Irrepressible Conflict Draws Near~October, 1859

Irrepressible Conflict Draws Near ~ October, 1859

Even as John Brown and his companions are taken into custody and Robert E Lee makes his official report, the newspapers grow nigh unto hysterical, mixing fact and fiction, and trying to pin the blame on someone, somewhere. Radical abolitionists and moderate anti-slavery folk blame slavery and those who maintain the system of slave labor. Southern sympathizers emphasize Brown’s involvement in the atrocities of “Bleeding Kansas” and blame abolitionists and the newly emerging Republican Party. All the while the wide world continues to turn.

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October 18– Tuesday– Staunton, Virginia– “Rumors reached this place last night, about 8 o’clock, by telegraph, of a Negro insurrection at Harper’s Ferry. The dispatch was from the operator at Richmond, and stated that the Negroes, under the lead of white men, had taken possession of the arsenal, and sent wagon loads of muskets and rifles to slaves in the surrounding country, and that large numbers had been killed. They had cut and destroyed the telegraph wires. It is further stated that Governor Wise had left Richmond with several miliary companies, and that two companies from Washington with three twelve pounders [canon] had gone from that city with orders to take the bridge at all hazards by midnight. Troops from Old Point Comfort had also been ordered out, and companies from Baltimore had also repaired to Harper’s Ferry. The payhouse is said to have been robbed of a large sum of money. These rumors may be exaggerated in some particulars, but there seems to be no doubt, from what we learn of Mr. Baskin, the operator at this place, of the fact of the insurrection. We think it probable, however, that a rebellion among the white operatives at the Armory has been mistaken for slave insurrection; though it is probable that some Negroes may have been induced to join them.” ~ Staunton Spectator.

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October 18– Tuesday– Paris, France– Birth of Henri Bergson, philosopher, who will win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1927. [Dies January 4, 1941.]

October 19– Wednesday– New York City– “Harper’s Ferry was full of soldiers and militia men yesterday, and more are constantly pouring in. Never before was such an uproar raised by twenty men as by Old Brown and his confederates in this deplorable affair. There will be enough to heap execration on the memory of these mistaken men. we leave this work to the fit hands and tongues of those who regard the fundamental axioms of the Declaration of Independence as ‘glittering generalities.’ Believing that the way to Universal Emancipation lies not through insurrection, civil war and bloodshed, but through discussion, and the quick diffusion of sentiments of humanity and justice, we deeply regret this outbreak; but remembering that, if their fault was grievous, grievously have they answered it, we will not, by one reproachful word, disturb the bloody shrouds wherein John Brown and his compatriots are sleeping. They dared and died for what they felt to be the right, though in a manner which seems to us fatally wrong. Let their epitaphs remain unwritten until the not distant day when no slave shall clank his chains in the shades of Monticello or by the graves of Mount Vernon.” ~ New York Tribune.

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October 19– Wednesday– Cincinnati, Ohio– “The leader . . . was so-called ‘Ossawatomie Brown,’ one of the abolitionists who figured . . . in the murderous forays in Kansas. Men may well be surprised at the reckless boldness and daring of this operation. He must have taken courage from the late elections in Ohio and Pennsylvania, and supposed that he would have not only the moral, but the physical backing of these two great states in stirring up a servile war in the two states of Maryland and Virginia. The ‘irrepressible conflict’ of the free and slave states, which is preached by the Republican leaders as an orthodox doctrine, is well calculated to lead to such results. This affair at Harper’s Ferry is but the ‘cloud in the distance no bigger than a man’s hand,’ but it is the presage of the future storm, that shall desolate the whole land, if the people give this Abolition doctrine their approval. It necessarily tends to servile insurrection, civil war and disunion. Brown and his followers are but the advance column of the partisan disciples of Seward and Chase, who are burning to make a practical application of the irrepressible conflict doctrine. They stand ready to deluge the land in blood to carry out their fanatical views; and the momentous question is, do the majority of the people of the free states sympathize with them? The danger of having a Republican-Abolition President can now be readily appreciated. Such a President, having his sympathies with the insurrectionists, would be slow to move in arresting their outrages.” ~ Cincinnati Enquirer.

