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Title: John Brown: A Retrospect - Read before The Worcester Society of Antiquity, Dec. 2, 1884.
Author: Roe, Alfred S. (Alfred Seelye), 1844-1917
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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A Letter from John Brown never before in print.

Now in the possession of Sullivan Forehand, Esq., of Worcester.

                             SPRINGFIELD, MASS, 16TH APRIL, 1857.
     Hon. Eli Thayer,
          My Dear Sir

I am advised that one of "U.S. Hounds is on my track"; & I have kept
myself hid for a few days to let my track get cold. I have no idea of
being taken; _& intend_ (_if_ "God will";) to go back with Irons _in_
rather than _upon_ my hands. Now my Dear Sir let me ask you to have
Mr. Allen & Co. send me by Express; one or two sample Navy Sized
Revolvers; _as soon as may be_; together with his best cash terms (he
warranting them) by the hundred with good moulds, flasks; &c. I wish
the sample Pistols sent to John (not Capt) Brown Care of Massasoit
House Springfield, Mass. I now enclose Twenty Dollars towards repairs
done for me; & Revolvers; the balance _I will send_, as soon as I get
the Bill. I have written to have Dr. Howe send you by Express a Rifle
and Two Pistols; which _with the guns you gave me; & fixings;
together_ with the Rifle given me by _Mr. Allen & Co._ I wish them to
pack in a suitable strong Box; _perfectly safe_ directing to _J.B._
care of Orson M. Oviatt Esq. Cleveland Ohio; _as freight_; to keep
dry. For Box, trouble; & packing; I will pay when I get bill. I wish
the box very plainly marked; & forwarded to Cleveland; as soon as you
receive the articles from Dr. Howe. I got a _fine list_ in Boston the
other day; & hope Worcester will not be _entirely behind_. I do no
mean _you; or Mr. Allen & Co._

                          Very Respectfully Your Friend

Direct all letters and bills }
to care of Massasoit House   }                (signed) John Brown
_Please acknowledge_    }



Read before The Worcester Society of Antiquity, Dec. 2, 1884.



Nearly two thousand years ago, at the hour of noon, a motley throng of
people might have been seen pouring forth from the gates of a far
Eastern city and moving towards a hill called Calvary. Amidst soldiers
and civilians, both friends and foes, the central figure is that of a
man scarcely more than thirty years of age. He has all the attributes,
in form and features, of true manliness. A disinterested judge has
just declared that he finds nothing amiss in him; but the rabble cry
out, all the more, "crucify him." While ardently loved by a devoted
few in that tumultuous crowd, he is, to all the rest, an object of
severest scorn, the butt of ribald jest. Wearing his crown of thorns,
he is made to bear, till he faints under his burden, the very
instrument of his torture. His Roman executioners, giving to him the
punishment accorded to thieves and robbers, have imposed upon him the
ignominious fate possible,--death upon the cross.

A century before, Cicero had said: "It is an outrage to bind a Roman
citizen; to scourge him is an atrocious crime; to put him to death is
almost parricide; but to _crucify_ him--what shall I call it?"

The place of crucifixion is reached. The dread tragedy is enacted. The
vail of the Temple is rent in twain; but upon the trembling earth the
cross stands firm; from the consequent darkness it shines forth,
resplendent by the halo of its precious burden. The Saviour of men is
taken thence to lie in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea; his disciples
and brethren wander away disconsolate; his tormentors go their many
and devious ways; but the cross remains. It will ever remain; the
object of reproach and derision to the ancients, to the moderns it has
become the symbol of all that is true and good. The scenes of that
day, on which the son of man was lifted up have sanctified for all
time the instrument on which he suffered; transformed and radiant, it
has become a beacon for all mankind.

Twenty-five years ago to-day, at noon, nearly, another crowd took its
course from prison doors to a place of execution. We see a white
haired old man escorted to his death by all the military strength that
a great state can command. As he leaves his place of confinement he
stoops and prints a kiss upon the face of a Negro baby. A black woman
cries out to him, passing along, "God bless you, old man; I wish I
could help you, but I cannot." The most ignominious death known to our
laws awaits him. Already has the gibbet been erected. The sticks
"standant and crossant" are in place, and the hungry rope is
"pendant." A forty acre field is filled with those drawn together by
this strange scene. Three thousand soldiers with loaded guns stand
ready to repel any attempt at rescue. Well shotted cannon turn their
open and angry mouths upon this one poor mortal. The bravest man
there, he gazes upon the array before him, without a trace of emotion.
The eye that shed tears at the sight of human misery is undimmed by
what man can do against him. Beyond the cordon of foes he remarks the
wonderful beauty of the scenery, the last he is to look upon. He has
made his peace with God and has no other favor to ask of his
executioners than that they hasten their terrible task. The drop falls
and suspended 'twixt Heaven and Earth is the incarnation of the idea
that in a few brief months is to bring liberty to an enslaved race.
Most appropriately did a Boston clergyman on the following Sunday
announce for his opening hymn--

    "Servant of God, well done!"

