An Anti-Slavery Crusade - Part 6

Part 6

Coincident with the warfare by organized companies, small irregular bands infested the country. Kansas became a paradise for adventurers, soldiers of fortune, horse thieves, cattle thieves, and marauders of various sorts. Spoiling the enemy in the interest of a righteous cause easily degenerated into common robbery and murder. It was chiefly in this sort of conflict that two hundred persons were slain and that two million dollars' worth of property was destroyed.

During this period of civil war the members of the Brown family were not much in evidence. John Brown, Junior, captain of the Osawatomie Rifles, was a political prisoner at Topeka. Swift destruction of their property was visited upon all those members who were suspected of having a share in the Pottawatomie murders, and their houses were burned and their other property was seized. Warrants were out for the arrest of the elder Brown and his sons. Captain Pate who, in command of a small troop, was in pursuit of Brown and his company, was surprised at Black Jack in the early morning and induced to surrender. Brown thus gained control of a number of horses and other supplies and began to arrange terms for the exchange of his son and Captain Pate as prisoners of war. The negotiations were interrupted, however, by the arrival of Colonel Sumner with United States troops, who restored the horses and other booty and disbanded all the troops. With the Colonel was a deputy marshal with warrants for the arrest of the Browns. When ordered to proceed with his duty, however, the marshal was so overawed that, even though a federal officer was present, he merely remarked, "I do not recognize any one for whom I have warrants."

After the capture of Captain Pate at Black Jack early in June, little is known about Brown and his troops for two months. Apart from an encounter of opposing forces near Osawatomie in which he and his band were engaged, Brown took no share in the open fighting between the organized companies of opposing forces, and his part in the irregular guerrilla warfare of the period is uncertain. Towards the close of the war one of his sons was shot by a preacher who alleged that he had been robbed by the Browns. After peace had been restored to Kansas by the vigorous action of Governor Geary, Brown left the scene and never again took an active part in the local affairs of the Territory.

John Brown's influence upon the course of affairs in Kansas, like William Lloyd Garrison's upon the general anti-slavery movement of the country, has been greatly misunderstood and exaggerated. Brown's object and intention were fundamentally contradictory to those of the freestate settlers. They strove to build a free commonwealth by legal and const.i.tutional methods. He strove to inaugurate a revolution which would extend to all pro-slavery States and result in universal emanc.i.p.ation. John Brown was in Kansas only one year, and he never made himself at one with those who should have been his fellow-workers but went his solitary way. Only in three instances did he pretend to cooperate with the regular freestate forces. He could not work with them because his conception of the means to be adopted to attain the end was different from theirs. Probably before he left the Territory in 1856, he had realized that his work in Kansas was a failure and that the law-and-order forces were too strong for the execution of his plans. Certain it is that within a few weeks after his departure he had transferred the field of his operations to the mountains of Virginia. Kansas became free through the persistent determination of the rank and file of Northern settlers under the wise leadership of Governor Robinson. It is difficult to determine whether the cause of Kansas was aided or hindered by the advent of John Brown and the adventurers with whom his name became a.s.sociated.

During the fall of 1856 and until the late summer of 1857 Brown was in the East raising funds for the redemption of Kansas and for the reimburs.e.m.e.nt of those who had incurred or were likely to incur losses in defense of the cause. For the equipment of a troop of soldiers under his own command he formulated plans for raising $30,000 by private subscription, and in this he was to a considerable extent successful. It can never be known how much was given in this way to Brown for the equipment of his army of liberation. It is estimated that George L. Stearns alone gave in all fully $10,000. Because Eastern abolitionists had lost confidence in Robinson's leadership, they lent a willing ear to the plea that Captain Brown with a well-equipped and trained company of soldiers was the last hope for checking the enemy. Not only would Kansas become a slave State without such help, it was said, but the inst.i.tution of slavery would spread into all the Territories and become invincible.

