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the Ancient World => the Library of Alexandria, Ancient Historians & Philosophers => Topic started by: Mindwarp on March 22, 2009, 04:41:05 pm

Post by: Mindwarp on March 22, 2009, 04:41:05 pm

                         A PLEA FOR CAPTAIN JOHN BROWN

                             by Henry David Thoreau

  I TRUST that you will pardon me for being here. I do not wish to
force my thoughts upon you, but I feel forced myself. Little as I know
of Captain Brown, I would fain do my part to correct the tone and
the statements of the newspapers, and of my countrymen generally,
respecting his character and actions. It costs us nothing to be
just. We can at least express our sympathy with, and admiration of,
him and his companions, and that is what I now propose to do.

  First, as to his history. I will endeavor to omit, as much as
possible, what you have already read. I need not describe his person
to you, for probably most of you have seen and will not soon forget
him. I am told that his grandfather, John Brown, was an officer in the
Revolution; that he himself was born in Connecticut about the
beginning of this century, but early went with his father to Ohio. I
heard him say that his father was a contractor who furnished beef to
the army there, in the War of 1812; that he accompanied him to the
camp, and assisted him in that employment, seeing a good deal of
military life- more, perhaps, than if he had been a soldier; for he
was often present at the councils of the officers. Especially, he
learned by experience how armies are supplied and maintained in the
field- a work which, he observed, requires at least as much experience
and skill as to lead them in battle. He said that few persons had
any conception of the cost, even the pecuniary cost, of firing a
single bullet in war. He saw enough, at any rate, to disgust him
with a military life; indeed, to excite in him a great abhorrence of
it; so much so, that though he was tempted by the offer of some
petty office in the army, when he was about eighteen, he not only
declined that, but he also refused to train when warned, and was fined
for it. He then resolved that he would never have anything to do
with any war, unless it were a war for liberty.

Post by: Mindwarp on March 22, 2009, 04:42:18 pm
When the troubles in Kansas began, he sent several of his sons
thither to strengthen the party of the Free State men, fitting them
out with such weapons as he had; telling them that if the troubles
should increase, and there should be need of him, he would follow,
to assist them with his hand and counsel. This, as you all know, he
soon after did; and it was through his agency, far more than any
other's, that Kansas was made free.

  For a part of his life he was a surveyor, and at one time he was
engaged in wool-growing, and he went to Europe as an agent about
that business. There, as everywhere, he had his eyes about him, and
made many original observations. He said, for instance, that he saw
why the soil of England was so rich, and that of Germany (I think it
was) so poor, and he thought of writing to some of the crowned heads
about it. It was because in England the peasantry live on the soil
which they cultivate, but in Germany they are gathered into villages
at night. It is a pity that he did not make a book of his

  I should say that he was an old-fashioned man in his respect for the
Constitution, and his faith in the permanence of this Union. Slavery
he deemed to be wholly opposed to these, and he was its determined

  He was by descent and birth a New England farmer, a man of great
common sense, deliberate and practical as that class is, and tenfold
more so. He was like the best of those who stood at Concord Bridge
once, on Lexington Common, and on Bunker Hill, only he was firmer
and higher-principled than any that I have chanced to hear of as
there. It was no abolition lecturer that converted him. Ethan Allen
and Stark, with whom he may in some respects be compared, were rangers
in a lower and less important field. They could bravely face their
country's foes, but he had the courage to face his country herself
when she was in the wrong. A Western writer says, to account for his
escape from so many perils, that he was concealed under a "rural
exterior"; as if, in that prairie land, a hero should, by good rights,
wear a citizen's dress only.

Post by: Mindwarp on March 22, 2009, 04:42:44 pm
He did not go to the college called Harvard, good old Alma Mater
as she is. He was not fed on the pap that is there furnished. As he
phrased it, "I know no more of grammar than one of your calves." But
he went to the great university of the West, where he sedulously
pursued the study of Liberty, for which he had early betrayed a
fondness, and having taken many degrees, he finally commenced the
public practice of Humanity in Kansas, as you all know. Such were
his humanities, and not any study of grammar. He would have left a
Greek accent slanting the wrong way, and righted up a falling man.

  He was one of that class of whom we hear a great deal, but, for
the most part, see nothing at all- the Puritans. It would be in vain
to kill him. He died lately in the time of Cromwell, but he reappeared
here. Why should he not? Some of the Puritan stock are said to have
come over and settled in New England. They were a class that did
something else than celebrate their forefathers' day, and eat
parched corn in remembrance of that time. They were neither
Democrats nor Republicans, but men of simple habits, straightforward,
prayerful; not thinking much of rulers who did not fear God, not
making many compromises, nor seeking after available candidates.

  "In his camp," as one has recently written, and as I have myself
heard him state, "he permitted no profanity; no man of loose morals
was suffered to remain there, unless, indeed, as a prisoner of war. 'I
would rather,' said he, 'have the small-pox, yellow fever, and
cholera, all together in my camp, than a man without principle....
It is a mistake, sir, that our people make, when they think that
bullies are the best fighters, or that they are the fit men to
oppose these Southerners. Give me men of good principles-
God-fearing men- men who respect themselves, and with a dozen of
them I will oppose any hundred such men as these Buford ruffians.'" He
said that if one offered himself to be a soldier under him, who was
forward to tell what he could or would do if he could only get sight
of the enemy, he had but little confidence in him.

