A Harpers Ferry Warning
Editorial published in the Harrisburg Patriot and Union
John Brown's October 17, 1859 raid into Harpers Ferry, Virginia shocked the nation, not so much for the deaths that resulted, but because of the potential violence and social upheaval that many saw as its intent. Even though some African American leaders had known of Brown's plans and had dismissed them as foolhardy, northern blacks generally hailed the raid as a bold blow against slavery, to the shock of much of the white community. In response to these sympathies for the condemned anti-slavery leader--Brown had already been tried and found guilty at this point--the Harrisburg Patriot and Union, a Democratic newspaper, ran the editorial below, directed to Harrisburg's black residents.
The editorial takes a very patronizing attitude toward local African Americans, explaining "you should be told what this all means, and what you should do under such circumstances." It further assumes the relative passivity of local blacks by declaring "If left alone, you would not encourage such wicked efforts to excite the black race against the white race," but blames the Republican party and abolition leaders for "goading you on." Slavery and southern blacks, it argues, are not the concern of Harrisburg's African American community, which it believes must "attend strictly to yourselves and your own homes."
It concludes with the threat that local white fury would be visited upon them should they continue to applaud such actions. Despite the threat, Harrisburg blacks, like northern blacks in general, did indeed continue to uphold John Brown and his men as heroes. Public demonstrations of support for the jailed Brown, and for his family, were held in many northern towns and cities. December 2, 1859--the day of Brown's execution--was called Martyr Day by black abolitionists, and was marked by somber prayer meetings, the wearing of black crepe armbands, and the closing of many black businesses. (Benjamin Quarles, Black Abolitionists, 1969, pp. 234-244)
form a large portion of our population; you are supposed to sympathise
with the recent attempt at insurrection in Harper’s Ferry. It is,
therefore, proper that you should be told what this all means, and
what you should always do under
such circumstances. We speak to you on the subject because there are among
you honest and intelligent men, who deserve to have these things
explained to them.
If left alone, you would not encourage such wicked efforts to excite the black
race against the white race, and the white race against the black race, as
a short time ago resulted in the death of over a score of persons
of both colors,
but the Republican party has been so long preaching to you, and Abolitionists
have been so long goading you on, that you have commenced to think it your
duty to interfere with slavery in the southern States.
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