The money was given to Brown to redeem Kansas, but he had developed an alternative plan. Early in the year 1857, he met in New York Colonel Hugh Forbes, a soldier of fortune who had seen service with Garibaldi in Italy. They discussed general plans for an aggressive attack upon the South for the liberation of the slaves, and with these plans the needs of Kansas had little or no connection. "Kansas was to be a prologue to the real drama," writes his latest biographer; "the properties of the one were to serve in the other." In April six months' salary was advanced out of the Kansas fund to Forbes, who was employed at a hundred dollars a month to aid in the execution of their plans. Another significant expenditure of the Kansas fund was in pursuance of a contract with a Mr. Blair, a Connecticut manufacturer, to furnish at a dollar each one thousand pikes. Though the contract was dated March 80, 1857, it was not completed until the fall of 1859, when the weapons were delivered to Brown in Pennsylvania for use at Harper's Ferry.

Instead of rushing to the relief of Kansas, as contributors had expected, the leader exercised remarkable deliberation. When August arrived, it found him only as far as Tabor, Iowa, where a considerable quant.i.ty of arms had been previously a.s.sembled. Here he was joined by Colonel Forbes, and together they organized a school of military tactics with Forbes as instructor. But as Forbes could find no one but Brown and his son to drill, he soon returned to the East, still trusted by Brown as a co-worker. It would seem that Forbes himself wished to play the chief part in the liberation of America.

While he was at Tabor, Brown was urged by Lane and other former a.s.sociates of his in Kansas to come to their relief with all his forces. There had, indeed, been a full year of peace since Geary's arrival, but early in October there was to occur the election of a territorial Legislature in which the free-state forces had agreed to partic.i.p.ate, and Lane feared an invasion from Missouri. But although the appeal was not effective, the election proved a complete triumph for the North. Late in October, after the signal victory of the law-and-order party at the election, Brown was again urged with even greater insistence to muster all his forces and come to Kansas, and there were hints in Lane's letter that an aggressive campaign was afoot to rid the Territory of the enemy. Instead of going in force, however, Brown stole into the Territory alone. On his arrival, two days after the date set for a decisive council of the revolutionary faction, he did not make himself known to Governor Robinson or to any of his party but persuaded several of his former a.s.sociates to join his "school" in Iowa. From Tabor he subsequently transferred the school to Springdale, a quiet Quaker community in Cedar County, Iowa, seven miles from any railway station. Here the company went into winter quarters and spent the time in rigid drill in preparation for the campaign of liberation which they expected to undertake the following season.

While he was at Tabor, Brown began to intimate to his Eastern friends that he had other and different plans for the promotion of the general cause. In January, 1858, he went East with the definite intention of obtaining additional support for the greater scheme. On February 22, 1858, at the home of Gerrit Smith in New York, there was held a council at which Brown definitely outlined his purpose to begin operations at some point in the mountains of Virginia. Smith and Sanborn at first tried to dissuade him, but finally consented to cooperate. The secret was carefully guarded: some half-dozen Eastern friends were apprised of it, including Stearns, their most liberal contributor, and two or three friends at Springdale.

As early as December, 1857, Forbes began to write mysterious letters to Sanborn, Stearns, and others of the circle, in which he complained of ill-usage at the hands of Brown. It appears that Forbes erroneously a.s.sumed that the Boston friends were aware of Brown's contract with him and of his plans for the attack upon Virginia; but, since they were entirely ignorant on both points, the correspondence was conducted at cross-purposes for several months. Finally, early in May, 1858, it transpired that Forbes had all the time been fully informed of Brown's intentions to begin the effort for emanc.i.p.ation in Virginia. Not only so, but he had given detailed information on the subject to Senators Sumner, Seward, Hale, Wilson, and possibly others. Senator Wilson was told that the arms purchased by the New England Aid Society for use in Kansas were to be used by Brown for an attack on Virginia. Wilson, in entire ignorance of Brown's plans, demanded that the Aid Society be effectively protected against any such charge of betrayal of trust. The officers of the Society were, in fact, aware that the arms which had been purchased with Society funds the year before and shipped to Tabor, Iowa, had been placed in Brown's hands and that, without their consent, those arms had been shipped to Ohio and just at that time were on the point of being transported to Virginia. This knowledge placed the officers of the New England Aid Society in a most awkward position. Stearns, the treasurer, had advanced large sums to meet pressing needs during the starvation times in Kansas in 1857. Now the arms in Brown's possession were, by vote of the officers, given to the treasurer in part payment of the Society's debt, and he of course left them just where they were. * On the basis of this arrangement Senator Wilson and the public were a.s.sured that none of the property given for the benefit of Kansas had been or would be diverted to other purposes by the Kansas Committee. It was decided, however, that on account of the Forbes revelations the attack upon Harper's Ferry must be delayed for one year and that Brown must go to Kansas to take part in the pending elections.