  He was never able to find more than a score or so of recruits whom
he would accept, and only about a dozen, among them his sons, in
whom he had perfect faith. When he was here, some years ago, he showed
to a few a little manuscript book- his "orderly book" I think he
called it- containing the names of his company in Kansas, and the
rules by which they bound themselves; and he stated that several of
them had already sealed the contract with their blood. When some one
remarked that, with the addition of a chaplain, it would have been a
perfect Cromwellian troop, he observed that he would have been glad to
add a chaplain to the list, if he could have found one who could
fill that office worthily. It is easy enough to find one for the
United States Army. I believe that he had prayers in his camp
morning and evening, nevertheless.

  He was a man of Spartan habits, and at sixty was scrupulous about
his diet at your table, excusing himself by saying that he must eat
sparingly and fare hard, as became a soldier, or one who was fitting
himself for difficult enterprises, a life of exposure.

Post by: Mindwarp on March 22, 2009, 04:43:02 pm
A man of rare common sense and directness of speech, as of action; a
transcendentalist above all, a man of ideas and principles- that was
what distinguished him. Not yielding to a whim or transient impulse,
but carrying out the purpose of a life. I noticed that he did not
overstate anything, but spoke within bounds. I remember, particularly,
how, in his speech here, he referred to what his family had suffered
in Kansas, without ever giving the least vent to his pent-up fire.
It was a volcano with an ordinary chimney-flue. Also referring to
the deeds of certain Border Ruffians, he said, rapidly paring away his
speech, like an experienced soldier, keeping a reserve of force and
meaning, "They had a perfect right to be hung." He was not in the
least a rhetorician, was not talking to Buncombe or his constituents
anywhere, had no need to invent anything but to tell the simple truth,
and communicate his own resolution; therefore he appeared incomparably
strong, and eloquence in Congress and elsewhere seemed to me at a
discount. It was like the speeches of Cromwell compared with those
of an ordinary king.

  As for his tact and prudence, I will merely say, that at a time when
scarcely a man from the Free States was able to reach Kansas by any
direct route, at least without having his arms taken from him, he,
carrying what imperfect guns and other weapons he could collect,
openly and slowly drove an ox-cart through Missouri, apparently in the
capacity of a surveyor, with his surveying compass exposed in it,
and so passed unsuspected, and had ample opportunity to learn the
designs of the enemy. For some time after his arrival he still
followed the same profession. When, for instance, he saw a knot of the
ruffians on the prairie, discussing, of course, the single topic which
then occupied their minds, he would, perhaps, take his compass and one
of his sons, and proceed to run an imaginary line right through the
very spot on which that conclave had assembled, and when he came up to
them, he would naturally pause and have some talk with them,
learning their news, and, at last, all their plans perfectly; and
having thus completed his real survey he would resume his imaginary
one, and run on his line till he was out of sight.

  When I expressed surprise that he could live in Kansas at all,
with a price set upon his head, and so large a number, including the
authorities, exasperated against him, he accounted for it by saying,
"It is perfectly well understood that I will not be taken." Much of
the time for some years he has had to skulk in swamps, suffering
from poverty, and from sickness which was the consequence of exposure,
befriended only by Indians and a few whites. But though it might be
known that he was lurking in a particular swamp, his foes commonly did
not care to go in after him. He could even come out into a town
where there were more Border Ruffians than Free State men, and
transact some business, without delaying long, and yet not be
molested; for, said he, "no little handful of men were willing to
undertake it, and a large body could not be got together in season."

  As for his recent failure, we do not know the facts about it. It was
evidently far from being a wild and desperate attempt. His enemy Mr.
Vallandigham is compelled to say that "it was among the best planned
and executed conspiracies that ever failed."

Post by: Mindwarp on March 22, 2009, 04:43:19 pm
Not to mention his other successes, was it a failure, or did it show
a want of good management, to deliver from bondage a dozen human
beings, and walk off with them by broad daylight, for weeks if not
months, at a leisurely pace, through one State after another, for half
the length of the North, conspicuous to all parties, with a price
set upon his head, going into a court-room on his way and telling what
he had done, thus convincing Missouri that it was not profitable to
try to hold slaves in his neighborhood?- and this, not because the
government menials were lenient, but because they were afraid of him.

  Yet he did not attribute his success, foolishly, to "his star," or
to any magic. He said, truly, that the reason why such greatly
superior numbers quailed before him was, as one of his prisoners
confessed, because they lacked a cause- a kind of armor which he and
his party never lacked. When the time came, few men were found willing
to lay down their lives in defence of what they knew to be wrong; they
did not like that this should be their last act in this world.

  But to make haste to his last act, and its effects.

