; then Ohio and Massachusetts fell into line, and gave him a majority; still other States followed these, until, with a whirlwind of commotion, and the thundering of cannon, Lincoln was made the Republican nominee by 354 votes out of 466. The result was undoubtedly a popular one; but of course no one knew of what vital importance it really was. The election was not to be the triumph of orators or famous names, but of fundamental principles; and as a matter of factit was to the exposition of these that the candidates devoted themselves. Morality was the watchword of the Republicans; they had tried the effect of compromising with wrong, and had been defeated. Concession was the cry of the Democrats, whose split put them at a disadvantage. All except Breckinridge were for the Constitution; and he was also, with the provis that the equality of States be maintained. Lincoln, who kept quiet and made a good impression on all who saw him, gained strength and influence daily; Seward generously took the stump for him, and Cameron brought Pennsylvania to his support. Carl Schurz, who had lately become a citizen, harangued the Germans with good results, and Henry Ward Beecher and George William Curtis lent their aid; but Wendell Phillips seemed to scent some suspicion of negro slavery in Lincoln's garments, and with his usual patriotism and sagacity denounced him as "the slave hound of Illinois." On the popular and demonstrative side, this campaign somewhat recalled that of "Tippecanoe"; there were vast meetings and torch light processions and emblematic standards; and Lincoln having once earned a living splitting rails, rails were prominent among the insignia; and the shout of thousands of lusty lungs in unison- "Abraham-Lincoln-RailSplittAR!"-will never be forgotten by those who heard it. He was a John Brown with all Brown's virtues and none of his faults; a man of the people, a great man, and a good man. And he was indefinitely more than John Brown could ever have been; the depth of his mind, the breadth of his sympathies, have never been sounded or measured. His humor was a national treasure, and all the simple and manly facts of his early life, as they became known, endeared him more and more to his countrymen, His stature has only within these last few years been appreciated by the generality; but wherever an American goes in this world, he will find no better passport to Jake with him than that of being Lincoln's fellow countrymen. The love and reverence with which his name is regarded in many out-of-the-way corners of the old world would be hardly credited by those who have not witnessed it. Goodness, and faithful labor for others, go far, and the memory of them dieth not.

Buchanan gave his support to Breckinridge, though he announced that Democrats might take their choice of either him or Douglas, no regular nomination having been made. Douglas, though he was left to fight for his own hand, was the more formidable candidate of the two. He took the stump in his own behalf, and no man could have done it more effectively. Breckinridge was the disunion candidate, though he would not admit it; and the force of sentiment behind him was as strong at least as that behind Lincoln; but it lacked numbers. The South were fighting for their reputation, and for their existence as members of the old Union; for it would be a mistake to think that the majority of Southerners at this time wished to secede. They only thought that if their principles suffered defeat at the polls, not only would they be discredited before the world, but they would be obliged to set up housekeeping by themselves thereafter. If some of them anticipated war, they fancied it would be shorta mere matter of form. But the prevalent idea was that the secession would be accomplished peaceably, as Calhoun had dreamed long ago.

The October elections favored the Republicans, and showed which way the popular verdict would fall. The polls for the Presidential election closed just after sunset on the 6th of November, and by midnight it was known that Lincoln was President of the United States. Breckinridge got the vote of eleven out of the fifteen slave States; Douglas did better with the popular than with the electoral votes; Bell carried Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky. There was to be no more slave domination in the Union. Even the prospects of expanding in other directions than northward were dispelled. It seemed to the South that they had stood by the Constitution, while the North had played fast and loose with it in order to win. But the result at the polls was undeniable; there was no question of fraud; and it was the duty of the South to accept the result. Instead of that, the threats of secession began to be heard immediately; and South Carolina took the lead. A convention was summoned on the 17th of December, two weeks after the meeting of Congress, and on the 20th passed an .ordinance of secession. Among their grievances they named .abolitionism at the North, abuse of slavery as sinful, the passage of the acts to prevent the recapture of fugitive slaves, and Lincoln's declaration that the house , divided against itself could not stand. The North, they affirmed, taxed the South for its own benefit. But if the slaveholding States would stand together, their cotton and tobacco would make all the world court them, and their immense territory. would rapidly become the richest and happiest in the world. The other States showed themselves well disposed to follow their sanguine sister.

