The Delusion that Plunged Them into War: A North Carolinian's Remarks After John Brown's Hanging
Blogger Lew Powell had an interesting post on his blog, North Carolina Miscellany: Exploring the History,Literature, and Culture of the Tar Heel State (Oct. 8) noting an editorial in a North Carolina newspaper published on the day after John Brown’s execution in 1859. Under the title, “John Brown without tears (to say the least),” Powell provides excerpts from the editorial:
“Fanaticism in the North is rampant. . . . On yesterday, the godly city of Boston, built up and sustained by the products of negro slave labor, went into mourning, fasting and prayer over the condign punishment of a negro stealer, murderer and traitor. . . .
“In all the Noo England towns and villages, we may expect to hear that mock funerals have been celebrated, and all kinds of nonsensically lugubrious displays made. (It is a pity that they haven’t a witch or two to drown or burn, by way of variety.). . .
“The Yankees have no objection to mingling money making with their grief, and they will, unless Brown’s gallows is known to have been burned, set to work and make [from it] all kinds of jimcracks and notions… and sell them. Let the rope which choked him, too, be burned or we shall see vast quantities of breast pips, lockets and bracelets… for sale. Barnum is already in the market for Old Brown’s clothes. . . (Raleigh Register, Dec. 3, 1859).
Of course, I could not resist making the following comments which Mr. Powell has graciously posted:
Fascinating reminder of the mindset that once defended chattel slavery and dominated the antebellum era with tirades and threat of secession. In fact, there was no market in John Brown “jimcracks and notions,” although in New York City–where Brown’s body was prepared by a mortician–some relics were kept by admirers (screws from his Virginia coffin, segments of the hanging rope mostly). Whether or not Barnum tried to purchase Brown’s clothes is not clear. The Brooklyn mortician who kept them, being a fervent antislavery man, kept them for many years. It was indicative of the hardness of southern hearts that they could see in Brown’s death only the end of a murderer and criminal, and the outpouring of affection and admiration in the North as nonsensical. This malign hubris is what plunged the Confederacy into war at the cost of so many southern lives–all for the purpose of defending a way of life premised upon the degradation and abuse of other human beings. In the retrospect of history, the people of the South look like the greatest of fools. It is a lesson for all of us and for every generation. John Brown was right after all, and only now we are beginning to recognize it as a nation, even though there are still many people trying to suppress that realization.--LD