  The newspapers seem to ignore, or perhaps are really ignorant, of
the fact that there are at least as many as two or three individuals
to a town throughout the North who think much as the present speaker
does about him and his enterprise. I do not hesitate to say that
they are an important and growing party. We aspire to be something
more than stupid and timid chattels, pretending to read history and
our Bibles, but desecrating every house and every day we breathe in.
Perhaps anxious politicians may prove that only seventeen white men
and five negroes were concerned in the late enterprise; but their very
anxiety to prove this might suggest to themselves that all is not
told. Why do they still dodge the truth? They are so anxious because
of a dim consciousness of the fact, which they did not distinctly
face, that at least a million of the free inhabitants of the United
States would have rejoiced if it had succeeded. They at most only
criticise the tacties. Though we wear no crape, the thought of that
man's position and probable fate is spoiling many a man's day here
at the North for other thinking. If any one who has seen him here
can pursue successfully any other train of thought, I do not know what
he is made of. If there is any such who gets his usual allowance of
sleep, I will warrant him to fatten easily under any circumstances
which do not touch his body or purse. I put a piece of paper and a
pencil under my pillow, and when I could not sleep I wrote in the

Post by: Mindwarp on March 22, 2009, 04:43:37 pm
On the whole, my respect for my fellow-men, except as one may
outweigh a million, is not being increased these days. I have
noticed the cold-blooded way in which newspaper writers and men
generally speak of this event, as if an ordinary malefactor, though
one of unusual "pluck"- as the Governor of Virginia is reported to
have said, using the language of the cockpit, "the gamest man be
ever saw"- had been caught, and were about to be hung. He was not
dreaming of his foes when the governor thought he looked so brave.
It turns what sweetness I have to gall, to hear, or hear of, the
remarks of some of my neighbors. When we heard at first that he was
dead, one of my townsmen observed that "he died as the fool dieth";
which, pardon me, for an instant suggested a likeness in him dying
to my neighbor living. Others, craven-hearted, said disparagingly,
that "he threw his life away," because he resisted the government.
Which way have they thrown their lives, pray?- such as would praise
a man for attacking singly an ordinary band of thieves or murderers. I
hear another ask, Yankee-like, "What will he gain by it?" as if he
expected to fill his pockets by this enterprise. Such a one has no
idea of gain but in this worldly sense. If it does not lead to a
'surprise' party, if he does not get a new pair of boots, or a vote of
thanks, it must be a failure. "But he won't gain anything by it."
Well, no, I don't suppose he could get four-and-sixpence a day for
being hung, take the year round; but then he stands a chance to save a
considerable part of his soul-and such a soul!- when you do not. No
doubt you can get more in your market for a quart of milk than for a
quart of blood, but that is not the market that heroes carry their
blood to.

  Such do not know that like the seed is the fruit, and that, in the
moral world, when good seed is planted, good fruit is inevitable,
and does not depend on our watering and cultivating; that when you
plant, or bury, a hero in his field, a crop of heroes is sure to
spring up. This is a seed of such force and vitality, that it does not
ask our leave to germinate.

  The momentary charge at Balaklava, in obedience to a blundering
command, proving what a perfect machine the soldier is, has,
properly enough, been celebrated by a poet laureate; but the steady,
and for the most part successful, charge of this man, for some
years, against the legions of Slavery, in obedience to an infinitely
higher command, is as much more memorable than that as an
intelligent and conscientious man is superior to a machine. Do you
think that that will go unsung?

Post by: Mindwarp on March 22, 2009, 04:43:54 pm
"Served him right"- "A dangerous man"- "He is undoubtedly insane."
So they proceed to live their sane, and wise, and altogether admirable
lives, reading their Plutarch a little, but chiefly pausing at that
feat of Putnam, who was let down into a wolf's den; and in this wise
they nourish themselves for brave and patriotic deeds some time or
other. The Tract Society could afford to print that story of Putnam.
You might open the district schools with the reading of it, for
there is nothing about Slavery or the Church in it; unless it occurs
to the reader that some pastors are wolves in sheep's clothing. "The
American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions," even, might
dare to protest against that wolf. I have heard of boards, and of
American boards, but it chances that I never heard of this
particular lumber till lately. And yet I hear of Northern men, and
women, and children, by families, buying a "life-membership" in such
societies as these. A life-membership in the grave! You can get buried
cheaper than that.

  Our foes are in our midst and all about us. There is hardly a
house but is divided against itself, for our foe is the all but
universal woodenness of both head and heart, the want of vitality in
man, which is the effect of our vice; and hence are begotten fear,
superstition, bigotry, persecution, and slavery of all kinds. We are
mere figure-heads upon a bulk, with livers in the place of hearts. The
curse is the worship of idols, which at length changes the
worshipper into a stone image himself; and the New Englander is just
as much an idolater as the Hindoo. This man was an exception, for he
did not set up even a political graven image between him and his God.

  A church that can never have done with excommunicating Christ
while it exists! Away with your broad and flat churches, and your
narrow and tall churches! Take a step forward, and invent a new
style of out-houses. Invent a salt that will save you, and defend
our nostrils.

Post by: Mindwarp on March 22, 2009, 04:44:08 pm
The modern Christian is a man who has consented to say all the
prayers in the liturgy, provided you will let him go straight to bed
and sleep quietly afterward. All his prayers begin with "Now I lay
me down to sleep," and he is forever looking forward to the time
when he shall go to his "long rest." He has consented to perform
certain old-established charities, too, after a fashion, but he does
not wish to hear of any new-fangled ones; he doesn't wish to have
any supplementary articles added to the contract, to fit it to the
present time. He shows the whites of his eyes on the Sabbath, and
the blacks all the rest of the week. The evil is not merely a
stagnation of blood, but a stagnation of spirit. Many, no doubt, are
well disposed, but sluggish by constitution and by habit, and they
cannot conceive of a man who is actuated by higher motives than they
are. Accordingly they pronounce this man insane, for they know that
they could never act as he does, as long as they are themselves.

