Secession Era Editorials Project

An Insurrection Without Negroes

Cincinnati, Ohio, Enquirer [Democratic]

(4 December 59)

It is reported, among the other doings of the late "Old Brown" in his last hours, that he severely reprehended Cook for having falsely informed him that the negroes of Virginia were ready to rise. The prominent idea connected with this piece of information is, that BROWN was mistaken in respect to the disposition of the negroes, and that but for this mistake-which was the result of false intelligence received through one of his associates-he would not have embarked in the affair. It was rather late in the day to produce such a pretense. According to Mrs. BROWN, the notion of slave insurrections was one that had for many years been familiar to her husband. It was he who selected the place where the first attempt was to be made. Before COOK became associated with him a rising was determined upon. Like all men of his order, he assumed as a fundamental fact that all the negroes of the South were groaning in servitude, and only wanting an invitation to throw off their shackles and declare for liberty or death. It is upon this assumption -- to the proof of whose falsity they refuse to listen -- that all Abolition, Anti-slavery and Freesoil operations are based, from such insurrections as that of BROWN to the inflammatory and equally wicked harangues of BEECHER, WHEELOCK, PHILLIPS and EMERSON, and the milder but not less insidious adjurations of GREELEY, GIDDINGS, SEWARD, CHASE, and their associates and collaborators.

What reply the subordinate made to his commander on the production of this charge does not appear, nor is it of much importance. There is, however, one thing in the circumstances that is not without significance-the admission, by the leader of the movement, that the negroes of Virginia are not insurrectionally inclined.

Old BROWN had spent his life in contemplation of servile insurrection. He had selected the place and devoted many months to the accumulation of the means to give absolute certainty to his first attempt. He had been well supplied with money, and had been able to accumulate all the necessary material. He had as many followers was he deemed necessary, and so far as appears, encountered no impediment in his choice and improvement of the means calculated to insure success. He had been able, without exciting the slightest suspicion, to place his men and munitions precisely where he desired them to be, and at any moment before giving the signal to begin, could have retired, free from all danger or disturbance. In every element but one he was the master of circumstances; and if that were only propitious, he had the right to expect a most complete and triumphant consummation.

Yet the failure was utter and unmitigated. There was not only no insurrection, but no signs nor symptoms of one. The parties in whose favor all this labor, expense and risk were undertaken, all this danger encountered, and all this pain, ignominy and death suffered, were apparently the only ones that took no sort of interest in the affair. The negro stood by an unconcerned spectator of psuedo-insurrection, in which, according to the programme, he should have played the leading character. It is this fact, which, however it may be obscured by a multiplicity of philanthropic common-places, will give to the Harper's Ferry tragedy the aspect of a farce, to remain in history as the bitterest possible satire upon the flummery, grandiloquence and sublimated trash of anti-slavery efforts and literature.

A negro insurrection without negroes will have to stand as one of the great inventions of modern philanthropy. Whether our philanthropists have discovered, in its full length and breadth, the intense and unmitigated absurdity of the one thing, and are throwing in a few extra howls to keep it out of sight of others, or whether it has not yet broken upon their understandings, is more than easy to determine. But the time will come when the transaction will be permitted to appear as it really is : and then, perhaps, we shall be able, without, bias, not only to measure the character of Old BROWN, but to get a true estimate of those exceedingly shallow and foolishly mischievous men who are professing to discover the late Harper's Ferry abortion a great event in the progress of abolition.

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