October 19– Wednesday– Harpers Ferry, Virginia– “The summons, as I had anticipated, was rejected. At the concerted signal the storming party moved quickly to the door and commenced the attack. The fire-engines within the house had been placed by the besieged close to the doors. The doors were fastened by ropes, the spring of which prevented their being broken by the blows of the hammers. The men were therefore ordered to drop the hammers, and, with a portion of the reserve, to use as a battering-ram a heavy ladder, with which they dashed in a part of the door and gave admittance to the storming party. The fire of the insurgents up to this time had been harmless. At the threshold one marine fell mortally wounded. The rest, led by Lieutenant Green and Major Russell, quickly ended the contest. The insurgents that resisted were bayoneted. Their leader, John Brown, was cut down by the sword of Lieutenant Green, and our citizens were protected by both officers and men. The whole was over in a few minutes. . . . From the information derived from the papers found upon the persons and among the baggage of the insurgents, and the statement of those now in custody, it appears that the party consisted of nineteen men– fourteen white and five black. That they were headed by John Brown, of some notoriety in Kansas, who in June last located himself in Maryland, at the Kennedy farm, where he has been engaged in preparing to capture the United States works at Harper’s Ferry. He avows that his object was the liberation of the slaves of Virginia, and of the whole South; and acknowledges that he has been disappointed in his expectations of aid from the black as well as white population, both in the Southern and Northern States. The blacks, whom he forced from their homes in this neighborhood, as far as I could learn, gave him no voluntary assistance . . . . those carried to Maryland returned to their homes as soon as released. The result proves that the plan was the attempt of a fanatic or mad-man, who could only end in failure; and its temporary success, was owing to the panic and confusion he succeeded in creating by magnifying his numbers. . . . I will now, in obedience to your dispatch of this date, direct the detachment of marines to return to the navy-yard at Washington in the train that passes here at 1 am to-night, and will myself take advantage of the same train to report to you in person at the War Department.” ~ Report of Robert E Lee to General Cooper at the War Department in Washington, D. C.

Robert E Lee, 1851

Robert E Lee, 1851

October 19– Wednesday– Hanover County, Virginia– “The papers bring news of remarkable events, for our usually quiet & calm population in Virginia. An insurrection occurred at Harper’s Ferry, on the night following last Sunday. The insurgents overawed the people of the village, compelled them to remain within their houses, if not made prisoners, took forcible possession of the U.S. Armory, & public property, killed & wounded some of the functionaries, stopped the railroad trains, cut the telegraph wires, & made prisoners (as if for hostages,) of respectable neighbors, on their farms, several miles off. They were enlisting or forcing others, both white & black, into their ranks. The insurgents were reported to be 250 or 300 — greatly exaggerated, I suppose. Who they were, or what their object, was only guessed at. Armed forces were ordered to move, as soon as the outbreak was heard of, by both the governor of Virginia, & the President of U.S. . . . . But of all yet known of those engaged, their number & their means were as contemptible, as the effort was remarkable for boldness & temerity. And incredible as it seemed at first naming, by rumor, it really seems now most probable that the outbreak was planned & instigated by northern abolitionists, & with the expectation of thus starting a general slave insurrection. I earnestly hope that such may be the truth of the case. Such a practical exercise of that of abolition principles is needed to stir the sluggish blood of the south. Wrote some additional items of statistics for my before-published article on ‘Slavery & Free Labor, defined & compared,’ in case there should be another publication.” ~ Diary of Edmund Ruffin.