  We dream of foreign countries, of other times and races of men,
placing them at a distance in history or space; but let some
significant event like the present occur in our midst, and we
discover, often, this distance and this strangeness between us and our
nearest neighbors. They are our Austrias, and Chinas, and South Sea
Islands. Our crowded society becomes well spaced all at once, clean
and handsome to the eye- a city of magnificent distances. We
discover why it was that we never got beyond compliments and
surfaces with them before; we become aware of as many versts between
us and them as there are between a wandering Tartar and a Chinese
town. The thoughtful man becomes a hermit in the thoroughfares of
the market-place. Impassable seas suddenly find their level between
us, or dumb steppes stretch themselves out there. It is the difference
of constitution, of intelligence, and faith, and not streams and
mountains, that make the true and impassable boundaries between
individuals and between states. None but the like-minded can come
plenipotentiary to our court.

  I read all the newspapers I could get within a week after this
event, and I do not remember in them a single expression of sympathy
for these men. I have since seen one noble statement, in a Boston
paper, not editorial. Some voluminous sheets decided not to print
the full report of Brown's words to the exclusion of other matter.
It was as if a publisher should reject the manuscript of the New
Testament, and print Wilson's last speech. The same journal which
contained this pregnant news was chiefly filled, in parallel
columns, with the reports of the political conventions that were being
held. But the descent to them was too steep. They should have been
spared this contrast- been printed in an extra, at least. To turn from
the voices and deeds of earnest men to the cackling of politicial
conventions! Office-seekers and speech-makers, who do not so much as
lay an honest egg, but wear their breasts bare upon an egg of chalk!
Their great game is the game of straws, or rather that universal
aboriginal game of the platter, at which the Indians cried hub, bub!
Exclude the reports of religious and political conventions, and
publish the words of a living man.

Post by: Mindwarp on March 22, 2009, 04:44:26 pm
But I object not so much to what they have omitted as to what they
have inserted. Even the Liberator called it "a misguided, wild, and
apparently insane-effort." As for the herd of newspapers and
magazines, I do not chance to know an editor in the country who will
deliberately print anything which he knows will ultimately and
permanently reduce the number of his subscribers. They do not
believe that it would be expedient. How then can they print truth?
If we do not say pleasant things, they argue, nobody will attend to
us. And so they do like some travelling auctioneers, who sing an
obscene song, in order to draw a crowd around them. Republican
editors, obliged to get their sentences ready for the morning edition,
and accustomed to look at everything by the twilight of politics,
express no admiration, nor true sorrow even, but call these men
"deluded fanatics"- "mistaken men"- "insane," or "crazed." It suggests
what a sane set of editors we are blessed with, not "mistaken men";
who know very well on which side their bread is buttered, at least.

  A man does a brave and humane deed, and at once, on all sides, we
hear people and parties declaring, "I didn't do it, nor countenance
him to do it, in any conceivable way. It can't be fairly inferred from
my past career." I, for one, am not interested to hear you define your
position. I don't know that I ever was or ever shall be. I think it is
mere egotism, or impertinent at this time. Ye needn't take so much
pains to wash your skirts of him. No intelligent man will ever be
convinced that he was any creature of yours. He went and came, as he
himself informs us, "under the auspices of John Brown and nobody
else." The Republican Party does not perceive how many his failure
will make to vote more correctly than they would have them. They
have counted the votes of Pennsylvania & Co., but they have not
correctly counted Captain Brown's vote. He has taken the wind out of
their sails- the little wind they had- and they may as well lie to and

  What though he did not belong to your clique! Though you may not
approve of his method or his principles, recognize his magnanimity.
Would you not like to claim kindredship with him in that, though in no
other thing he is like, or likely, to you? Do you think that you would
lose your reputation so? What you lost at the spile, you would gain at
the bung.

  If they do not mean all this, then they do not speak the truth,
and say what they mean. They are simply at their old tricks still.

Post by: Mindwarp on March 22, 2009, 04:44:45 pm
"It was always conceded to him," says one who calls him crazy,
"that he was a conscientious man, very modest in his demeanor,
apparently inoffensive, until the subject of Slavery was introduced,
when he would exhibit a feeling of indignation unparalleled."

  The slave-ship is on her way, crowded with its dying victims; new
cargoes are being added in mid-ocean; a small crew of slaveholders,
countenanced by a large body of passengers, is smothering four
millions under the hatches, and yet the politician asserts that the
only proper way by which deliverance is to be obtained is by "the
quiet diffusion of the sentiments of humanity," without any
"outbreak." As if the sentiments of humanity were ever found
unaccompanied by its deeds, and you could disperse them, all
finished to order, the pure article, as easily as water with a
watering-pot, and so lay the dust. What is that that I hear cast
overboard? The bodies of the dead that have found deliverance. That is
the way we are "diffusing" humanity, and its sentiments with it.