* "When the denouement finally came, however, the public and press did not take a very favorable view of the transaction; it was too difficult to distinguish between George L.

Stearns, the benefactor of the Kansas Committee, and George L. Stearns, the Chairman of that Committee." Villard, "John Brown," p. 341.

Though Brown arrived in Kansas late in June, he took no active part in the pending measures for the final triumph of the free-state cause. It is something of a mystery how he was occupied between the 1st of July and the middle of December. Under the pseudonym of "Shubal Morgan" he was commander of a small band in which were a number of his followers in training for the Eastern mission. The occupation of this band is not matter of history until December 20, 1858, when they made a raid into the State of Missouri, slew one white man, took eleven slaves, a large number of horses, some oxen, wagons, much food, arms, and various other supplies. This action was in direct violation of a solemn agreement between the border settlers of State and Territory. The people in Kansas were in terror lest retaliatory raids should follow, as would undoubtedly have happened had not the people of Missouri taken active measures to prevent such reprisals.

Rewards were offered for Brown's arrest, and free-state residents served notice that he must leave the Territory. In the dead of winter he started North with some slaves and many horses, accompanied by Kagi and Gill, two of his faithful followers. In northern Kansas, where they were delayed by a swollen stream, a band of hors.e.m.e.n appeared to dispute their pa.s.sage. Brown's party quickly mustered a.s.sistance and, giving chase to the enemy, took three prisoners with four horses as spoils of war. In Kansas parlance the affair is called "The Battle of the Spurs." The leaders in the chase were seasoned soldiers on their way to Harper's Ferry with the intention of spending their lives collecting slaves and conducting them to places of safety. For this sort of warfare they were winning their spurs. It was their intention to teach all defenders of slavery to use their utmost endeavor to keep out of their reach. As Brown and his company pa.s.sed through Tabor, the citizens took occasion at a public meeting to resolve "that we have no sympathy with those who go to slave States to entice away slaves, and take property or life when necessary to attain that end."

A few days later the party was at Grinnell, Iowa. According to the detailed account which J. B. Grinnell gives in his autobiography, Brown appeared on afternoon, stacked his arms in Grinnell's parlor and disposed of his people and horses partly in Grinnell's house and barn and partly at the hotel. In the evening Brown and Kagi addressed a large meeting in a public hall. Brown gave a lurid account of experiences in Kansas, justified his raid into Missouri by saying the slaves were to be sold for shipment to the South, and gave notice that his surplus horses would be offered for sale on Monday. "What t.i.tle can you give?" was the question that came from the audience. "The best-the affidavit that they were taken by black men from land they had cleared and tilled; taken in part payment for labor which is kept back."

Brown again addressed a large meeting on Sunday evening at which each of the three clergymen present invoked the divine blessing upon Brown and his labors. The present writer was told by an eye-witness that one of the ministers prayed for forgiveness for any wrongful acts which their guest may have committed. Convinced of the rect.i.tude of his actions, however, Brown objected and said that he thanked no one for asking forgiveness for anything he had done.

