Secession Era Editorials Project

Furman University Department of History


Virginia and the Fate of the Invaders

Charleston, South Carolina, Mercury [Democratic]

(14 November 1859)

We have been both surprised and indignant to see a portion of the press of Virginia weak enough to entertain a question as to the fate of BROWN, COOK, and company, on trial for the treason, and insurrection attempted at Harper's Ferry. The fact of these guardians of the public weal of the Commonwealth of Virginia gravely considering whether it would not be well to pardon or commute the sentences of these cold-blooded miscreants; and whether such a conciliatory course would not have a soothing effect on the mass of northern abolitionists, and prevent their making a great apotheosis of the martyrs -- erecting shrines for pledging the rising generation to eternal hostility against the South; and whether the democratic party would not be benefitted by clemency -- strikes us as a lamentable indication of timid tampering with the defence of southern institutions; a want of earnest purpose to rise to the requirement of the times. The howling of abolition sympathisers to stay the hand of justice in such a cause! A question of policy to avoid giving occasion for their wailings and denunciations for the doom of their unfortunate confreres, pioneering the way to universal emancipation at the South! A matter for consideration as to the effects upon parties!

We have made no fuss about this Harper's Ferry business. We regard it as a small affair, except as a sign of the times and of the temper and intentions of the northern majority. But something is due to the occasion. Something is due in vindication of the violated sovereignty of the soil of Virginia. Something is due in retribution to the southern blood shed upon its native soil. Something in the way of example for the security of southern hearths. And we tell these gentlemen that if Virginia or her Executive fail to met out the swift and complete justice of the law in any single instance in this bloody business, a deep and general condemnation from the South will follow. It is an upon her intelligence and fidelity to southern institutions, that we, at least, will neither countenance nor believe. We take the liberty of rebuking those of her sons who trifle with a grave subject, and seem disposed to enter into nice calculations on low grounds, whether at all, and with what indulgencies, the wolves and blood-hounds of Harper's Ferry notoriety shall expiate murders their crimes. Nor can we at all sympathize with the Executive praises of the courage and integrity of the treacherous and desperate hyena who led the murderous pack. There is neither policy nor dignity in those utterances of exaggerated and loquacious magnanimity. Nor have we a higher opinion of the benevolent correspondence published as between the she-tigers of abolitionism and the amiable governor of the invaded commonwealth.

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