  Prominent and influential editors, accustomed to deal with
politicians, men of an infinitely lower grade, say, in their
ignorance, that he acted "on the principle of revenge." They do not
know the man. They must enlarge themselves to conceive of him. I
have no doubt that the time will come when they will begin to see
him as he was. They have got to conceive of a man of faith and of
religious principle, and not a politician or an Indian; of a man who
did not wait till he was personally interfered with or thwarted in
some harmless business before he gave his life to the cause of the

Post by: Mindwarp on March 22, 2009, 04:45:03 pm
 If Walker may be considered the representative of the South, I
wish I could say that Brown was the representative of the North. He
was a superior man. He did not value his bodily life in comparison
with ideal things. He did not recognize unjust human laws, but
resisted them as he was bid. For once we are lifted out of the
trivialness and dust of politics into the region of truth and manhood.
No man in America has ever stood up so persistently and effectively
for the dignity of human nature, knowing himself for a man, and the
equal of any and all governments. In that sense he was the most
American of us all. He needed no babbling lawyer, making false issues,
to defend him. He was more than a match for all the judges that
American voters, or office-holders of whatever grade, can create. He
could not have been tried by a jury of his peers, because his peers
did not exist. When a man stands up serenely against the
condemnation and vengeance of mankind, rising above them literally
by a whole body- even though he were of late the vilest murderer,
who has settled that matter with himself- the spectacle is a sublime
one- didn't ye know it, ye Liberators, ye Tribunes, ye Republicans?-
and we become criminal in comparison. Do yourselves the honor to
recognize him. He needs none of your respect.

  As for the Democratic journals, they are not human enough to
affect me at all. I do not feel indignation at anything they may say.

  I am aware that I anticipate a little- that he was still, at the
last accounts, alive in the hands of his foes; but that being the
case, I have all along found myself thinking and speaking of him as
physically dead.

  I do not believe in erecting statues to those who still live in
our hearts, whose bones have not yet crumbled in the earth around
us, but I would rather see the statue of Captain Brown in the
Massachusetts State-House yard than that of any other man whom I know.
I rejoice that I live in this age, that I am his contemporary.

  What a contrast, when we turn to that political party which is so
anxiously shuffling him and his plot out of its way, and looking
around for some available slaveholder, perhaps, to be its candidate,
at least for one who will execute the Fugitive Slave Law, and all
those other unjust laws which he took up arms to annul!

Post by: Mindwarp on March 22, 2009, 04:45:16 pm
Insane! A father and six sons, and one son-in-law, and several
more men besides- as many at least as twelve disciples- all struck
with insanity at once; while the same tyrant holds with a firmer gripe
than ever his four millions of slaves, and a thousand sane editors,
his abettors, are saving their country and their bacon! just as insane
were his efforts in Kansas. Ask the tyrant who is his most dangerous
foe, the sane man or the insane? Do the thousands who know him best,
who have rejoiced at his deeds in Kansas, and have afforded him
material aid there, think him insane? Such a use of this word is a
mere trope with most who persist in using it, and I have no doubt that
many of the rest have already in silence retracted their words.

  Read his admirable answers to Mason and others. How they are dwarfed
and defeated by the contrast! On the one side, half-brutish,
half-timid questioning; on the other, truth, clear as lightning,
crashing into their obscene temples. They are made to stand with
Pilate, and Gessler, and the Inquisition. How ineffectual their speech
and action! and what a void their silence! They are but helpless tools
in this great work. It was no human power that gathered them about
this preacher.

  What have Massachusetts and the North sent a few sane
representatives to Congress for, of late years?- to declare with
effect what kind of sentiments? All their speeches put together and
boiled down- and probably they themselves will confess it- do not
match for manly directness and force, and for simple truth, the few
casual remarks of crazy John Brown on the floor of the Harper's
Ferry engine-house- that man whom you are about to hang, to send to
the other world, though not to represent you there. No, he was not our
representative in any sense. He was too fair a specimen of a man to
represent the like of us. Who, then, were his constituents? If you
read his words understandingly you will find out. In his case there is
no idle eloquence, no made, nor maiden speech, no compliments to the
oppressor. Truth is his inspirer, and earnestness the polisher of
his sentences. He could afford to lose his Sharp's rifles, while he
retained his faculty of speech- a Sharp's rifle of infinitely surer
and longer range.

  And the New York Herald reports the conversation verbatim! It does
not know of what undying words it is made the vehicle.

Post by: Mindwarp on March 22, 2009, 04:45:37 pm
I have no respect for the penetration of any man who can read the
report of that conversation and still call the principal in it insane.
It has the ring of a saner sanity than an ordinary discipline and
habits of life, than an ordinary organization, secure. Take any
sentence of it- "Any questions that I can honorably answer, I will;
not otherwise. So far as I am myself concerned, I have told everything
truthfully. I value my word, sir." The few who talk about his
vindictive spirit, while they really admire his heroism, have no
test by which to detect a noble man, no amalgam to combine with his
pure gold. They mix their own dross with it.

  It is a relief to turn from these slanders to the testimony of his
more truthful, but frightened jailers and hangmen. Governor Wise
speaks far more justly and appreciatingly of him than any Northern
editor, or politician, or public personage, that I chance to have
heard from. I know that you can afford to hear him again on this
subject. He says: "They are themselves mistaken who take him to be a
madman.... He is cool, collected, and indomitable, and it is but
just to him to say that he was humane to his prisoners.... And he
inspired me with great trust in his integrity as a man of truth. He is
a fanatic, vain and garrulous" (I leave that part to Mr. Wise), "but
firm, truthful, and intelligent. His men, too, who survive, are like
him.... Colonel Washington says that he was the coolest and firmest
man he ever saw in defying danger and death. With one son dead by
his side, and another shot through, he felt the pulse of his dying son
with one hand, and held his rifle with the other, and commanded his
men with the utmost composure, encouraging them to be firm, and to
sell their lives as dear as they could. Of the three white
prisoners, Brown, Stevens, and Coppoc, it was hard to say which was
most firm."