Returning from church on Sunday evening, Grinnell found a message awaiting him from Mr. Werkman, United States marshal at Iowa City, who was a friend of Grinnell. The message in part read: "You can see that it will give your town a bad name to have a fight there; then all who aid are liable, and there will be an arrest or blood. Get the old Devil away to save trouble, for he will be taken, dead or alive." Grinnell showed the message to Brown, who remarked: "Yes, I have heard of him ever since I came into the State.... Tell him we are ready to be taken, but will wait one day more for his military squad." True to his word he waited till the following afternoon and then moved directly towards Iowa City, the home of the marshal, pa.s.sing beyond the city fourteen miles to his Quaker friends at Springdale. Here he remained about two weeks until he had completed arrangements for shipping his fugitives by rail to Chicago. In the meantime, where was Marshal Werkman of Iowa City? Was he of the same mind as the deputy marshal who had accompanied Colonel Sumner? Two of Brown's men had visited the city to make arrangements for the shipment. The situation was obvious enough to those who would see. The entire incident is an illuminating commentary on the att.i.tude of both government and people towards the Fugitive Slave Law. In March the fugitives were safely landed in Canada and the rest of the horses were sold in Cleveland, Ohio. The time was approaching for the move on Virginia.

Brown now expended much time and attention upon a const.i.tution for the provisional government which he was to set up. In January and February, 1858, Brown had labored over this doc.u.ment for several weeks at the home of Frederick Dougla.s.s at Rochester, New York. A copy was in evidence at the conference with Sanborn and Gerrit Smith in February, and the doc.u.ment was approved at a conference held in Chatham, Canada, on May 8, 1858, just at the time when Forbes's revelations caused the postponement of the enterprise. It is an elaborate const.i.tution containing forty-eight articles. The preamble indicates the general purport:

Whereas, Slavery throughout its entire existence in the United States is none other than a most barbarous, unprovoked, and unjustifiable war of one portion of its citizens upon another portion the only conditions of which are perpetual imprisonment and hopeless servitude or absolute extermination; in utter disregard and violation of those eternal and self-evident truths set forth in our Declaration of Independence: Therefore, we the citizens of the United States, and the Oppressed People, who, by a decision of the Supreme Court are declared to have no rights which the White Man is bound to respect; together with all other people degraded by the laws thereof, Do, for the time being ordain and establish for ourselves, the following PROVISIONAL CONSt.i.tUTION AND ORDINANCES, the better to protect our Persons, Property, Lives and Liberties and to govern our actions.

Article Forty-six reads:

The foregoing articles shall not be construed so as in any way to encourage the overthrow of any State Government or of the general government of the United States; and look to no dissolution of the Union, but simply to Amendment and Repeal. And our flag shall be the same that our Fathers fought under in the Revolution.

In Article Forty, "profane swearing, filthy conversation, and indecent behavior" are forbidden. The doc.u.ment indicates an obvious intention to effect a revolution by a restrained and regulated use of force.

Mobilization of forces began in June, 1859. Cook, one of the original party, had spent the year in the region of Harper's Ferry. In July the Kennedy farm, five miles from Harper's Ferry, was leased. The Northern immigrants posed as farmers, stock-raisers, and dealers in cattle, seeking a milder climate. To a.s.sist in the disguise, Brown's daughter and daughter-in-law, mere girls, joined the community. Even so it was difficult to allay troublesome curiosity on the part of neighbors at the gathering of so many men with no apparent occupation. Suspicion might easily have been aroused by the a.s.sembling of numerous boxes of arms from the West and the thousand pikes from Connecticut. Late in August, Floyd, Secretary of War, received an anonymous letter emanating from Springdale, Iowa, giving information which, if acted upon, would have led to an investigation and stopped the enterprise.