The John the Baptist of salvation to the Negroes, he died a death
excelled in sublimity only by that of the Saviour of men. Both died
for men; one, for all mankind, the other willing to risk all that he
might open the prison door to those confined, and to strike off the
bands of those in bondage.

And here, too, methinks a strange transformation has taken place. The
rough, the terrible gallows loses its accustomed significance. Its
old time uses are forgotten. Around it I see millions of men and women
pointing to its sole occupant, saying, "He died that we might live."
Even the scaffold may become a monument of glory, for from it a hero
and a martyr passed to his reward. I forget the base and criminal
burdens it has borne, and see only the "lifting up" of one man who had
courage equal to his convictions. His martyrdom came ere he had seen

    "The Glory of the Coming of the Lord."

Under the lofty Adirondacks his body was mouldering in the grave when
Lincoln proclaimed liberty to the slave,

    "But his soul was marching on."

During the twenty-five years intervening since the death of John
Brown, the Drama of Life has been played with far more than the usual
variation. In no equal space of time since the recording of events
began, have more pages of history been turned than during the quarter
of a century just closing. Owing to the efforts of Brown and others
sympathizing with him, the Institution of Slavery had already received
many shocks; but it was still active and aggressive. For ought man
could see to the contrary, it was fated to exist many years yet. It
held unchallenged, fifteen of the states in this Union and was making
strenuous efforts to fortify itself in the territories of the West. A
bishop in the freedom-loving state of Vermont was, twenty-five years
ago, finding scripture argument for the maintenance of Negro slavery.
Across the Connecticut River, in New Hampshire, the head of her chief
educational institution was teaching the young men under his care that
slavery was of Divine origin, and, of course, as such must not be
disturbed. In New York City, one of her foremost lawyers, Charles
O'Conor, announced to his audience that Negro slavery not only was not
unjust, "But it is just, wise and beneficent." Though there was
disclaim at this statement, the vast majority of his immense throng of
listeners applauded the sentiment to the echo. In our own
Commonwealth, a human being had just been rendered back to slavery,
and the most distinguished clergyman in Massachusetts had stood a
trial for endeavoring to prevent the everlasting disgrace. In those
days between "Fifty and Sixty," "Uncle Tom's Cabin" meant something.
Its gifted author had set before every Northern reader a picture on
which he could not look without blushing. Nearly all of us, here
to-night, can recall the intense interest with which our parents
perused the book. I well recall the burning face of my father as he
turned page after page, and when, at times, tears coursed down his
cheek I wondered what it was all about. He, too, had occasion to know
how strong was the bond that slavery had laid upon the Nation, in the
opposition aroused among his own people through his pulpit utterances
on the forbidden subject. In those days, the Underground Railroad was
in full operation. The Southern Black Man, however deep his
degradation, knew the North Star, and towards it he was journeying at
the rate of thousands yearly. We of to-day account it among our most
precious heritages that our sires and grandsires kept stations on that
same road, and many an escaped bondsman looking back from his safe
asylum in Canada called them "blessed." Eighteen Hundred and
Fifty-nine was in the halcyon days of "Fugitive Slave Law" lovers. If
John Wesley considered Slavery the "sum of all villainies," I wonder
what terse definition he would have given to this the vilest enactment
that ever rested on our Statute Book. Not satisfied with whipping,
shooting, hanging, destroying in a thousand ways these unhappy slaves,
the aggressive South forced upon a passive North a law whose enormity
passes description. Every man at the beck of the Southern kidnapper,
by its provisions was obliged to play the part of a Negro catcher. So
great was the passiveness of the North that her most eminent orator,
instead of decrying the proposition as unworthy of humanity, even
lifted up his voice in its defense. Virgil inveighed against the
accursed thirst for gold--_auri sacra fames_; but it was not this
thirst that made him, ofttimes called the "Godlike," turn against all
the traditions of his birth and associations, and speak words which
closed to him Faneuil Hall, the Cradle of Liberty, and drew from
Whittier the scathing lines of


But his thirst was not appeased, and the South before which he had
prostrated himself, turned away from him, spurning his bribe, and made
a nomination which terribly disappointed Webster, and on account of
which he went down to his grave broken hearted. Imagine if you can the
astonishment of the student a hundred years hence, when he reads that
the highest judicial tribunal in the land, voiced through its aged
though not venerable chief, said in the year of our lord, 1857, and in
the year of American Independence the eighty-first, that three
millions of people, at that time represented in Congress through an
infamous scheme of apportionment, had no rights that a white man was
bound to respect. Two judges of that court, and be it ever remembered
to their credit, dissented. Through the worse than Cimmerian darkness
that overspread the Supreme Bench of those days, the names of McLean
and Curtis shine forth, the only rays of light; and I may say with the
exception of that of Taney, remembered through his unique position,
the only names recalled to-day. I doubt whether any present can name
three out of the six judges who concurred with their Superior in his
opinion. It was the age, _par excellence_, of spread-eagle oratory,
when the American Bird soared higher and staid up longer than he ever
has since. Hail Columbias and Star Spangled Banners were in order, but
the latter waved for the white portion of the people only. A flaunting
mockery, our flag justly merited the reproach of other nations that
pointed to our enslaved millions and then said: "Call ye that the Land
of the Free and the Home of the Brave?"