  Almost the first Northern men whom the slaveholder has learned to

Post by: Mindwarp on March 22, 2009, 04:45:53 pm
The testimony of Mr. Vallandigham, though less valuable, is of the
same purport, that "it is vain to underrate either the man or his
conspiracy.... He is the farthest possible removed from the ordinary
ruffian, fanatic, or madman."

  "All is quiet at Harper's Ferry," say the journals. What is the
character of that calm which follows when the law and the
slaveholder prevail? I regard this event as a touchstone designed to
bring out, with glaring distinctness, the character of this
government. We needed to be thus assisted to see it by the light of
history. It needed to see itself. When a government puts forth its
strength on the side of injustice, as ours to maintain slavery and
kill the liberators of the slave, it reveals itself a merely brute
force, or worse, a demoniacal force. It is the head of the
Plug-Uglies. It is more manifest than ever that tyranny rules. I see
this government to be effectually allied with France and Austria in
oppressing mankind. There sits a tyrant holding fettered four millions
of slaves; here comes their heroic liberator. This most hypocritical
and diabolical government looks up from its seat on the gasping four
millions, and inquires with an assumption of innocence: "What do you
assault me for? Am I not an honest man? Cease agitation on this
subject, or I will make a slave of you, too, or else hang you."

  We talk about a representative government; but what a monster of a
government is that where the noblest faculties of the mind, and the
whole heart, are not represented! A semihuman tiger or ox, stalking
over the earth, with its heart taken out and the top of its brain shot
away. Heroes have fought well on their stumps when their legs were
shot off, but I never heard of any good done by such a government as

  The only government that I recognize- and it matters not how few are
at the head of it, or how small its army- is that power that
establishes justice in the land, never that which establishes
injustice. What shall we think of a government to which all the
truly brave and just men in the land are enemies, standing between
it and those whom it oppresses? A government that pretends to be
Christian and crucifies a million Christs every day!

Post by: Mindwarp on March 22, 2009, 04:46:09 pm
 Treason! Where does such treason take its rise? I cannot help
thinking of you as you deserve, ye governments. Can you dry up the
fountains of thought? High treason, when it is resistance to tyranny
here below, has its origin in, and is first committed by, the power
that makes and forever re-creates man. When you have caught and hung
all these human rebels, you have accomplished nothing but your own
guilt, for you have not struck at the fountain-head. You presume to
contend with a foe against whom West Point cadets and rifled cannon
point not. Can all the art of the cannon-founder tempt matter to
turn against its maker? Is the form in which the founder thinks he
casts it more essential than the constitution of it and of himself?

  The United States have a coffle of four millions of slaves. They are
determined to keep them in this condition; and Massachusetts is one of
the confederated overseers to prevent their escape. Such are not all
the inhabitants of Massachusetts, but such are they who rule and are
obeyed here. It was Massachusetts, as well as Virginia, that put
down this insurrection at Harper's Ferry. She sent the marines
there, and she will have to pay the penalty of her sin.

  Suppose that there is a society in this State that out of its own
purse and magnanimity saves all the fugitive slaves that run to us,
and protects our colored fellow-citizens, and leaves the other work to
the government, so called. Is not that government fast losing its
occupation, and becoming contemptible to mankind? If private men are
obliged to perform the offices of government, to protect the weak
and dispense justice, then the government becomes only a hired man, or
clerk, to perform menial or indifferent services. Of course, that is
but the shadow of a government whose existence necessitates a Vigilant
Committee. What should we think of the Oriental Cadi even, behind whom
worked in secret a Vigilant Committee? But such is the character of
our Northern States generally; each has its Vigilant Committee. And,
to a certain extent, these crazy governments recognize and accept this
relation. They say, virtually, "We'll be glad to work for you on these
terms, only don't make a noise about it." And thus the government, its
salary being insured, withdraws into the back shop, taking the
Constitution with it, and bestows most of its labor on repairing that.
When I hear it at work sometimes, as I go by, it reminds me, at
best, of those farmers who in winter contrive to turn a penny by
following the coopering business. And what kind of spirit is their
barrel made to hold? They speculate in stocks, and bore holes in
mountains, but they are not competent to lay out even a decent
highway. The only free road, the Underground Railroad, is owned and
managed by the Vigilant Committee. They have tunnelled under the whole
breadth of the land. Such a government is losing its power and
respectability as surely as water runs out of a leaky vessel, and is
held by one that can contain it.

