Wednesday, April 08, 2009

John Brown at Harpers Ferry

John Brown

The culminating event of the 1850s was John Brown’s raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry. To white Virginians, Brown’s raid was emblematic of an evil outside influence trying to disrupt the harmony enjoyed by Virginia’s white and African American communities.

“ Not a Slave Insurrection!”, proclaimed an editorial in the Alexandria Gazette,

“ The recent outbreak at Harper’s Ferry was, in no sense, an insurrection. The slaves had no part nor lot in the matter, except in so far as some of them were forced to take part ….There were five free negroes engaged in the affair, but not a single slave! And even the free negroes thus engaged were not Virginia free negroes”

Two days later, the editor of the Alexandria Gazette elaborated on his claim that the Brown raid was not an insurrection. The editor asked, “What single feature or circumstance characterized it as an ‘insurrection’?” After pointing out that “abolition invaders” found not “one single abettor or sympathizer in the State”, the editor pointed out that to call John Brown’s raid an insurrection disguised the enormous truth, “that Virginia has been invaded…actually, deliberately, and systematically invaded…by an organized band of miscreants, white and black, from Free States, under the lead of a Kansas desperado, at the instigation and appointment of influential and wealthy Northern Abolitionists!”

Ultimately the psychological tensions produced by the internal contradictions of slavery as it faced both economic modernization and hostile outside forces found catharsis in secession and war.

Runaway Slaves in Virginia available on Kindle

Secrets of American History: available on Kindle

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