We know that all this is so, for we remember it; but the student of
the future must get his knowledge from books, and in the light of
progress what will he think of defenseless women being mobbed in a
Connecticut town for allowing Negro girls to attend their school? Even
now there is no distinction of color in _our_ schools, and at the High
School in this city, a colored girl has graduated whose foster father
was a slave in Danville, Virginia, while the head master of the school
was held there a prisoner of war. Side by side they sit in our schools
of all grades, and, graduating from our Normal Schools, become
teachers in the schools themselves. He will read that Garrison,
Phillips, Foster and others, were often in peril of their lives for
preaching liberation of the slaves; and how like a myth will it seem
to _him_, when _we_, in twenty-five years from the death of John
Brown, have seen colored men in both branches of the National
Legislature, and to-day cannot look upon a lately issued Government
Note without reading the name of one[A] who was once in bondage.
Popular prejudice, the strongest barrier possible, is rapidly
yielding; and the bayonet, the ballot and the spelling book, have
wrought wonders. With all professions open to the colored man, with
equal rights before the law, with millions of property accumulated
since the war, who shall say that the soul of John Brown is not
marching on?

In the days prior to those of Harper's Ferry Raid, this good City of
Worcester, and the County of the same name, had spoken in no uncertain
manner as to their appreciation of Slavery and its attendant evils.
The first county in the Commonwealth to raise the question of the
validity of Slavery in Massachusetts subsequent to the adoption of the
Constitution, she well sustained her early acquired reputation in the
more troublous times of later years. In 1839, in this city was tried
the famous Holden Slave Case, where a native of Worcester County had
brought to her early home from her more recent Southern one, a
specimen of human property in the shape of a black girl fourteen years
old, by name Anne. By special enactment of Massachusetts no one could
be held in bondage thus unless perfectly willing, and certain citizens
of Holden, knowing that the treatment which the girl received could
not be borne except under duress, secured her person, and bringing her
to the Heart of the Commonwealth, made her "Free indeed." For thus
acting, these citizens were arrested and indicted, for just what, it
seems difficult, at this time, to state; but they were deemed or
called culpable for having, without her consent, taken this girl,
Anne, from bondage and actually giving her liberty. More than fifty
years ago this, and how like a dream the whole matter seems. Ira
Barton was the Justice of the Peace before whom one of the depositions
was made. Solomon Strong, the earliest appointed Judge of the Court
of Common Pleas, the Judge who heard the case. Pliny Merrick was the
District Attorney who conducted the prosecution, and Charles Allen the
Attorney who appeared for the defense. The trial had not advanced a
great ways ere Mr. Merrick declared that there was no cause of action,
and the jury at once acquitted the defendants. Charles Allen! A host
of recollections of the Free Soil and Anti-Slavery days spring into
being at the mention of his name. He was the Massachusetts Whig who,
in 1848, refused to bow the knee to the Southern Baal, and to his
fellow members of the Convention, after the nomination of General
Taylor dared to say: "You have put one ounce too much on the strong
back of Northern endurance. You have even presumed that the State
which led on the first Revolution for Liberty will now desert that
cause for the miserable boon of the vice-presidency. Sir,
_Massachusetts spurns the bribe_," referring thus to the proposed
nomination of Abbott Lawrence. It was a brother of Charles Allen our
late esteemed friend, the Rev. George Allen, who in the same year
offered to a meeting in Worcester, the most famous resolution of the
whole ante-bellum period. Catching the spirit of his brother's words,
he said: "Resolved, That Massachusetts wears no chains and _spurns all
bribes_; that Massachusetts now, and will ever go, for free soil and
free men, for free lips and a free press, for a free land and a free
world." This was a good key-note, and when, six years later, in 1854 a
slave-catcher came to this same city of Worcester, the citizens proved
that they could raise the tune most readily; and the would-be
man-stealer was only too happy to march to its measures out of the
city, without his booty, and possessed of a whole skin. Mr. Jankins,
the object of Butman, the kidnapper's cupidity, during these
intervening thirty years, has continued to live in this city, a
respectable and respected citizen; and has seen his children in the
highest schools of the city. One, having graduated from the High
School, is now in the Normal School. What a comment this, on the times
when, in this _Christian_ land, men and women were imprisoned for
teaching black people how to read,--the Bible even.