Post by: Mindwarp on March 22, 2009, 04:46:24 pm
I hear many condemn these men because they were so few. When were
the good and the brave ever in a majority? Would you have had him wait
till that time came?- till you and I came over to him? The very fact
that he had no rabble or troop of hirelings about him would alone
distinguish him from ordinary heroes. His company was small indeed,
because few could be found worthy to pass muster. Each one who there
laid down his life for the poor and oppressed was a picked man, culled
out of many thousands, if not millions; apparently a man of principle,
of rare courage, and devoted humanity; ready to sacrifice his life
at any moment for the benefit of his fellow-man. It may be doubted
if there were as many more their equals in these respects in all the
country- I speak of his followers only- for their leader, no doubt,
scoured the land far and wide, seeking to swell his troop. These alone
were ready to step between the oppressor and the oppressed. Surely
they were the very best men you could select to be hung. That was
the greatest compliment which this country could pay them. They were
ripe for her gallows. She has tried a long time, she has hung a good
many, but never found the right one before.

  When I think of him, and his six sons, and his son-in-law, not to
enumerate the others, enlisted for this fight, proceeding coolly,
reverently, humanely to work, for months if not years, sleeping and
waking upon it, summering and wintering the thought, without expecting
any reward but a good conscience, while almost all America stood
ranked on the other side- I say again that it affects me as a
sublime spectacle. If he had had any journal advocating "his cause,"
any organ, as the phrase is, monotonously and wearisomely playing
the same old tune, and then passing round the hat, it would have
been fatal to his efficiency. If he had acted in any way so as to be
let alone by the government, he might have been suspected. It was
the fact that the tyrant must give place to him, or he to the
tyrant, that distinguished him from all the reformers of the day
that I know.

Post by: Mindwarp on March 22, 2009, 04:46:36 pm
It was his peculiar doctrine that a man has a perfect right to
interfere by force with the slaveholder, in order to rescue the slave.
I agree with him. They who are continually shocked by slavery have
some right to be shocked by the violent death of the slaveholder,
but no others. Such will be more shocked by his life than by his
death. I shall not be forward to think him mistaken in his method
who quickest succeeds to liberate the slave. I speak for the slave
when I say that I prefer the philanthropy of Captain Brown to that
philanthropy which neither shoots me nor liberates me. At any rate,
I do not think it is quite sane for one to spend his whole life in
talking or writing about this matter, unless he is continuously
inspired, and I have not done so. A man may have other affairs to
attend to. I do not wish to kill nor to be killed, but I can foresee
circumstances in which both these things would be by me unavoidable.
We preserve the so-called peace of our community by deeds of petty
violence every day. Look at the policeman's billy and handcuffs!
Look at the jail! Look at the gallows! Look at the chaplain of the
regiment! We are hoping only to live safely on the outskirts of this
provisional army. So we defend ourselves and our hen-roosts, and
maintain slavery. I know that the mass of my countrymen think that the
only righteous use that can be made of Sharp's rifles and revolvers is
to fight duels with them, when we are insulted by other nations, or to
hunt Indians, or shoot fugitive slaves with them, or the like. I think
that for once the Sharp's rifles and the revolvers were employed in
a righteous cause. The tools were in the hands of one who could use

  The same indignation that is said to have cleared the temple once
will clear it again. The question is not about the weapon, but the
spirit in which you use it. No man has appeared in America, as yet,
who loved his fellow-man so well, and treated him so tenderly. He
lived for him. He took up his life and he laid it down for him. What
sort of violence is that which is encouraged, not by soldiers, but
by peaceable citizens, not so much by laymen as by ministers of the
Gospel, not so much by the fighting sects as by the Quakers, and not
so much by Quaker men as by Quaker women?

  This event advertises me that there is such a fact as death- the
possibility of a man's dying. It seems as if no man had ever died in
America before; for in order to die you must first have lived. I don't
believe in the hearses, and palls, and funerals that they have had.
There was no death in the case, because there had been no life; they
merely rotted or sloughed off, pretty much as they had rotted or
sloughed along. No temple's veil was rent, only a hole dug
somewhere. Let the dead bury their dead. The best of them fairly ran
down like a clock. Franklin- Washington- they were let off without
dying; they were merely missing one day. I hear a good many pretend
that they are going to die; or that they have died, for aught that I
know. Nonsense! I'll defy them to do it. They haven't got life
enough in them. They'll deliquesce like fungi, and keep a hundred
eulogists mopping the spot where they left off. Only half a dozen or
so have died since the world began. Do you think that you are going to
die, sir? No! there's no hope of you. You haven't got your lesson yet.
You've got to stay after school. We make a needless ado about
capital punishment- taking lives, when there is no life to take.
Memento mori! We don't understand that sublime sentence which some
worthy got sculptured on his gravestone once. We've interpreted it
in a grovelling and snivelling sense; we've wholly forgotten how to

Post by: Mindwarp on March 22, 2009, 04:46:46 pm
But be sure you do die nevertheless. Do your work, and finish it. If
you know how to begin, you will know when to end.

  These men, in teaching us how to die, have at the same time taught
us how to live. If this man's acts and words do not create a
revival, it will be the severest possible satire on the acts and words
that do. It is the best news that America has ever heard. It has
already quickened the feeble pulse of the North, and infused more
and more generous blood into her veins and heart than any number of
years of what is called commercial and political prosperity could. How
many a man who was lately contemplating suicide has now something to
live for!

  One writer says that Brown's peculiar monomania made him to be
"dreaded by the Missourians as a supernatural being." Sure enough, a
hero in the midst of us cowards is always so dreaded. He is just
that thing. He shows himself superior to nature. He has a spark of
divinity in him.

