Secession Era Editorials Project

Furman University Department of History


Who Taught John Brown?

New York, New York, Tribune [Republican]

(12 November 1859)

The Herald says it was Mr. Seward:Wendell Phillips that is was the Abolitionists; but Virginia has a better right to the distinction than either. If any one doubts this, let him look at the seal of the Old Dominion. We have before us an impression of this seal, countersigned by Henry A. Wise himself and by the Secretary of the Commonwealth, George W. Munford. Thousands of such impressions have been scattered through Virginia by Gov. Wise, to teach their lessons to slaveholders and slaves. What is the device? An insurgent slave, his liberty cap flaunting in the air, his left hand grasping a pike, his right hand brandishing a sword over the prostrate master whom he tramples under foot. What is the motto? "Sic semper tyrannis," which, freely translated, means "So perish every "slaveholder," or, more freely, "Hurrah for John "Brown!" though the popular Virginia translation is, "Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God." The religious tone of this would suit the stern old Puritan of Harper's Ferry. His Massachusetts admirers who propose to erect a monument to his memory may perhaps find a model in the seal which Gov. Wise will affix to the warrant for his execution. That seal is the solemn official affirmation by a great State of the insurrectionary right of the enslaved; it is a deliberate, time-hallowed approval of John Brown's appeal to force in behalf of the oppressed. Henry A. Wise has John Brown in his power; the champion of the slaveholding class will put to death the champion of the slave. So he said to the veteran who lay upon the stone floor, his blood flowing from many wounds. But we protest, in the name of truth and honesty, against the Governor's affixing the insurrectionary seal of Virginia to the official order for the execution of an insurgent. Let us have no hypocrisy. Virginia has reached a crisis in her history. She should go where she belongs -- among the oppressors of the human race -- and have the honesty to admit her position. She should break her present seal and adopt another more true to fact. The new one should represent in the fore-ground a slave-driver, whipping his drove to the field; in the back-ground, Gov. Wise hanging John Brown; and the motto should be "Death to all champions of equal liberty." This is really what the Governor holds to. Has he the manliness to act out his principles? Or will he continue scattering broadcast his insurrectionary imprints and hanging those who believe their bloody lessons?

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