I doubt whether the people of Worcester were the very strictest
interpreters of the law in the days when the life of John Brown was
in the balance. Of the technicalities of his offence it is not ours to
judge. The people of the North who had made haste to rid themselves of
slavery, had viewed for years the aggressive unrest of the South.
While civilized countries other than ours had forever abolished the
wretched system, our country, led by its Southern minority, had again
and again done its best to bolster and uphold it. The war with Mexico,
the annexation of Texas, the Fugitive Slave Law, and the repeal of the
Missouri Compromise, were only successive sops thrown to the
insatiable monster. The repeal of the Compromise opened the Territory
of Kansas to both Slavery and Anti-Slavery, and henceforth
Massachusetts speaks with no uncertain voice. John Brown and Charles
Sumner simultaneously spring into renown and immortality. Both of Bay
State antecedents, their history is largely hers. One on the plains of
Kansas fights for what he believes to be the right. His own blood and
that of his sons flow in behalf of oppressed humanity. Border ruffians
are driven back and a Free State Constitution adopted. Sumner, from
his place in the United Sates Senate, boldly proclaims his sentiments
on "The Crime against Kansas," and by an illustrious scion of the
Southern aristocracy is stricken down in a manner which "even thieves
and cut-throats would despise." The contest was on,--any pause
thereafter was only a temporary lull. In the language of New York's
most distinguished Senator, it was "Irrepressible." John Brown had
repeatedly led parties of slaves from Missouri to Kansas, and made of
them free men. He contemplated other and grander strokes against the
peculiar institution. In his singleness of purposes, he saw not the
power of the Government intervening, and perhaps, in his intensity, it
would have made no difference if he had. Certain, however, is the
statement, that the one grand idea over-towering all others in his
mind, was that of liberty for the slaves; and for that idea men of his
own and subsequent days have done him reverence.

Why review the scenes of those hours of attack and fierce defence at
Harper's Ferry? Poorly informed, indeed, must be that American man or
woman, boy or girl, who has not repeatedly read the events of those
less than twenty-four hours of condensed history. They furnish the
prelude to every account of the War of the Rebellion. No matter how
vivid the scenes of later days, somewhere in the background we get
these earlier details over again. The blow once struck, and there
arose from Maine to Texas cries ranging through all the variations of
surprise, exultation, and fiercest denunciation. I am speaking as a
Northern man to Northern people, and it is natural that we should look
upon the acts of John Brown with quite different feelings from those
held by the people who saw in them the uprooting of all the traditions
and customs of their society. For the present, however, I will confine
myself to the opinions of those who from the north side of Mason and
Dixon's Line, heard the "clash of resounding arms." There were many
men who had in various ways assisted Brown in his work without knowing
just what his plans were. It sufficed for them to know that he was to
harry the Institution, leaving to him the perfecting and executing of
details. The telegraphic dispatches on that Monday morning of October
17th, carried consternation into other homes than those of the South.
It seemed reasonable to the Government that men who had contributed in
any way to the support of John Brown must have been privy to his
plans. However much we may pride ourselves now that such and such men
assisted the movement, then the barest suspicion of complicity made
many households look to their hearths. Some, whose names had been
mingled with his, sought refuge in Canada, as Dr. S.G. Howe, Frederick
Douglass and F.B. Sanborn. Gerrit Smith of New York, worn out by
previous hard work, was by this final burden reduced to a condition
necessitating his removal to the Utica Asylum. Now that the affair is
all over and past, it seems very strange that men like those mentioned
before, who were known to be intimate with the Revolutionist, were not
made to suffer at the hands of the law. The only explanation that
occurs to me is that public opinion, while it might not stay the hand
of the executioner in Virginia, most resolutely opposed his crossing
the line. "The New York Democratic Vigilance Association" issued a
manifesto breathing forth threatenings against all those implicated in
the matter, but it came to nothing. Every movement of the trial was
followed with the closest interest, and Massachusetts sent down a man
to assist in the defense who became, in after years, one of her most
famous sons. It is certain that the experience of these weeks at
Harper's Ferry gave John A. Andrew the prompting to the extraordinary
zeal with which he entered upon the duties of his gubernatorial office
less than two years afterward. The whole trial seems farcical; but we
must admit that a show of fairness was had, and, considering the
ferocity with which the old man was attacked when down in the Engine
House, the only wonder is that he was granted a trial at all. Through
all the trying hours of that ordeal how like a hero did he deport
himself! Grand in his assaults on the citadel of slavery, he became
grander still as he calmly met his enemies, and told them of his
purposes. Never boastful, he assumes nothing, but at the end, when
asked to say why sentence of death should not be imposed upon him, he
said: "The Court acknowledges, as I suppose, the validity of the Law
of God. I see a book kissed here which I suppose to be the Bible, or
at least the New Testament. That teaches me that all things
'whatsoever I would that men should do unto me I should do even so to
them.' I endeavored to act up to that instruction. I say, I am yet too
young to understand that God is any respecter of persons. I believe
that to have interfered as I have done, as I have always freely
admitted I have done, in behalf of His despised poor, was not wrong,
but right. Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my
life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood
further with the blood of my children, and with the blood of millions
in this slave country, whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel
and unjust enactments--I submit; so let it be done." Even if we grant
that he was technically wrong we must accord to him the meed of
perfect sincerity. Whatever his failings he had not that of lying.
"Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for
his friends." John Brown fulfilled the highest interpretation of this
Scriptural maxim. The edict once published, and all over the North
there was a feeling of the deepest sympathy. There was nothing that
could be done. People must wait and meditate. Just enough more than a
month to bring the execution on Friday was accorded the condemned man,
for it was on Monday the 31st of October that the trial was ended, and
the sentence was pronounced the following day.