                    "Unless above himself he can

        Erect himself, how poor a thing is man!"

  Newspaper editors argue also that it is a proof of his insanity that
he thought he was appointed to do this work which he did- that he
did not suspect himself for a moment! They talk as if it were
impossible that a man could be "divinely appointed" in these days to
do any work whatever; as if vows and religion were out of date as
connected with any man's daily work; as if the agent to abolish
slavery could only be somebody appointed by the President, or by
some political party. They talk as if a man's death were a failure,
and his continued life, be it of whatever character, were a success.

  When I reflect to what a cause this man devoted himself, and how
religiously, and then reflect to what cause his judges and all who
condemn him so angrily and fluently devote themselves, I see that they
are as far apart as the heavens and earth are asunder.

  The amount of it is, our "leading men" are a harmless kind of
folk, and they know well enough that they were not divinely appointed,
but elected by the votes of their party.

  Who is it whose safety requires that Captain Brown be hung? Is it
indispensable to any Northern man? Is there no resource but to cast
this man also to the Minotaur? If you do not wish it, say so
distinctly. While these things are being done, beauty stands veiled
and music is a screeching lie. Think of him- of his rare
qualities!- such a man as it takes ages to make, and ages to
understand; no mock hero, nor the representative of any party. A man
such as the sun may not rise upon again in this benighted land. To
whose making went the costliest material, the finest adamant; sent
to be the redeemer of those in captivity; and the only use to which
you can put him is to hang him at the end of a rope! You who pretend
to care for Christ crucified, consider what you are about to do to him
who offered himself to be the saviour of four millions of men.

Post by: Mindwarp on March 22, 2009, 04:47:02 pm
Any man knows when he is justified, and all the wits in the world
cannot enlighten him on that point. The murderer always knows that
he is justly punished; but when a government takes the life of a man
without the consent of his conscience, it is an audacious
government, and is taking a step towards its own dissolution. Is it
not possible that an individual may be right and a government wrong?
Are laws to be enforced simply because they were made? or declared
by any number of men to be good, if they are not good? Is there any
necessity for a man's being a tool to perform a deed of which his
better nature disapproves? Is it the intention of law-makers that good
men shall be hung ever? Are judges to interpret the law according to
the letter, and not the spirit? What right have you to enter into a
compact with yourself that you will do thus or so, against the light
within you? Is it for you to make up your mind- to form any resolution
whatever- and not accept the convictions that are forced upon you, and
which ever pass your understanding? I do not believe in lawyers, in
that mode of attacking or defending a man, because you descend to meet
the judge on his own ground, and, in cases of the highest
importance, it is of no consequence whether a man breaks a human law
or not. Let lawyers decide trivial cases. Business men may arrange
that among themselves. If they were the interpreters of the
everlasting laws which rightfully bind man, that would be another
thing. A counterfeiting law-factory, standing half in a slave land and
half in a free! What kind of laws for free men can you expect from

  I am here to plead his cause with you. I plead not for his life, but
for his character- his immortal life; and so it becomes your cause
wholly, and is not his in the least. Some eighteen hundred years ago
Christ was crucified; this morning, perchance, Captain Brown was hung.
These are the two ends of a chain which is not without its links. He
is not Old Brown any longer; he is an angel of light.

  I see now that it was necessary that the bravest and humanest man in
all the country should be hung. Perhaps he saw it himself. I almost
fear that I may yet hear of his deliverance, doubting if a prolonged
life, if any life, can do as much good as his death.

  "Misguided!" "Garrulous!" "Insane!" "Vindictive!" So ye write in
your easy-chairs, and thus he wounded responds from the floor of the
armory, clear as a cloudless sky, true as the voice of nature is:
"No man sent me here; it was my own prompting and that of my Maker.
I acknowledge no master in human form."

Post by: Mindwarp on March 22, 2009, 04:47:17 pm
And in what a sweet and noble strain he proceeds, addressing his
captors, who stand over him: "I think, my friends, you are guilty of a
great wrong against God and humanity, and it would be perfectly
right for any one to interfere with you, so far as to free those you
wilfully and wickedly hold in bondage."

  And, referring to his movement: "It is, in my opinion, the
greatest service a man can render to God."

  "I pity the poor in bondage that have none to help them; that is why
I am here; not to gratify any personal animosity, revenge, or
vindictive spirit. It is my sympathy with the oppressed and the
wronged, that are as good as you, and as precious in the sight of

  You don't know your testament when you see it.

  "I want you to understand that I respect the rights of the poorest
and weakest of colored people, oppressed by the slave power, just as
much as I do those of the most wealthy and powerful."

  "I wish to say, furthermore, that you had better, all you people
at the South, prepare yourselves for a settlement of that question,
that must come up for settlement sooner than you are prepared for
it. The sooner you are prepared the better. You may dispose of me very
easily. I am nearly disposed of now; but this question is still to
be settled- this negro question, I mean; the end of that is not yet."

  I foresee the time when the painter will paint that scene, no longer
going to Rome for a subject; the poet will sing it; the historian
record it; and, with the Landing of the Pilgrims and the Declaration
of Independence, it will be the ornament of some future national
gallery, when at least the present form of slavery shall be no more
here. We shall then be at liberty to weep for Captain Brown. Then, and
not till then, we will take our revenge.

                                    THE END