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    A Plea For Captain John Brown

    by Henry David Thoreau
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    I trust that you will pardon me for being here. I do not wish to
    force my thoughts upon you, but I feel forced myself. Little as I
    know of Captain Brown, I would fain do my part to correct the tone
    and the statements of the newspapers, and of my countrymen generally,
    respecting his character and actions. It costs us nothing to be
    just. We can at least express our sympathy with, and admiration
    of, him and his companions, and that is what I now propose to do.

    First, as to his history. I will endeavor to omit, as much
    as possible, what you have already read. I need not describe his
    person to you, for probably most of you have seen and will not
    soon forget him. I am told that his grandfather, John Brown, was an
    officer in the Revolution; that he himself was born in Connecticut
    about the beginning of this century, but early went with his
    father to Ohio. I heard him say that his father was a contractor
    who furnished beef to the army there, in the war of 1812; that he
    accompanied him to the camp, and assisted him in that employment,
    seeing a good deal of military life,--more, perhaps, than if he
    had been a soldier; for he was often present at the councils of
    the officers. Especially, he learned by experience how armies are
    supplied and maintained in the field,--a work which, he observed,
    requires at least as much experience and skill as to lead them in
    battle. He said that few persons had any conception of the cost,
    even the pecuniary cost, of firing a single bullet in war. He saw
    enough, at any rate, to disgust him with a military life; indeed,
    to excite in his a great abhorrence of it; so much so, that though
    he was tempted by the offer of some petty office in the army, when
    he was about eighteen, he not only declined that, but he also refused
    to train when warned, and was fined for it. He then resolved that
    he would never have anything to do with any war, unless it were a
    war for liberty.

    When the troubles in Kansas began, he sent several of his sons
    thither to strengthen the party of the Free State men, fitting them
    out with such weapons as he had; telling them that if the troubles
    should increase, and there should be need of his, he would follow,
    to assist them with his hand and counsel. This, as you all know,
    he soon after did; and it was through his agency, far more than
    any other's, that Kansas was made free.

    For a part of his life he was a surveyor, and at one time he was
    engaged in wool-growing, and he went to Europe as an agent about
    that business. There, as everywhere, he had his eyes about him,
    and made many original observations. He said, for instance, that
    he saw why the soil of England was so rich, and that of Germany
    (I think it was) so poor, and he thought of writing to some of the
    crowned heads about it. It was because in England the peasantry
    live on the soil which they cultivate, but in Germany they are
    gathered into villages, at night. It is a pity that he did not
    make a book of his observations.

    I should say that he was an old-fashioned man in respect for the
    Constitution, and his faith in the permanence of this Union. Slavery
    he deemed to be wholly opposed to these, and he was its determined

    He was by descent and birth a New England farmer, a man of great
    common-sense, deliberate and practical as that class is, and tenfold
    more so. He was like the best of those who stood at Concord Bridge
    once, on Lexington Common, and on Bunker Hill, only he was firmer
    and higher principled than any that I have chanced to hear of as
    there. It was no abolition lecturer that converted him. Ethan
    Allen and Stark, with whom he may in some respects be compared, were
    rangers in a lower and less important field. They could bravely
    face their country's foes, but he had the courage to face his country
    herself, when she was in the wrong. A Western writer says, to
    account for his escape from so many perils, that he was concealed
    under a "rural exterior"; as if, in that prairie land, a hero
    should, by good rights, wear a citizen's dress only.

    He did not go to the college called Harvard, good old Alma Mater
    as she is. He was not fed on the pap that is there furnished. As
    he phrased it, "I know no more of grammar than one of your calves."
    But he went to the great university of the West, where he sedulously
    pursued the study of Liberty, for which he had early betrayed a
    fondness, and having taken many degrees, he finally commenced the
    public practice of Humanity in Kansas, as you all know. Such were
    his humanities and not any study of grammar. He would have left a
    Greek accent slanting the wrong way, and righted up a falling man.