During this month follow the letters, the sermons, the speeches, the
editorials, the thinking, that were the immediate results of the
attack. Never had the subject of Negro Slavery been so thoroughly
ventilated. The liberation of the Slave was coming, and that speedily
through the agency of Brown, but not in the way he had intended. While
audiences throughout the North, and South, too, were roused to fever
heat through the presentations, in different lights it is true, of
this cause, the prime mover in the matter was making his final
preparations for departure. Preparations, I say, not in the sense that
we ordinarily give the word, for of his own future he had no doubt,
but in that of care for the families of his stricken followers. To
Mrs. Lydia Maria Child he writes asking her assistance in behalf of
his daughters-in-law, whose husbands, his sons, fell by his side,
three daughters, his wife, Mrs. Thompson whose husband fell at
Harper's Ferry, and a son unable to wholly care for himself. To a
Quaker lady of Newport, R.I., he sends asking her to write and to
comfort the sad hearts at North Elba, Essex County, N.Y. To his wife
"'Finally, my beloved, be of good comfort.' May all your names be
'written on the Lamb's book of life--may you all have the purifying
and sustaining influence of the Christian religion is the earnest
prayer of your affectionate husband and father, John Brown. P.S. I
cannot remember a night so dark as to have hindered the coming day,
nor a storm so furious or dreadful as to prevent the return of warm
sunshine and a cloudless sky. But, beloved ones, do remember that this
is not your rest; that in this world you have no abiding place or
continuing city. To God and his infinite mercy I always commend you.

And thus he wrote to his half-brother, to his old schoolmaster, to his
son Jason, and to many others. Every word is expressive of the deepest
anxiety for the welfare of his loved ones, and a calm trust in the God
of all as to the righteousness of his cause. Such words and such
behaviour do not comport with the "black heart" which a large part of
the nation was then ascribing to him. It is true, he told a clergyman
of a Southern church who attempted to draw an argument in defence of
Slavery, that he did not know the A B Cs of Christianity since he was
entirely ignorant of the meaning of the word, "I, of course, respect
you as a gentleman, but it is as a _heathen_ gentleman." I can,
myself, appreciate to some extent what must have been the feelings of
the prisoner at the religious ministrations offered him; for I well
remember with what a skeptical air I heard the prayer and the words of
a Rebel clergyman who visited the prison in which I was confined in
1865. I knew he was daily praying God to bring defeat to my comrades
in arms, to increase the number of prisoners, in fine, for the triumph
of the Confederate cause. He undertook a pretty serious task, that of
talking entertainingly in a general way to a company of Federal
prisoners. Had he come to kneel by the side of a dying man, and to
point the way to eternal life, it had been different; but for
doctrinal policies what cared we? We had empty stomachs, and till they
were filled all creeds were alike illusory. Preaching to hungry men
was not a success, and he came but seldom--indeed I remember only
once. Dead men were carried out daily, but they went unattended by
religious rites. I recall now the thought, if God heard his prayer and
answered it, of what avail was mine; but I was certain that mine was
the one listened to, and that being the case, of what avail was his
opinion on the state of the country any way? During these weeks the
condemned man is visited by large numbers of people, both friends and
foes; but before no one does he for a moment weaken in his constant
declaration of the correctness of his cause. Some of the verbal shot
that his proslavery interlocutors received were as hot as those which
he fired from his musket into their midst on that terrible Monday--for
instance, he told Col. Smith, of the Virginia Military Institute, that
he would as soon be escorted to his death by blacklegs or robbers as
by slave-holding ministers. Socrates, awaiting the death which slowly
creeps from his extremities to his heart converses not more quietly
and resignedly to those about him than does this decided old man of
Harper's Ferry. One, a Stoic, discourses on Death and Immortality; and
dying, desires his followers to offer a cock to Æsculapius. The other,
a Christian, ceases not to converse concerning the wrongs of an
oppressed race, and of his deep anxiety for the slaves; and his last
written words were: "I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the
crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood. I
had, as I now think, vainly flattered myself that without very much
bloodshed it might be done." [December 2nd. 1859.]

Our retrospect would be incomplete did we not recall the events
happening in this very City of Worcester, twenty-five years ago
to-day. Never were the pulsations of the "Heart of the Commonwealth"
more in accord with the heart beats of humanity than on that second of
December, 1859. Whatever the thoughts and words of truckling people in
other places, here the tolling bell spoke unmistakably to all who
heard, the sorrow of those mourned the death of the Great liberator.
The _Spy_ of December 3d devotes two columns to an account of the
observances in this city. From this description I learn that from ten
o'clock, A.M. till noon, and again, from seven to seven and one-half
o'clock, P.M., the bells of the Old South, the Central, the Union, and
the Third Baptist churches were tolled. During the tolling of the
bells in the forenoon, the engines at Merrifield's buildings, and at
the card manufactory of T.K. Earle & Co., were stopped, while their
places of business were closed, bearing appropriate symbols of regret
and mourning. The colored people generally closed their places of
employment, and engaged in appropriate religious exercises in Zion's
Church in the afternoon. Earlier than had been advertised Mechanics
Hall was thronged to its utmost capacity, in the vast audience there
being as many women as men. Three sides of the walls bore placards on
which were the words:

    "Whether on the scaffold high,
      Or in the battle's van,
    The fittest place where man can die,
      Is where he dies for man."