The 24th of October was the day appointed for taking possession of Harper's Ferry, but fear of exposure led to a change of plan and the move was begun on the 16th of October. Six of the party who would have been present at the later date were absent. The march from Kennedy farm began about eight o'clock Sunday evening. Before midnight the bridges, the town, and the a.r.s.enal were in the hands of the invaders without a gun having been fired. Before noon on Monday some forty citizens of the neighborhood had been a.s.sembled as prisoners and held, it was explained, as hostages for the safety of members of the party who might be taken. During the early forenoon Kagi strongly urged that they should escape into the mountains; but Brown, who was influenced, as he said, by sympathy for his prisoners and their distressed families, refused to move and at last found himself surrounded by opposing forces. Brown's men, having been a.s.signed to different duties, were separated. Six of them escaped; others were killed or wounded or taken prisoners. Brown himself with six of his men and a few of his prisoners made a final stand in the engine-house. This was early in the afternoon. All avenues of escape were now closed. Brown made two efforts to communicate with his a.s.sailants by means of a flag of truce, sending first Thompson, one of his men, with one of his prisoners, and then Stevens and Watson Brown with another of the prisoners. Thompson was received but was held as a prisoner; Stevens and Watson Brown were shot down, the first dangerously wounded and the other mortally wounded. Later in the afternoon Brown received a flag of truce with a demand that he surrender. He stated the conditions under which he would restore the prisoners whom he held, but he refused the unconditional surrender which was demanded.

About midnight Colonel Robert E. Lee arrived from Washington with a company of marines. He took full command, set a guard of his own men around the engine-house and made preparation to effect a forcible entrance at sunrise on Tuesday morning in case a peaceable surrender was refused. Lee first offered to two of the local companies the honor of storming the castle. These, however, declined to undertake the perilous task, and the honor fell to Lieutenant Green of the marines, who thereupon selected two squads of twelve men each to attempt an entrance through the door. To Lee's aide, Lieutenant Stuart, who had known Brown in Kansas, was committed the task of making the formal demand for surrender. Brown and Stuart, who recognized each other instantly upon their meeting at the door, held a long parley, which resulted, as had been expected, in Brown's refusal to yield. Stuart then gave the signal which had been agreed upon to Lieutenant Green, who ordered the first squad to advance. Failing to break down the door with sledge-hammers, they seized a heavy ladder and at the second stroke made an opening near the ground large enough to admit a man. Green instantly entered, rushed to the back part of the room, and climbed upon an engine to command a better view. Colonel Lewis Washington, the most distinguished of the prisoners, pointed to Brown, saying, "This is Osawatomie." Green leaped forward and by thrust or stroke bent his light sword double against Brown's body. Other blows were administered and his victim fell senseless, and it was believed that the leader had been slain in action according to his wish.

The first of the twelve men to attempt to follow their leader was instantly killed by gunshot. Others rushed in and slew two of Brown's men by the use of the bayonet. To save the prisoners from harm, Lee had given careful instruction to fire no shot, to use only bayonets. The other insurgents were made prisoners. "The whole fight," Green reported, "had not lasted over three minutes."

Of all the prisoners taken and held as hostages, not one was killed or wounded. They were made as safe as the conditions permitted. The eleven prisoners who were with Brown in the engine-house were profoundly impressed with the courage, the bearing, and the self-restraint of the leader and his men. Colonel Washington describes Brown as holding a carbine in one hand, with one dead son by his side, while feeling the pulse of another son, who had received a mortal wound, all the time watching every movement for the defense and forbidding his men to fire upon any one who was unarmed. The testimony is uniform that Brown exercised special care to prevent his men from shooting unarmed citizens, and this conduct was undoubtedly influential in securing generous treatment for him and his men after the surrender.

For six weeks afterwards, until his execution on the 2d of December, John Brown remained a conspicuous figure. He won universal admiration for courage, coolness, and deliberation, and for his skill in parrying all attempts to incriminate others. Probably less than a hundred people knew beforehand anything about the enterprise, and less than a dozen of these rendered aid and encouragement. It was emphatically a personal exploit. On the part of both leader and followers, no occasion was omitted to drive home the lesson that men were willing to imperil their lives for the oppressed with no hope or desire for personal gain. Brown especially served notice upon the South that the day of final reckoning was at hand.

It is natural that the consequences of an event so spectacular as the capture of Harper's Ferry should be greatly exaggerated. Brown's contribution to Kansas history has been distorted beyond all recognition. The Harper's Ferry affair, however, because it came on the eve of the final election before the war, undoubtedly had considerable influence. It sharpened the issue. It played into the hands of extremists in both sections. On one side, Brown was at once made a martyr and a hero; on the other, his acts were accepted as a demonstration of Northern malignity and hatred, whose fitting expression was seen in the incitement of slaves to ma.s.sacre their masters.