    He was one of that class of whom we hear a great deal, but, for
    the most part, see nothing at all,--the Puritans. It would be in
    vain to kill him. He died lately in the time of Cromwell, but he
    reappeared here. Why should he not? Some of the Puritan stock
    are said to have come over and settled in New England. They were
    a class that did something else than celebrate their forefathers'
    day, and eat parched corn in remembrance of that time. They
    were neither Democrats nor Republicans, but men of simple habits,
    straightforward, prayerful; not thinking much of rulers who did not
    fear God, not making many compromises, nor seeking after available

    "In his camp," as one has recently written, and as I have myself
    heard him state, "he permitted no profanity; no man of loose morals
    was suffered to remain there, unless, indeed, as a prisoner of war.
    'I would rather,' said he, 'have the small-pox, yellow-fever, and
    cholera, all together in my camp, than a man without principle....
    It is a mistake, sir, that our people make, when they think that
    bullies are the best fighters, or that they are the fit men to oppose
    these Southerners. Give me men of good principles,--God-fearing
    men,--men who respect themselves, and with a dozen of them I will
    oppose any hundred such men as these Buford ruffians.'" He said
    that if one offered himself to be a soldier under him, who was
    forward to tell what he could or would do, if he could only get
    sight of the enemy, he had but little confidence in him.

    He was never able to find more than a score or so of recruits whom
    he would accept, and only about a dozen, among them his sons, in
    whom he had perfect faith. When he was here, some years ago, he
    showed to a few a little manuscript book,--his "orderly book" I
    think he called it,--containing the names of his company in Kansas,
    and the rules by which they bound themselves; and he stated that
    several of them had already sealed the contract with their blood.
    When some one remarked that, with the addition of a chaplain, it
    would have been a perfect Cromwellian troop, he observed that he
    would have been glad to add a chaplain to the list, if he could have
    found one who could fill that office worthily. It is easy enough
    to find one for the United States army. I believe that he had
    prayers in his camp morning and evening, nevertheless.

    He was a man of Spartan habits, and at sixty was scrupulous about
    his diet at your table, excusing himself by saying that he must
    eat sparingly and fare hard, as became a soldier, or one who was
    fitting himself for difficult enterprises, a life of exposure.

    A man of rare common-sense and directness of speech, as of action;
    a transcendentalist above all, a man of ideas and principles,--that
    was what distinguished him. Not yielding to a whim or transient
    impulse, but carrying out the purpose of a life. I noticed that he
    did not overstate anything, but spoke within bounds. I remember,
    particularly, how, in his speech here, he referred to what his
    family had suffered in Kansas, without ever giving the least vent
    to his pent-up fire. It was a volcano with an ordinary chimney-flue.
    Also referring to the deeds of certain Border Ruffians, he said,
    rapidly paring away his speech, like an experienced soldier,
    keeping a reserve of force and meaning, "They had a perfect right
    to be hung." He was not in the least a rhetorician, was not talking
    to Buncombe or his constituents anywhere, had no need to invent
    anything but to tell the simple truth, and communicate his own
    resolution; therefore he appeared incomparably strong, and eloquence
    in Congress and elsewhere seemed to me at a discount. It was like
    the speeches of Cromwell compared with those of an ordinary king.

    As for his tact and prudence, I will merely say, that at a time
    when scarcely a man from the Free States was able to reach Kansas
    by any direct route, at least without having his arms taken from
    him, he, carrying what imperfect guns and other weapons he could
    collect, openly and slowly drove an ox-cart through Missouri,
    apparently in the capacity of a surveyor, with his surveying compass
    exposed in it, and so passed unsuspected, and had ample opportunity
    to learn the designs of the enemy. For some time after his arrival
    he still followed the same profession. When, for instance, he saw
    a knot of the ruffians on the prairie, discussing, of course, the
    single topic which then occupied their minds, he would, perhaps,
    take his compass and one of his sons, and proceed to run an
    imaginary line right through the very spot on which that conclave
    had assembled, and when he came up to them, he would naturally
    pause and have some talk with them, learning their news, and, at
    last, all their plans perfectly; and having thus completed his real
    survey he would resume his imaginary one, and run on his line till
    he was out of sight.