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October 19– Wednesday– Charleston, South Carolina– “The telegraph has informed us that this bloody outbreak is, by confession of its northern ringleaders, a concerted movement of abolitionists and their black victims in southern States, and has its ramifications in Washington, Alexandria, and in Baltimore. It is stated that apprehension and excitement exist. We are satisfied there is exaggeration. While we can see no cause for present alarm, none can blind their eyes to the audacity of the attempt, or fail to regard it as a pregnant sign of the times– a prelude to what must and will recur again and again, as the progress of sectional hate and Black Republican success advances to their consummation. . . . . The march of events is onwards. Let the signs of the times be read and interpreted aright.” ~ Charleston Mercury.

October 20– Thursday– Burlington, Vermont– Birth of John Dewey, philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer. [Dies June 1, 1952.]

John Dewey, 1902

John Dewey, 1902

October 20–Thursday– Rochester, New York–Fearful of being arrested as an accomplice of John Brown, Frederick Douglass leaves for Canada.

October 20– Thursday– Carlisle, Pennsylvania– “NEGRO INSURRECTION! All Public Offices seized by the Mob – Troops Ordered Out – The Bridges and Thoroughfares in possession of the Insurgents – The Citizens Arrested and Imprisoned – Railroad Travel Interrupted – Great Excitement. A Negro insurrection has occurred at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. About 700 Negroes and whites are under arms – many have been killed – the military have been ordered to the scene of the insurrection – and serious fears are entertained that many more lives will be lost before peace is restored.” ~ American Volunteer.

October 20– Thursday– Cincinnati, Ohio– “It will be seen from the telegraphic dispatches that the Northern Abolitionists are implicated and are at the bottom of the Harper’s Ferry conspiracy. They raised large sums of money to carry it forward to a successful termination. Gerrit Smith gave one hundred dollars, and Frederick Douglas ten dollars. Doubtless other leading Abolitionists were concerned in it. A letter had been received from Cincinnati disclosing the whole plot, and warning the people against it before its consummation. It is very possible that [Joshua] Giddings and the prominent Republicans of the Western Reserve knew what was going on, if they were not active participants in it. A large number of Sharpe’s rifles were found with the conspirators, probably sent on by the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Society, and the Beechers and Sillimans of New England.” ~ Cincinnati Enquirer.

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October 20– Thursday– Chicago, Illinois– “The attempt of the Chicago Times to place the responsibility of the Harper’s Ferry affair upon the Republican party, is a resort to the rogue’s trick of crying ‘stop thief, stop thief,’ for the purpose of diverting attention from the really guilty party. Holding to the doctrines of the Revolutionary fathers and the earlier statesmen of this country on the subject of slavery – that it is a moral, social and political evil; that it is a creature of local law, to be controlled exclusively by the States, in which it exists, and that its area ought not to be extended, for its accompanying evils be fastened upon our new frontier communities – the Republican party depreciates, no less than these worthies would have done, everything looking towards violent measures for the enfranchisement of the slaves of the South. The opposition to slavery is based upon moral and economic considerations, and the only action it proposes or that it would countenance, with respect to the institution, is to confine it to its present limits, leaving the problem of ‘what will they do with it?’ to the solution of the people of the slaveholding States. The Democratic party, however proposes to increase the chances for insurrection, bloodshed and all the horrors of servile war, by extending the area of slavery indefinitely and by re-opening the African slave trade. It would have the bloody scenes of Harper’s Ferry re-enacted in the new States to be carved out of our territories, and it would transmit to generations yet unborn the unspeakable dread arising from constant exposure to midnight carnage and the accompanying nameless horrors of insurrection. As respects the attempt of an insane old man and his handful of confederates to excite a Negro insurrection in Virginia and Maryland, it is easy to determine where the responsibility really belongs. That act is but a part of the legitimate fruit of the repeal of the Missouri Compromise.” ~ Chicago Press and Tribune.