At half-past seven o'clock Hon. W.W. Rice called the meeting to order,
saying: "There is no true man that does not feel his bosom swell with
indignation and grief, and pray that God will watch over this land
with his especial care. For Virginia has, to-day, executed a man, who,
by the judgment of this community, is guilty of no moral crime; but
for his fidelity to the principles which his own soul told him were
truths and duty. And we are met to hear the words of our best and most
eloquent men, and to tender our aid and sympathy to the family--that
family in whose veins flows the blood of the martyr, Brown." In
closing, Mr. Rice, who had been heard with repeated applause, read the
following list of officers:

    PRESIDENT: Dea. Ichabod Washburn; VICE-PRESIDENTS: Hon. John
    Milton Earle, Hon. Peter C. Bacon, Hon. George F. Hoar, Hon.
    W.W. Rice, Hon. Lemuel Williams, Albert Tolman, William T.
    Merrifield, George M. Rice, Hon. Austin L. Rogers, Edward
    Earle, John D. Baldwin, George W. Russell, Abram Firth, Joseph
    P. Hale, Dr. S. Rogers, William R. Hooper, Benjamin Goddard,
    Joseph Pratt, Harrison Bliss, Thomas Tucker, Rev. Horace
    James, Rev. Merrill Richardson, Rev. Ebenezer Cutler, Rev.
    R.R. Shippen, Rev. J.H. Twombly, Rev. George Allen, Rev. T.W.
    Higginson, Rev. Peter Ross, Rev. William H. Sanford, Rev.
    Samuel Souther, Dr. Joseph Sargent, Dr. William Workman, Dr.
    O. Martin, Dr. T.H. Gage, Marcus Barrett, Warren Williams,
    Thomas L. Nelson, Hartley Williams, Edwin Draper, S.A. Porter,
    Jonathan Day; SECRETARIES: Charles E. Stevens, D.A. Goddard,
    Joseph H. Walker.

Deacon Washburn, in taking the chair, called on the Rev. Mr.
Richardson to open the further exercises with prayer, after which he
read the following letter inclosing twenty dollars:

                                         WORCESTER, DEC. 2, 1859.

    Dear Sir: I shall not be able to unite with you as I had hoped
    and expected, in your meeting of sympathy and charity. The
    noble and heroic old man who loved the cause that we love, and
    who has been faithful unto death to the principles as he
    understood them, of the religion which we profess, has
    bequeathed to the friends of liberty the charge of comforting
    the desolate old age of his widow, and providing for the
    education of his fatherless children. The charge is too sacred
    to be declined.

    Permit me to enclose, which would be of more value than
    anything I could say at present, a slight contribution toward
    this object.

                                  Yours respectfully, G.F. HOAR.

The speeches that followed were of a particularly eloquent nature. Why
should this be otherwise? Never had men a grander theme nor more
sympathetic listeners. The Rev. Mr. Shippen, among other glowing
passages, said: "John Brown felt as Cromwell felt that he was
commissioned by God to fight against the wrong. Believing in that
eternal judgment based upon the law more lasting than the temporary
statutes of to-day, he acted in accordance with the spirit of the
Gospel, as he in his conscience understood it." Hon. D.F. Parker was
glad to honor John Brown because he dared, upon slave soil, to strike
the blow he did. "Whenever wrong exists, it is our duty to wage war
against it, with peaceful remedies if possible, if not, then with such
as our grandsires used in settling accounts with their oppressors."

The Rev. Mr. Richardson was particularly apt--I may say, grandly
prophetic. Thus: "Never at the beginning of great periods in history
was insurrection so successful as that. It has made it apparent that
slavery can and must be abolished; it has set every press and every
tongue in the land to agitating the subject of slavery, and has made
the pillars of that institution to rock and reel. It has diminished
the value of slave stock. Two hundred million dollars, says a Southern
paper, John Brown destroyed that Sunday night, and has led how many
families to look for a speedy and certain method of getting rid of the
perilous property. That man whom we wrong in calling crazy, was
groping for the pillars of the slave institution, and he has been
successful." Then came Rev. T.W. Higginson who had known much of
Brown's plans, and to whom the prisoner had written only a short time
before his execution. "How little, one year ago to-day, we expected to
hear such words from men who have been deemed conservative; words so
heroic, so absolute in defence of principle; and I have wished the pen
to record the thoughts which lie behind the faces we all meet; the
anxious, the determined, the desperate faces, the varied faces that
meet us ... John Brown is now beyond our reach; but the oppressed for
whom he died still live. Methinks I hear his voice speaking to you in
the words of that Scripture which he loved, 'Inasmuch as ye did it to
these little ones ye did it unto me.'"

The collection that was taken up for the family amounted to $145.88.
Afterward Homer B. Sprague, Principal of the High School, spoke, as
did Mrs. Abby K. Foster, both in an eloquent and forcible manner. At
half-past ten o'clock the meeting adjourned, the large audience
remaining to the end.