Three commissioners were now sent to Washington to arrange for the division of public property in South Carolina, and for the surrender of the Charleston forts. All the Southern States, of course, had within their boundaries a great deal of Government property, paid for by Northern as well as Southern taxpayers, and to this property they had no more right than they had to the Tower of London or the Porcelain Pagoda in China. At this time there were in Charleston Harbor three forts-Castle Pinckney, Fort Moultrie and Fort Sumter; Moultrie was occupied by a garrison of sixty men-more than ten times too small for it; Sumter was not in fighting order; but it was more defensible, being on an island in the center of the harbor, and to it Major Anderson moved his men on the night of the 26th of December, after the adjournment of the convention and the announcement of secession. Anderson was a faithful officer, and saw that it might be necessary to stand on his defense. The next morning there was great to-do in Charleston; and acting upon the principle that might makes right, the local authorities baldly appropriated Pinckney and Moultrie and hoisted over them the Palmetto Gag of the State. Anderson had taken the precaution to spike Moultrie's guns before leaving; but the arsenal was taken a few days later, with half a million dollars' worth of national arms in it. This picking of the national pocket by the seceding States was an awkward accompaniment of secession; but there seemed no way of avoiding it. It would have been more dignified had it been preceded by a definite act of war. It is amusing to note that, with the breathless American haste to be up with the events which they themselves were creating, the South Carolinian newspapers beaded their dispatches from the Northern States, "Foreign News." The three commissioners carried out the game; they demanded to be recognized as representatives of an independent country; while poor Buchanan was still master of the white House, and for aught anyone could say, the President-elect might never live to hold the reins. They ordered Buchanan-for the tone they took was that of masters rather than of ambassadors much less of traitors who merited hanging-to move Anderson out of Fort Sumter at once, otherwise their outraged country would put him out by force of arms (stolen from the United States for that purpose). Buchanan deserves no sympathy for this insult; for he had unfaithfully refused to adopt Winfield Scott's advice, given long before, to put these forts in a proper posture of defense, in view of precisely the contingency which had now happened. Al1 he could do now was to submit the correspondence to Congress. His Cabinet was by this time dissolving; he accepted Howell Cobb's resignation as Secretary of the Treasury, though it was known that his conduct of the office had been grossly imprudent, if not much worse; the molluscous Cass next left him; and Floyd, Secretary of war, who had taken advantage of his position to prevent the reenforcement of Southern forts, followed. The President took it all very meekly. The country gained by his appointment of an unknown lawyer of Ohio, Edwin M. Stanton, as Attorney General. Stanton was destined to see Secession out as war Secretary under Lincoln; and proved himself to be the right man in the right place. An order to send the cruiser Brooklyn with reenforcements to Anderson was delayed; and finally the Star of the West, with two hundred and fifty men, but no armament, was dispatched; upon her arrival at the harbor she was fired on by the Charleston batteries, January 9, 1861, and she immediately put about and returned. Two other members of the Cabinet, Thomas and Thompson, both disloyal, and dishonest into the bargain, now resigned; and again the nation profited; for John A. Dix was called to Thomas's place (Secretary of the Treasury), and it was he who soon after ordered his officers, "If any` man attempts to haul down the American flag, shoot him on the spot." During the .few remaining weeks of Buchanan's term, a sort of armistice with the South was agreed upon, according to which the forts were to remain without reenforcements, and were not to be captured by the South.