    When I expressed surprise that he could live in Kansas at all,
    with a price set upon his head, and so large a number, including
    the authorities, exasperated against him, he accounted for it by
    saying, "It is perfectly well understood that I will not be taken."
    Much of the time for some years he has had to skulk in swamps,
    suffering from poverty and from sickness, which was the consequence
    of exposure, befriended only by Indians and a few whites. But
    though it might be known that he was lurking in a particular swamp,
    his foes commonly did not care to go in after him. He could even
    come out into a town where there were more Border Ruffians than
    Free State men, and transact some business, without delaying long,
    and yet not be molested; for, said he, "No little handful of men
    were willing to undertake it, and a large body could not be got
    together in season."

    As for his recent failure, we do not know the facts about it. It
    was evidently far from being a wild and desperate attempt. His
    enemy, Mr. Vallandigham, is compelled to say, that "it was among
    the best planned executed conspiracies that ever failed."

    Not to mention his other successes, was it a failure, or did it
    show a want of good management, to deliver from bondage a dozen
    human beings, and walk off with them by broad daylight, for weeks
    if not months, at a leisurely pace, through one State after another,
    for half the length of the North, conspicuous to all parties, with
    a price set upon his head, going into a court-room on his way and
    telling what he had done, thus convincing Missouri that it was not
    profitable to try to hold slaves in his neighborhood?--and this,
    not because the government menials were lenient, but because they
    were afraid of him.

    Yet he did not attribute his success, foolishly, to "his star,"
    or to any magic. He said, truly, that the reason why such greatly
    superior numbers quailed before him was, as one of his prisoners
    confessed, because they lacked a cause,--a kind of armor which he
    and his party never lacked. When the time came, few men were found
    willing to lay down their lives in defence of what they knew to
    be wrong; they did not like that this should be their last act in
    this world.

    But to make haste to his last act, and its effects.

    The newspapers seem to ignore, or perhaps are really ignorant of the
    fact, that there are at least as many as two or three individuals
    to a town throughout the North who think much as the present speaker
    does about him and his enterprise. I do not hesitate to say that
    they are an important and growing party. We aspire to be something
    more than stupid and timid chattels, pretending to read history and
    our Bibles, but desecrating every house and every day we breathe
    in. Perhaps anxious politicians may prove that only seventeen
    white men and five negroes were concerned in the late enterprise;
    but their very anxiety to prove this might suggest to themselves
    that all is not told. Why do they still dodge the truth? They
    are so anxious because of a dim consciousness of the fact, which
    they do not distinctly face, that at least a million of the free
    inhabitants of the United States would have rejoiced if it had
    succeeded. They at most only criticise the tactics. Though we wear
    no crape, the thought of that man's position and probable fate is
    spoiling many a man's day here at the North for other thinking.
    If any one who has seen him here can pursue successfully any other
    train of thought, I do not know what he is made of. If there is
    any such who gets his usual allowance of sleep, I will warrant him
    to fatten easily under any circumstances which do not touch his
    body or purse. I put a piece of paper and a pencil under my pillow,
    and when I could not sleep, I wrote in the dark.

    On the whole, my respect for my fellow-men, except as one may outweigh
    a million, is not being increased these days. I have noticed the
    cold-blooded way in which newspaper writers and men generally speak
    of this event, as if an ordinary malefactor, though one of unusual
    "pluck,"--as the Governor of Virginia is reported to have said, using
    the language of the cock-pit, "the gamest man he ever saw,"--had
    been caught, and were about to be hung. He was not dreaming of his
    foes when the governor thought he looked so brave. It turns what
    sweetness I have to gall, to hear, or hear of, the remarks of some
    of my neighbors. When we heard at first that he was dead, one of my
    townsmen observed that "he died as the fool dieth"; which, pardon
    me, for an instant suggested a likeness in him dying to my neighbor
    living. Others, craven-hearted, said disparagingly, that "he
    threw his life away," because he resisted the government. Which
    way have they thrown their lives, pray?--such as would praise a man
    for attacking singly an ordinary band of thieves or murderers. I
    hear another ask, Yankee-like, "What will he gain by it?" as if he
    expected to fill his pockets by this enterprise. Such a one has
    no idea of gain but in this worldly sense. If it does not lead to
    a "surprise" party, if he does not get a new pair of boots, or a
    vote of thanks, it must be a failure. "But he won't gain anything
    by it." Well, no, I don't suppose he could get four-and-sixpence
    a day for being hung, take the year round; but then he stands a chance
    to save a considerable part of his soul,--and such a soul!--when
    you do not. No doubt you can get more in your market for a quart
    of milk than for a quart of blood, but that is not the market that
    heroes carry their blood to.

