Secession Era Editorials Project

Furman University Department of History


Brown Republican Sympathizers.

Springfield, Illinois, Illinois State Register [Democratic]

(9 November 1859)

On Monday night, 1st inst., Wendell Phillips of Boston, the noted abolitionist, delivered a "stump speech" in Henry Ward Beecher's church in Brooklyn. Several thousand anxious republicans constituted the audience, and according to the published report of the speech as it appears in the New York Times, of the 2nd, they must have been excessively pleased with the sentiments of the speaker. They laughed at the termination of almost every sentence. They laughed when the speaker said that "every Irishman thinks that he was born sixty days too late." -- When he said, "I think you can make a better use of iron than forging it into chains-- if you must have the metal put it into Sharp's rifles," there were loud and renewed cheers. When he uttered that remarkably original sentiment, "resistance to tyrants is obedience to God," great demonstrations of approbation followed. When he told the story of the two horses stolen by John Brown and sold by him in Cleveland, "notifying all bidders of the defect in the title," there was much laughter, but when the speaker remarked that Brown added with nonchalance when he told the story, "but they brought a very excellent price," the risibles of the audience were still more excited. When the speaker alluded to the failure of Brown's raid at Harper's Ferry, and remarked, "why, this is a decent country to live in now," there were laughter and cheers, and so on at the close of every sentence or two throughout the whole of his speech, occupying nearly four columns of closely printed matter in the New York Times. The cachinatory organs of the congregation were intensely excited at the irresistible comicalities of Wendell Phillips; and his republican hearers were undoubtedly sensibly relieved for a time, of the melancholy reflections consequent upon Brown's failure at Harper's Ferry. There was nothing more in the speech than was expected by those who assembled to listen to it. They knew that Wendell would commend the treason and murder, and eulogize the traitors and murderers. Approving the treason of Brown and his associates, they wanted to hear an intellectual, rhetorical, ironical, and comical delineation of the incidents and actors of that melancholy affair, and they were gratified -- nay, delighted. They expected a treasonable harangue from a speaker, and they were not disappointed. He catered to their morbid appetite for a justification of the treason, and the hungry stomachs of the multitude were filled, and they laughed at every mouthful.

That this speech of Wendell Phillips is a reflex of republican sentiment, in New York, at least-- and it is about the same everywhere, -- is too painfully perceptible to be disregarded. That sentiment is revolutionary in the extreme. It ridicules the majesty of law, denies the legitimacy of government, and invokes a resort to the "higher law," as the arbiter of personal and social conflicts, as every man may be pleased to interpret it. Men are not apt to give demonstrations of hearty approval to opinions in antagonism to their own. Especially are they not moved in that direction by arguments interspersed profusely with sarcasms and invectives. The risibilities of the audience might have been excited by the tittilating character of the remarks, an effect either of their wit or the quaintness of their expression, or both, but the manifestations of applause by cheering and otherwise, were responses of the heart and head to the sentiments of the discourse. As, then, the meeting was composed chiefly of republicans, we infer that it was strongly impregnated with the abolition sentiment; for the speech of Wendell Phillips on the same occasion above referred to, was only a tissue of inflammatory appeals to the antislavery passions of his hearers,-- expressed in elegant diction it is true, but none the less exceptionable or dangerous on that account. If abolitionism and republicanism are identical in New York, they are equally in so Illinois. The only difference is in their relative intensity, the exciting and suppressing causes varying in different localities.

Two or three extracts from the speech of Phillips may be seen in another column of to-day's Register, by which our readers will be enabled to judge of the language and tone of the whole.

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