The distinctive contribution of John Brown to American history does not consist in the things which he did but rather in that which he has been made to represent. He has been accepted as the personification of the irrepressible conflict.

Of all the men of his generation John Brown is best fitted to exemplify the most difficult lesson which history teaches: that slavery and despotism are themselves forms of war, that the shedding of blood is likely to continue so long as the rich, the strong, the educated, or the efficient, strive to force their will upon the poor, the weak, and the ignorant. Lincoln uttered a final word on the subject when he said that no man is good enough to rule over another man; if he were good enough he would not be willing to do it.


Among the many political histories which furnish a background for the study of the anti-slavery crusade, the following have special value:

J. F. Rhodes, "History of the United States from the Compromise of 1860," 7 vols. (1893-1906). The first two volumes cover the decade to 1860. This is the best-balanced account of the period, written in an admirable judicial temper. H. E. von Holst, Const.i.tutional a.n.a.l Political History of the United States," 8 vols. (1877-1892). A vast mine of information on the slavery controversy. The work is vitiated by an almost virulent antipathy toward the South. James Schouler, "History of the United States," 7 vols. (1895-1901). A sober, reliable narrative of events. Henry Wilson, "History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America," 3 vols. (1872-1877). The fullest account of the subject, written by a contemporary. The material was thrown together by an overworked statesman and lacks proportion.

Three volumes in the "American Nation Series" aim to combine the treatment of special topics of commanding interest with general political history. A. B. Hart's "Slavery and Abolition" (1906) gives an account of the origin of the controversy and carries the history down to 1841. G. P. Garrison's "Westward Extension" (1906) deals especially with the Mexican War and its results. T. C. Smith's "Parties and Slavery" (1906) follows the gradual disruption of parties under the pressure of the slavery controversy.

From the ma.s.s of contemporary controversial literature a few t.i.tles of more permanent interest may be selected. William Goodell's "Slavery and Anti-slavery" (1852) presents the anti-slavery arguments. A. T. Bledsoe's "An Essay on Liberty and Slavery" (1856) and "The Pro-slavery Argument" (1852), a series of essays by various writers, undertake the defense of slavery.

Only a few of the biographies which throw light on the crusade can be mentioned. "William Lloyd Garrison," 4 vols. (1885-1889) is the story of the editor of the Liberator told exhaustively by his children. Less voluminous but equally important are the following: W. Birney, "James G. Birney and His Times" (1890); G. W. Julian, "Joshua R. Giddings" (1892); Catherine H. Birney, "Sarah and Angelina Grimke" (1885); John T. Morse, "John Quincy Adams." Those who have not patience to read E. L. Pierce's ponderous "Memoir and Letters of Charles Sumner," 4 vols. (1877-1893), would do well to read G. H. Haynes's "Charles Sumner" (1909).

The history of the conflict in Kansas is closely a.s.sociated with the lives of two rival candidates for the honor of leadership in the cause of freedom. James Redpath in his "Public Life of Captain John Brown" (1860), Frank B. Sanborn in his "Life and Letters of John Brown" (1885), and numerous other writers give to Brown the credit of leadership. The opposition view is held by F. W. Blackmar in his "Life of Charles Robinson" (1902), and by Robinson himself in his Kansas Conflict (2d ed., 1898). The best non-partizan biography of Brown is O. G. Villard's "John Brown, A Biography Fifty Years After" (1910).

The Underground Railroad has been adequately treated in W. H. Siebert's "The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom" (1898), but Levi Coffin's "Reminiscences" (1876) gives an earlier autobiographical account of the origin and management of an important line, while Mrs. Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" throws the glamour of romance over the system.

For additional bibliographical information the reader is referred to the articles on "Slavery, Fugitive Slave Laws, Kansas, William Lloyd Garrison, John Brown, James Gillespie Birney," and "Frederick Dougla.s.s" in "The Encyclopaedia Britannica" (11th Edition).