    Such do not know that like the seed is the fruit, and that, in the
    moral world, when good seed is planted, good fruit is inevitable,
    and does not depend on our watering and cultivating; that when you
    plant, or bury, a hero in his field, a crop of heroes is sure to
    spring up. This is a seed of such force and vitality, that it does
    not ask our leave to germinate.

    The momentary charge at Balaclava, in obedience to a blundering
    command, proving what a perfect machine the soldier is, has, properly
    enough, been celebrated by a poet laureate; but the steady, and
    for the most part successful, charge of this man, for some years,
    against the legions of Slavery, in obedience to an infinitely higher
    command, is as much more memorable than that, as an intelligent
    and conscientious man is superior to a machine. Do you think that
    that will go unsung?

    "Served him right,"--"A dangerous man,"--"He is undoubtedly insane."
    So they proceed to live their sane, and wise, and altogether admirable
    lives, reading their Plutarch a little, but chiefly pausing at that
    feat of Putnam, who was let down into a wolf's den; and in this
    wise they nourish themselves for brave and patriotic deeds some
    time or other. The Tract Society could afford to print that story
    of Putnam. You might open the district schools with the reading of
    it, for there is nothing about Slavery or the Church in it; unless
    it occurs to the reader that some pastors are wolves in sheep's
    clothing. "The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions"
    even, might dare to protest against that wolf. I have heard of
    boards, and of American boards, but it chances that I never heard
    of this particular lumber till lately. And yet I hear of Northern
    men, and women, and children, by families, buying a "life membership"
    in such societies as these. A life-membership in the grave! You
    can get buried cheaper than that.

    Our foes are in our midst and all about us. There is hardly
    a house but is divided against itself, for our foe is the all but
    universal woodenness of both head and heart, the want of vitality
    in man, which is the effect of our vice; and hence are begotten
    fear, superstition, bigotry, persecution, and slavery of all kinds.
    We are mere figureheads upon a hulk, with livers in the place of
    hearts. The curse is the worship of idols, which at length changes
    the worshipper into a stone image himself; and the New-Englander is
    just as much an idolater as the Hindoo. This man was an exception,
    for he did not set up even a political graven image between him
    and his God.

    A church that can never have done with excommunicating Christ while
    it exists! Away with your broad and flat churches, and your narrow
    and tall churches! Take a step forward, and invent a new style
    of out-houses. Invent a salt that will save you, and defend our

    The modern Christian is a man who has consented to say all the
    prayers in the liturgy, provided you will let him go straight to
    bed and sleep quietly afterward. All his prayers begin with "Now
    I lay me down to sleep," and he is forever looking forward to the
    time when he shall go to his "long rest." He has consented to
    perform certain old-established charities, too, after a fashion,
    but he does not wish to hear of any new-fangled ones; he doesn't
    wish to have any supplementary articles added to the contract, to
    fit it to the present time. He shows the whites of his eyes on the
    Sabbath, and the blacks all the rest of the week. The evil is not
    merely a stagnation of blood, but a stagnation of spirit. Many,
    no doubt, are well disposed, but sluggish by constitution and by
    habit, and they cannot conceive of a man who is actuated by higher
    motives than they are. Accordingly they pronounce this man insane,
    for they know that they could never act as he does, as long as they
    are themselves.

    We dream of foreign countries, of other times and races of men, placing
    them at a distance in history or space; but let some significant
    event like the present occur in our midst, and we discover, often,
    this distance and this strangeness between us and our nearest
    neighbors. They are our Austrias, and Chinas, and South Sea Islands.
    Our crowded society becomes well spaced all at once, clean and
    handsome to the eye,--a city of magnificent distances. We discover
    why it was that we never got beyond compliments and surfaces with
    them before; we become aware of as many versts between us and them
    as there are between a wandering Tartar and a Chinese town. The
    thoughtful man becomes a hermit in the thoroughfares of the
    market-place. Impassable seas suddenly find their level between us,
    or dumb steppes stretch themselves out there. It is the difference
    of constitution, of intelligence, and faith, and not streams and
    mountains, that make the true and impassable boundaries between
    individuals and between states. None but the like-minded can come
    plenipotentiary to our court.

