Social History for Every Classroom


Social History for Every Classroom

menuAmerican Social History Project  ·    Center for Media and Learning

A Love of Freedom and Right

Depending on where they stood on the slavery question, Americans viewed John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry as either a brilliant, if aborted, act of martyrdom for a noble cause, or a horrifying reminder of the potential for a slave uprising and an unwelcome interference from a rabid northern abolitionist in southern affairs. As this editorial suggests, however, both sides came to see violence as an inevitable, even necessary, way to solve the problems of slavery and sectional crisis.

The immolation of John Brown was, in short, in accordance with the philosophy of slavery -- a necessity. He had dared to act on the conviction of his life, and these settled principles of his were the only ones which such a man could entertain. He was too brave to have thought differently from what he did, and the same noble impulses which inculcated a love of Freedom and Right, impelled him constantly and irresistibly to the practical development of his theory. He has failed, according to the popular mode of calculating failure and success; but that his life and tragic death must of necessity constitute a failure, is a point too broad and high to be disposed of in this summary manner. We cannot but disapprove his mad and folly-striken act, but the unselfishness of the deed; his moderation, when victorious, over the town which he captured; his spartan courage in defending himself and his fellows, and his sublime contempt of death while overborne and made the manacled tenant of a prison; his stern integrity in scorning the technicalities of the law, and his manliness in all things, will not be quickly forgotten; but rather a contemplation of this heroic old man's character will irresistibly compel thinking men to ask themselves whether it is John Brown, of Ossawatomie, or the system of slavery which has failed in this conflict.

The execution of the old man at Charlestown yesterday, was a plain admission on the part of Slavery that they dare not spare a brave man's life, and that magnanimity is impossible to a system based on wrong and upheld by violence. History will do justice to the institution of Slavery and its uncompromising foe alike, when both are gone; and, in the meantime, the comparison which this affair provokes between the two, which none can clearly foresee, but enough of which is now plainly visible to change the popular judgment. Slavery in all the plenitude of its triumph and power is a failure; and old John Brown of Ossawatomie has succeeded -- Sampson-like -- in dragging down the pillars of Slavery in his fall, and his victory is complete! While millions of prayers went up for the old martyr yesterday, so millions of curses were uttered against the hellish system which so mercilessly and ferociously cried out for his blood.

Source | Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) Gazette, 3 December 1859, from Furman University, Secession Era Editorials Project,
Creator | Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) Gazette
Item Type | Newspaper/Magazine
Cite This document | Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) Gazette, “A Love of Freedom and Right,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed October 21, 2021,

Print and Share