Secession Era Editorials Project

Furman University Department of History


No False Issue.

New Orleans, Louisiana, Times-Picayune [Democratic]

(03 November 1859)

We have not had space to publish the mass of papers found on John Brown after the suppression of the Harper's Ferry riots, nor any of the numerous documents, letters and cards which have appeared in the Northern journals explanatory of the connection with it of persona supposed to be implicated. The last and most voluminous of these issues is a mass of documents furnished by one Col. Forbes to the New York Herald. Forbes was an English adventurer, who became a paid agent for Abolitionism in this country. His special function appears to have been the management of the "underground railroad" department, the stealing and running off of slaves; and he was by his own showing a busy operator in the work of bringing about a concert among Abolitionists as to the most effectual way of attacking the existence of slavery in the States.

It seems that the business did not pay; at least that the Abolitionists did not pay, as they promised. They undertook, as Forbes states, to support the family he left in Europe, while he was working for their views here. But they failed to pay, and he, in return, exposes and denounces them. We have read his testimony, with the other papers. As they are in the nature of disclosures by a confessed accomplice, under the impulse of disappointment and for revenge, they are to be received with a good deal of caution, where they are no confirmed by other and independent testimony.

The general impression of these publications on our minds is, that the John Brown plot had not very extended ramifications in the North, and was not specifically known to or approved by many persons of influence. But it is quite clear, that the idea on which John Brown proceeded, that slavery is to be attacked in the Southern States from the North, has obtained a wide circulation, and has commanded money, aid, and sympathy to a large degree among Northern people. It is very evident that Brown's animosities were shared by a good many people, who were not ready to adopt the policy of manifesting them in the way and at the time which he selected; who thought, with more sagacity than he, that his attempt must fail, and the effect be to create obstacles to the future spread of these doctrines, in the indignation which it would create among the moral and conservative portion of the North.

It was not likely that any considerable number of reflecting men, having an object in view, and desiring to accomplish it -- desiring the overthrow of slavery, and looking for the means, or desiring the benefit of the anti-slavery excitement for their personal objects -- would connect themselves with a scheme which was so utterly hopeless, and of which the reaction would be so swift and overwhelming. Even the more decided fanatics do not appear to have agreed among themselves. The desperadoes who flung away their lives in the reckless attempt were of the extreme section of the Abolition party, who go in advance of the main body, and who made so rash and fruitless an application of the doctrines they had been so long hearing in high places, that they are surrendered to public condemnation by those who are as guilty in intent, but more discreet in the choice of means, and more patient in waiting for the hour, the opportunity and the help.

There can be no question, we think, that the cause of the South, within the Union, has received great moral strength by the explosion of this imbecile plot, and the developments which have followed, in the proofs it has furnished of the loyalty of the black population, and the sentiment of indignation which it has created among the mass of thinking men at the North, against the authors of this conspiracy, against the abettors of conspiracy, and against the teachers of the inflammatory doctrines of which these things are the natural growth. In this strong position the South can afford to rest within her own defences, and has no need to change the issue by raising questions of doubtful right and constitutional construction, to give factitous strength to the factionists. Among those issues, which some of the excited journals of the South have advised, is that of demanding from the Governors of other States the rendition of persons who are thought to be implicated as parties to Brown's plot, that they may be tired in Virginia for riot, conspiracy and murder. Gerrit Smith, of New York, and Giddings, of Ohio, are specially named, as criminals who ought to be immediately demanded; and some of our Southern cotemporaries are for making it a vital question, that these States shall be made to give up these men at once.

Gov. Wise, of Virginia, who is not usually behind the foremost when zeal for the South is to be manifested in speech or action, does not favor this notion. In a late speech at Richmond, he said: "If any one should smuggle off Gerrit Smith some night and bring him to me, I would read him moral lecture and send him home." Severe as the punishment may be which Gerrit Smith and his associates deserve at the hands of an outraged community, it does not become the South to assert any novel or doubtful doctrines to get possession of his person, and it would be a piece of folly to make an attempt which would be sure to fail, and which, if it should succeed, would embarrass us more than failure.

Giddings and Smith would desire no better position -- for giving them a strength, beyond that which either can hope to possess as Abolitionists, within the free States -- than to be made the subject of a formal demand for transfer to Virginia, to be tried for anything they may have done within the jurisdiction of New York or Ohio. They know that the Governor of neither of those States would admit the right to demand, or the obligation to deliver, under such circumstances; and that the "conspiracy," as alleged, would be converted into a grave controversy between two States, on the subject of their several rights under the federal constitution, and their duties towards each other under the laws and comity of States, not provided for in the constitution; and that on these points the division against the South would be very different from what it would be on the question, as it now stands, of conspiracy, invasion, riot and bloodshed, for the purpose of overthrowing slavery within the States, and the moral power of a mighty public opinion, which is directing itself against the authors and teachers of these incendiary practices.

Gov. Wise is, we hope, too discreet to make such a great mistake of policy, even if he could persuade himself that he has the right to make the demand which is asked for; and we are inclined to think, if the case is presented to him, requiring his examination and decision, he will decide it to be a right too questionable, to say the least of it, to be asserted with the intent of making it an issue between States.

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