Secession Era Editorials Project

"Forewarned, Forarmed."

Natchez, Mississippi, Courier [Opposition]

(18 November 1859)

The Secretary of War, as we have already stated, seems to have had timely notice of the plot which led to the late outbreak at Harper's Ferry, but the warning being anonymous, it was regarded, we suppose, as unworthy of attention. Perhaps, says the Mobile Tribune, it would have met the same fate if it had not been anonymous. History is full of such examples. The authorities in British India had received more than one intimation of what was to happen months before the breaking out of the mutiny at Meerut; and the horrors of Cawnpore and Delhi might have been averted by timely precaution. Julius Ceasar was forewarned of his fate when on his way to the capitol. The British nobleman who received anonymous information of the Gunpowder plot was wiser.

The truth is, continues the Tribune, there is a false pride that deters men from appearing to suspect of uncertain danger. The dread of ridicule, or of the imputation of timidity, is so strong that we do not like to incur even the appearance of apprehension. It is a weakness, nevertheless.

May not a useful lesson be drawn from these experiences? Perhaps there never was a wilder or more foolish enterprise -- leaving entirely out of view the atrocity of the thing -- than that undertaken by Brown and his confederates at Harper's Ferry. And yet the man evidently possessed the means for setting on foot a formidable conspiracy, and the courage and skill to put it in execution.

It proves very clearly that the folly and madness of such a plot, considered with reference to its ultimate results, is no reason for treating the premonitions of it with contempt or incredulity. "An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure," and vigilance is the price, not only of liberty, but of safety.

It so happened, that on the very morning on which the fight occurred at Harper's Ferry, we were in company with a friend, when the conversation turned upon the subject of the spasmodic apprehension that sometimes attacks a community, with reference to just such an occurrence as that which Brown attempted to get up. Our friend related a case in point, from his own experience, and appeared to regard it as indicating an undue readiness to give way to suspicion. Of course we should condemn anything like a nervous anxiety, and above all any disposition to attach suspicion of treason or conspiracy to individuals, without the most palpable proof. In fact, there is already too great proneness to this in some parts of the country. But at the same time a judicious vigilance is necessary to the welfare of any community, however peaceful, so long as human nature continues to be corrupt; nor should any warning, such as that received by the Secretary of War, be regarded as necessarily insignificant. A madman, or a set of madmen, let loose, may be very sure of being eventually and speedily checked, but it is better to check them before they are turned loose.


This document was produced as part of a document analysis project by Lloyd Benson, Department of History, Furman University. (Proofing info: Entered by Lloyd Benson. .) This electronic version may not be copied, or linked to, or otherwise used for commercial purposes, (including textbook or publication-related websites) without prior written permission. The views expressed in this document are for educational, historical, and scholarly use only, and are not intended to represent the views of the project contributors or Furman University.