    I read all the newspapers I could get within a week after this event,
    and I do not remember in them a single expression of sympathy for
    these men. I have since seen one noble statement, in a Boston
    paper, not editorial. Some voluminous sheets decided not to print
    the full report of Brown's words to the exclusion of other matter.
    It was as if a publisher should reject the manuscript of the New
    Testament, and print Wilson's last speech. The same journal which
    contained this pregnant news, was chiefly filled, in parallel
    columns, with the reports of the political conventions that were
    being held. But the descent to them was too steep. They should
    have been spared this contrast,--been printed in an extra, at least.
    To turn from the voices and deeds of earnest men to the cackling
    of political conventions! Office-seekers and speech-makers, who
    do not so much as lay an honest egg, but wear their breasts bare
    upon an egg of chalk! Their great game is the game of straws,
    or rather that universal aboriginal game of the platter, at which
    the Indians cried hub, bub! Exclude the reports of religious and
    political conventions, and publish the words of a living man.

    But I object not so much to what they have omitted, as to what they
    have inserted. Even the Liberator called it "a misguided, wild,
    and apparently insane--effort." As for the herd of newspapers and
    magazines, I do not chance to know an editor in the country who
    will deliberately print anything which he knows will ultimately
    and permanently reduce the number of his subscribers. They do not
    believe that it would be expedient. How then can they print truth?
    If we do not say pleasant things, they argue, nobody will attend
    to us. And so they do like some travelling auctioneers, who sing
    an obscene song, in order to draw a crowd around them. Republican
    editors, obliged to get their sentences ready for the morning
    edition, and accustomed to look at everything by the twilight of
    politics, express no admiration, nor true sorrow even, but call these
    men "deluded fanatics,"--"mistaken men,"--"insane," or "crazed."
    It suggests what a sane set of editors we are blessed with, not
    "mistaken men"; who know very well on which side their bread is
    buttered, at least.

    A man does a brave and humane deed, and at once, on all sides, we
    hear people and parties declaring, "I didn't do it, nor countenance
    him to do it, in any conceivable way. It can't be fairly inferred
    from my past career." I, for one, am not interested to hear you
    define your position. I don't know that I ever was, or ever shall
    be. I think it is mere egotism, or impertinent at this time. Ye
    needn't take so much pains to wash your skirts of him. No intelligent
    man will ever be convinced that he was any creature of yours. He
    went and came, as he himself informs us, "under the auspices of
    John Brown and nobody else." The Republican party does not perceive
    how many his failure will make to vote more correctly than they
    would have them. They have counted the votes of Pennsylvania & Co.,
    but they have not correctly counted Captain Brown's vote. He has
    taken the wind out of their sails,--the little wind they had,--and
    they may as well lie to and repair.

    What though he did not belong to your clique! Though you may not
    approve of his method or his principles, recognize his magnanimity.
    Would you not like to claim kindredship with him in that, though
    in no other thing he is like, or likely, to you? Do you think that
    you would lose your reputation so? What you lost at the spile,
    you would gain at the bung.

    If they do not mean all this, then they do not speak the truth,
    and say what they mean. They are simply at their old tricks still.

    "It was always conceded to him," says one who calls him crazy, "that
    he was a conscientious man, very modest in his demeanor, apparently
    inoffensive, until the subject of Slavery was introduced, when he
    would exhibit a feeling of indignation unparalleled."

    The slave-ship is on her way, crowded with its dying victims; new
    cargoes are being added in mid-ocean a small crew of slaveholders,
    countenanced by a large body of passengers, is smothering four
    millions under the hatches, and yet the politician asserts that the
    only proper way by which deliverance is to be obtained, is by "the
    quiet diffusion of the sentiments of humanity," without any "outbreak."
    As if the sentiments of humanity were ever found unaccompanied by
    its deeds, and you could disperse them, all finished to order, the
    pure article, as easily as water with a watering-pot, and so lay
    the dust. What is that that I hear cast overboard? The bodies
    of the dead that have found deliverance. That is the way we are
    "diffusing" humanity, and its sentiments with it.

