Secession Era Editorials Project

Furman University Department of History


The Fatal Friday.

Chicago, Illinois, Press and Tribune [Republican]

(2 December 1859)

John Brown dies to-day! As Republicans, maintaining as we do, that neither individuals nor parties in the North have a right to interfere with slavery where it exists under the sanction of positive law in the States, we cannot say that he suffers unlawfully. The man's heroism which is as sublime as that of a martyr, his constancy to his convictions, his suffering, the disgraceful incidents of his trial, the poltroonery of those who will lead him forth to death, have excited throughout all the North strong feeling of sympathy in his behalf, but no where, within our knowledge, is the opinion entertained that he should not be held answerable, for the legal consequence of his act. As long as we are a part of the Union, consenting to the bond by which the States are bound together, supporting the constitution and the laws, and using the language and entertaining the sentiments of loyalty, we cannot join in the execration of the extreme penalty which the unfortunate and infatuated old man will suffer. We may question the wisdom of the method by which he is punished -- may believe that Virginia would have added to her honor and confounded her enemies, by an act of clemency toward him and his associates -- may condemn in unmeasured terms the cowardice and blood-thirstiness which her people have displayed -- but when we question the right of a Sovereign State to inflict a penalty for so glaring and fatal an infraction of her laws, we are advocating disunion in its most objectionable form. For that we are not prepared. We would be glad to avert the axe which hangs over the old man's head, if persuasion and entreaty would do it; but we see no way under Heaven by which, doing our duty as law-abiding citizens, we could counsel the use of force for his rescue, or by which we could join in a crusade against those by whom he has been legally though hastily, and because hastily, shamefully, condemned! We are not debarred, however, the right of praising the inherent though mistaken nobleness of the man, of pitying the fanaticism which led him into his present strait, of regretting that a character which might have been so illustrious in the history of his country, must be loaded with the consequences of his errors.

To our more radical readers these views will be unpalatable; but there are such that Republicans must entertain. When the fanatical action of the South and the accumulated aggressions with which she has afflicted the North, dissolve the ties the hold the North and South together, and when we no longer owe allegiance to the constitution and laws which the propagandists of Slavery have long trodden under their feet, then we may have reason, upon the broadest principles of human right, to not only bless but aid any work that will assist in the emancipation, by arms if necessary, of every human being on American soil. Until that time comes there is but one course left. That we have pointed out.

We have firm belief that this execution of Brown will hasten the downfall of that accursed system against which he waged war. Throughout all this land, men will not fail to see that there is a conflict between the principles of humanity that have obtained a lodgment in every human heart, and obedience to laws which all have tacitly agreed to support. The shock caused by his death will be more than a nine days wonder. The emotions excited and the reflections provoked by the tragedy, will go to the very foundations of our political structure; and in all parts of the Union men will ask themselves how long this institution which compels men to put to death their fellows like Brown, who act upon motives and for objects that command the approbation of the world, shall be suffered to disgrace the age and the civilization in which we live. The question will reach hearts that have been callous heretofore; and ere many years it will bring the opposing forces which now distract the country -- right on the one side and wrong on the other -- enlightenment and barbarism -- Christianity and Atheism -- Freedom and Slavery -- face to face for a final conflict. We have no apprehension of the result, whenever it comes. The events of to-day, bring it nearer than it has ever been before since the struggle began at Charlestown, Massachusetts, in 1775. It is ours, as it should have been Brown's to labor and wait!

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