October 20– Thursday– Chicago, Illinois– “I see you have been guilty of another speech. If it embodies the ideas which you forbid us using, why will you not write it out and send it hither for publication? If not, why will you not make another and give the party the benefit your facts? We are damnably exercised here about the effect of Old Brown’s wretched fiasco in Virginia, upon the moral health of the Republican party! The old idiot– The quicker they hang and get him out of, The way, The better. You see how we treat it. – I hope we occupy the right ground. Do you know that you are strongly talked of for the Presidency – for the Vice Presidency at least. Let us hear from you.” ~ Letter from Charles H. Ray to Abraham Lincoln.

October 20– Thursday– Saigon, Vietnam– With resistance by Imperial Vietnamese forces continuing, the French commander of the previous year’s invasion, Admiral Charles Rigault de Genouilly, asks to be relieved.

October 21– Friday– Boston, Massachusetts– “It does me good to find such a . . . woman as Matilda Goddard and Dorothea Dix of America, and Florence Nightingale and Mary Carpenter of England. I thank God, and take courage. . . . better times are coming– that is, good men and women are making better times– and even bad men help the work, while they mean no such thing. Thus the Fugitive Slave Bill turns out an Anti-Slavery measure, moving the North as nothing before had done: so does the Kansas-Nebraska Bill; so the Dred Scott decision. The revival of the slave trade, which has already taken place, will create an open anti-slavery political party in the South, which, like the Republican party, will go through changes like a caterpillar, and come out winged and handsome as a butterfly at the end. ‘Nothing by leaps,’ everything goes step by step, and we slope up to the tallest heights. It is curious that progress is never in a straight line, for any length of time; there are windings and windings, and curving backward, but still the general course is on and up!” ~ Letter from Theodore Parker in The Liberator.

Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale

October 21– Friday– Wilmington, Delaware– Just before eleven o’clock this morning the first of a series of explosions takes place at the Du Pont Powder Works on the banks of the Brandywine River, causing heavy damage, demolishing several buildings and instantly killing seven workers.

October 21– Friday– Charleston, South Carolina– “From the accounts given of the Harper’s Ferry business, it would seem that it was concocted two months since at the Ohio State Fair, by Brown and other confederates, and that its object was to raise the slaves in that country, kill all persons interfering or in the way, and carry them off to freedom north of the Mason and Dixon’s line. The number of whites directly concerned– only twenty-three– is small for the great preparations made in arms and ammunition. It is stated that recruits from the North were expected, but did not arrive in time, Brown having been precipitate in his movement. Three of the whites are said to have escaped with four hundred Negroes. As we anticipated, the affair, in its magnitude, was quite exaggerated; but it fully establishes the fact that there are at the North men ready to engage in adventures upon the peace and security of the southern people, however heinously and recklessly, and capable of planning and keeping secret their infernal designs. It is a warning profoundly symptomatic of the future of the Union with our sectional enemies.” ~ Charleston Mercury.

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October 21– Friday– Frankfort, Kentucky– “The details by Telegraph of the insurrection at Harper’s Ferry take up so much space as to prevent their publication in our paper. It appears, however, that the insurgents were lead on by the notorious Abolitionist Brown, who was so conspicuous in the Kansas difficulties; his two sons; and a school teacher named Cook. The developments indicate a conspiracy on the part of a few Abolitionists to revolutionize the entire South by inciting an insurrection among the slaves, which conspiracy, however, we cannot but believe existed chiefly upon paper, and in the minds of a few zealots, whose acts prove them to have been stark mad. In fact, derangement alone can account for their preposterous attempt to effect a revolution in the slave States with only 50 men, with the illusory hope, it is true, that the unarmed and undisciplined slaves would rise and successfully strike for their liberation. The slaves were evidently unprepared for such a step, and those who were implicated at all appear to have been coerced into the ranks. The mob has been promptly quelled and routed and peace restored. For the prisoners, a Lunatic Asylum would be a more proper punishment than the gallows. . . . . A bushel of letters were discovered from all parts of the country; one from Geritt Smith informs Brown of money being deposited in a bank in New York to the credit of J. Smith & Son, and appears to be one of many informing him from time to time as the money was raised.” ~ Frankfort Commonwealth.

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