Meanwhile delegates from six seceding States met at Montgomery, Alabama, and made a constitution for the provisional government of the Confederate States of America. It made slavery its puce de resistance; and matters relating to public property and debts were to be adjusted between them end the United States on just and equitable terms. The proposal was for peaceable secession. Jefferson Davis was elected President 'of this new Confederacy, though no appeal had been made to the people, even in choosing the delegates that elected him. The Government was an oligarchy. Alexander Stephens was made Vice President; his views were more conservative and moderate than those of the others, and he was willing to accommodate the quarrel even yet, if the North would repeal its "personal liberty" bills, preventing return of- fugitive slaves. He was of opinion that the best men at the North would always be ready to agree with the South as to national measures; and remarked, not without truth, that "the South has controlled the Government in its every important action from the beginning." Nor did lie consider that Lincoln's election was fair cause for secession. Lincoln wrote to him under date of December 22, 1860, that the Republican Administration would not interfere with slaves; but that the point of divergence was that "you think slavery is right and ought to be extended; while we think it is wrong, and ought to be abolished." Stephen's response to this was that the pride of the South was touched at being made the object of moral diatribes. This seems childish, but after all, it is pride of this kind that influences men and nations more strongly than almost any other cause, and has led to more wars than any other. It was pride that made England fight the war of the Revolution, and pride that prompted Mexico to undertake the struggle that lost her California and Texas. Such pride is costly; but it is worth its cost; since without it a nation is neither respected nor respects itself.

At the same time that the Confederacy between the six States (South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Florida, and Mississippi) was formed, a peace convention met in Washington, at the instance of Virginia. The scheme was got up by John Tyler, the ex-President, and the meeting contained representatives of twenty States, North and South, the North being in the majority. It seems probable that Tyler had treasonable designs in this affair; he asked for a truce while it was deliberating, and thus kept the North from making needful preparations; and when the sittings had issued in no result, he returned to Richmond and declared that the Union could not be saved and that the sooner Virginia joined the seceding States the better.

Lincoln left his home on February 11th and traveling by Pittsburgh, Buffalo and New York, reached Washington on the 23d, having journeyed from Philadelphia incognito, guarded by the detective Allan Pinkerton; for it was believed that a plot was afoot in Baltimore to kidnap or kill him while crossing the city.

At the Capital there was great anxiety and uncertainty as to what would happen. Absurd propositions were advanced from various quarters to ward -off the danger, or at least to retain the wavering border States in the Union. Lincoln took Seward and Chase into his Cabinet at once, indicating that his policy would not be one of compromise. Seward had made a conciliating speech some six weeks before, in which he urged fidelity to the Union, but added, it could not be saved by compromises; he warned the South that secession would involve civil war; and he opposed the attitude of some in the North, who would let the South go and try her experiment, and return when she had found It unsucessful.

But in truth it was now too late for argument or reconciliation. The pulse of war had begun to beat in the veins of the people on both sides, and they wanted no further parley. The Southern members withdrew from the Capitol; the bill admitting Kansas as a free State was passed, and received the President's signature; Colorado, Nevada and Dakota were made new free territories. Nothing now remained but for the orderly lapse of events to get rid of the pusillanimous and halftreasonable Buchanan, and to bring in the new leader on whom the hopes of the nation were fixed. The politicians were slower to believe that war was inevitable than were the mass of the people, who trust more to intuitions. The conflict was truly irrepressible. Upon the whole, it was as fair a quarrel as was ever fought. Both sides firmly believed they were in the right; and neither doubted of victory. The South was used to war, and was warlike, the North were peaceful traders, and had forgotten the art of the sword and musket which their forefathers knew. They had forgotten; but now they began to remember, voices seemed to call them from the past, bidding them do honor to their ancestry. The anger of the North rose slowly, but it rose at last, and it burned with an increasing flame until the end. The South had the splendid courage of the cavaliers who fought for Charles; and the desperate earnestness of men who defend their homes and their political existence. And both South and North were Americans.

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