Milford, Millbury and Fitchburg, in this County, in a similar manner
took notice of the sad event. In the Legislature, then in session,
there was a movement made in both houses to secure an adjournment.
Though defeated, the motion drew out pretty generally the sentiments
of the members. Many of these voting against adjournment, admired the
martyr; but objected to leaving the business of the day, saying that
Brown himself would counsel continued attention to proper legislative

From the vantage ground of twenty-five years after, it is interesting
to read what leading exponents of public opinion said then. From the
South there came but one cry. It was to be expected. Nothing else
could have been tolerated. From the North there was a diversity of

The _New York Tribune_ of December 3d said, and I can believe that
Greeley himself wrote the words: "John Brown, dead, will live in
millions of hearts, will be discussed around the homely hearth of
Toil, and dreamed of on the couch of Poverty.... Yes, John Brown,
dead, is verily a power like Samson in the falling temple of Dagon,
like Ziska, dead, with his skin stretched over a drum head still
routing the foe he bravely fought while living." The _New York Herald_
of the same date, voicing the sentiment of those who actively or
passively upheld slavery, alludes to the Hero as "Old John Brown, the
culprit, hanged for murder," etc., and states that the South was
correct. The _Boston Courier_ wishes Governor Banks to ask the
Legislature to make an appropriation of $40,000 to assist Virginia in
paying the bills incident to the Trial. If I am not mistaken, it was
this same Courier's editor, one Homer by name, who, some years before,
had placarded the city to excite a riot against Thompson, the English
Emancipationist, and who had been largely instrumental in fostering
trouble for Garrison and Phillips.

If we only knew that we were prophesying at the time! Little did the
Tribune writer think that his allusion to Ziska would prove almost
literally true. In two years from the death of John Brown the Twelfth
Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers, the Fletcher Webster Regiment,
marched down the streets of Boston to the words:

    "John Brown's body lies a moldering in the grave,"

and like magic the whole Union Army took it up, nay more, those who
stood behind the army, young and old. Men and women sung it from Maine
to California. No one knows who wrote it--it was unwritten. It was the
popular idea, inspired by God, given vocal expression. There was
nothing to learn about it. Everybody knew it before he heard it. Once
raised the tune was chanted till the war was over, and its mission
accomplished. It closed not then; for to-day, after our lapse of a
quarter of a century, it is the tune of all others that fires the
Nation's heart. Ziska's drum head is immortal. Early in the War a
large prize was offered for competition, to those who would try to
write a National Hymn. True, we had "America," but it was sung to the
tune of "God save the King or Queen." "The Star Spangled Banner," but
it ran so high that few attempted it. "Red, White and Blue," and "Hail
Columbia"; but they were not adapted to the popular demands. A
National Hymn was demanded, and a committee of meritorious gentlemen
gravely sat down to decide on the merits of more than five bushels of
poems. Twelve hundred poetasters had sent in their lucubrations, over
three hundred of these sending music also, and what came of it?
Nothing, of course. Lowell can write an ode that will make our cheeks
tingle. Bayard Taylor has written them that exalted us with pride; but
neither of these men, nor any other, could sit down and in repose--in
cold blood as it were--write a National Hymn. What was wanted was
another Marseillaise, something which all could readily grasp and
hold, something that no man or woman could help singing, no matter
whether they had ever sung before or not. Roget de Lisle, amid the
terrible scenes of the French Revolution, and stung almost to madness
by the terrible events about him, in a single night gave expression to
a hymn that, in power, has been approached by only one other, that of
"John Brown's Body." Are there not points of resemblance? Both stir
the soul in the chorus. The "_Aux armes, Aux armes_," of the
Frenchman's song is reproduced in our "Glory, Glory, Hallelujah!" No
man will take either hymn off by himself to learn it. They are in his
mind already; but he is never conscious of them till the proper
moment draws them forth. Our National Hymn has no parentage. I have
heard men thrillingly relate the fever of patriotism into which the
singing of its words threw them, as regiment would file along the
streets of our great cities during the war. There is not much to it in
point of words. Such hymns need few words.

    "John Brown's body lies a mouldering in the grave."

    "He has gone to be a soldier in the Army of the Lord."

    "We will hang Jeff Davis to a sour apple tree."

There they are, the three stanzas; but they have been sung more times,
especially the first one, than any equal number of words ever put to
music in America. Put in one sum the times the name of Lincoln, the
Martyred President, and Grant, the Peerless General have been uttered,
and it would not make a hundredth part the number that represents the
utterance of John Brown's name in this song. Some one will say it
cannot be a National Hymn unless sung by all parts of our people.
Millions of people in the South, true of dusky faces, sung it, and how
they sung it. It is more than sentiment, it is life to them; and I am
sanguine enough to believe that the time will come when those who wore
the gray on our Great Contest will so far have seen the error of their
position as to join with us of the other side in singing

    "Glory, Glory, Hallelujah,"

over the fact that the soul of John Brown is marching on.

What think ye of John Brown? Have the widely separated opinions of
twenty-five years ago approached or are they even more divergent? Of
course, the active thinkers and workers of that day have joined the
great majority. A younger and later generation has the conduct of
affairs. In the main, those who hated him then hate him now. Those who
thought him a martyr then are sure of it now. Perhaps we are still too
near the events that made him famous to properly weigh and criticise
the evidence; but what we write now, with what has been written, must
be the source of future conclusions. As to the South, it is far too
early to expect other than the most rancorous feeling towards him.
More than many of us are willing to admit, we are the creatures of our
surroundings, men, thinking and acting as we have been reared. John
Brown put himself in direct opposition to all that made the South
distinctive; and, however much I may blame the section for its
continued hold on Slavery, I cannot think it strange that the
inhabitants looked upon the Liberator with feelings quite the reverse
from ours. For those, however, of equal privileges with ourselves, of
substantially the same rearing, I have not the same measure of
charity. In 1880 one G.W. Brown, M.D., of Rockford, Illinois, formerly
the editor of a paper in Kansas, gave himself the trouble to write a
pamphlet in which he spares no effort to calumniate the Old Hero. I
quote a notice of it from the _Boston Journal_:

    "The writer, Dr. G.W. Brown, in slip-shod and often
    ungrammatical English assails the memory of Old John Brown,
    charges him with active participation in various bloody
    crimes, and abuses his biographers and eulogists. Dr. Brown
    writes as an eye-witness of many of the things which he
    describes; but of his credibility we have no means of judging
    save so far as the bitterness of his tone casts suspicion on
    his veracity."

Happily we are able to tell just what Brown himself thought of his
detractor, and of the paper that he conducted; for in July, 1858,
writing to F.G. Sanborn, he says: "I believe all honest, sensible Free
State men in Kansas consider George Washington Brown's _Herald of
Freedom_ one of the most mischievous, traitorous publications in the
whole country."

"A murderous fanatic and midnight assassin" is what the _Louisville
Journal_ calls him. Just what the same paper calls Mr. Phillip
Thompson, Member of Congress from Kentucky, I cannot state; but from
the generally warped nature of its judgment I am not disposed to set
much store by its opinion of him of Harper's Ferry.

"Without doubt he suffered the just recompense of his deeds," says one
who twenty-five years ago was loud and eloquent in his denunciation of
the "taking off." This man has since sat in Congress with hosts of
Rebel brigadiers, has shaken by the hand Chalmers of Fort Pillow
infamy, has listened to the reconstructed ex-Vice-President of the
Confederacy on the floor of the House of Representatives. There is
something wrong here, and I leave it to the lawyers to decide where.
Brown had no malice against individuals, hence to have hung him for
murder was wrong. If he suffered death for treason against the United
States, then what a gigantic wrong has been done in admitting to the
highest offices those who likewise were treasonable. For myself, I am
ready to affirm that if the present status of affairs is right, there
was most grievous wrong done Brown. The larger and more extended the
treason only adds so much more to the crime. Perhaps had the
"reconstruction" following his foray been associated with more
ballots, or in other words, had conciliation been necessary to the
proper maintenance of a particular party, perhaps, I say, he had been
not only pardoned but elected to Congress.

Fate has assigned to John Brown one of the highest niches in the
Temple of Fame. Thinking only of the name that must be his through all
time, I would not have the past undone; but to-night, after so many
days, it is not amiss to ask ourselves "what might have been?"
Granting that the death struggle between Slavery and Freedom was to
come in 1861, what a part in it must this grand old man have borne!
With his terrible earnestness and indomitable will, with his ability
to weld as it were, to himself all those who came under his influence,
what an avenger he would have been on the tracks of such _chivalrous_
Southerners as Quantrell of Lawrence-burning notoriety, and those who
at Fort Pillow and at Plymouth, N.C. carved out for themselves eternal
infamy. I cannot think of him as a general commander; but as a leader
of scouts, as the head of a band to hang on the skirts of an enemy, he
had been invaluable. All this, however was not to be. He was to do his
part; but it was as a hastener rather than a participant in the
struggle. To please the Southern Herodias his head lay gory in the
charger before the contest which he had preached began.

The contest came. We fought and won. The prime cause of all our woes
exists only as a page, a dark page of history; but on the margin of
that page, and on those of every subsequent page, methinks an unseen
hand writes in indelible characters the part sustained by that
unconquerable leader.

To this day there are those who have halted and hesitated as to the
Right in the War of the Rebellion. To me the question no more admits
of doubt than does the distinction between daylight and darkness. In
fact we were in darkness, and God said "Let there be light," and
immediately the darkness and gloom of oppression disappeared. Shall I,
then, hesitatingly say "_God_ knows which was right"? I will say it,
but with a different inflection; for not only does He know, but I
know, every one who has seen the wonderful change since the contest,
knows that God smiled on our cause. With this deep conviction, then,
in our hearts is it not meet that we should keep ever green the memory
of the man who more than any other, appreciated the exigencies of the
hour, who first fell in his devotion to the cause? In these
twenty-five years his spirit has been joined by those of Sumner,
Greeley, Garrison, Giddings, Phillips, Foster and the many, many
thousands who toiled for the wronged of whatever color. Truth, though
for a time crushed to earth, has risen again. Freedom reigns indeed in
the land of John Brown.

    "His soul is marching on."


[A] B.K. Bruce of Mississippi, now Register of the Treasury, formerly
    U.S. Senator

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