    Prominent and influential editors, accustomed to deal with politicians,
    men of an infinitely lower grade, say, in their ignorance, that
    he acted "on the principle of revenge." They do not know the man.
    They must enlarge themselves to conceive of him. I have no doubt
    that the time will come when they will begin to see him as he
    was. They have got to conceive of a man of faith and of religious
    principle, and not a politician or an Indian; of a man who did not
    wait till he was personally interfered with or thwarted in some
    harmless business before he gave his life to the cause of the

    If Walker may be considered the representative of the South, I wish
    I could say that Brown was the representative of the North. He
    was a superior man. He did not value his bodily life in comparison
    with ideal things. He did not recognize unjust human laws,
    but resisted them as he was bid. For once we are lifted out of
    the trivialness and dust of politics into the region of truth and
    manhood. No man in America has ever stood up so persistently and
    effectively for the dignity of human nature, knowing himself for a
    man, and the equal of any and all governments. In that sense he
    was the most American of us all. He needed no babbling lawyer,
    making false issues, to defend him. He was more than a match for
    all the judges that American voters, or office-holders of whatever
    grade, can create. He could not have been tried by a jury of
    his peers, because his peers did not exist. When a man stands up
    serenely against the condemnation and vengeance of mankind, rising
    above them literally by a whole body,--even though he were of late
    the vilest murderer, who has settled that matter with himself,--the
    spectacle is a sublime one,--didn't ye know it, ye Liberators, ye
    Tribunes, ye Republicans?--and we become criminal in comparison.
    Do yourselves the honor to recognize him. He needs none of your

    As for the Democratic journals, they are not human enough to affect
    me at all. I do not feel indignation at anything they may say.

    I am aware that I anticipate a little,--that he was still, at the
    last accounts, alive in the hands of his foes; but that being the
    case, I have all along found myself thinking and speaking of him
    as physically dead.

    I do not believe in erecting statues to those who still live in
    our hearts, whose bones have not yet crumbled in the earth around
    us, but I would rather see the statue of Captain Brown in the
    Massachusetts State-House yard, than that of any other man whom I
    know. I rejoice that I live in this age, that I am his contemporary.

    What a contrast, when we turn to that political party which is so
    anxiously shuffling him and his plot out of its way, and looking
    around for some available slave holder, perhaps, to be its candidate,
    at least for one who will execute the Fugitive Slave Law, and all
    those other unjust laws which he took up arms to annul!

    Insane! A father and six sons, and one son-in-law, and several
    more men besides,--as many at least as twelve disciples,--all struck
    with insanity at once; while the same tyrant holds with a firmer
    gripe than ever his four millions of slaves, and a thousand sane
    editors, his abettors, are saving their country and their bacon!
    Just as insane were his efforts in Kansas. Ask the tyrant who is
    his most dangerous foe, the sane man or the insane? Do the thousands
    who know him best, who have rejoiced at his deeds in Kansas, and
    have afforded him material aid there, think him insane? Such a use
    of this word is a mere trope with most who persist in using it,
    and I have no doubt that many of the rest have already in silence
    retracted their words.

    Read his admirable answers to Mason and others. How they are
    dwarfed and defeated by the contrast! On the one side, half-brutish,
    half-timid questioning; on the other, truth, clear as lightning,
    crashing into their obscene temples. They are made to stand with
    Pilate, and Gesler, and the Inquisition. How ineffectual their
    speech and action! and what a void their silence! They are but
    helpless tools in this great work. It was no human power that
    gathered them about this preacher.

    What have Massachusetts and the North sent a few sane representatives
    to Congress for, of late years?--to declare with effect what kind of
    sentiments? All their speeches put together and boiled down,--and
    probably they themselves will confess it,--do not match for
    manly directness and force, and for simple truth, the few casual
    remarks of crazy John Brown, on the floor of the Harper's Ferry
    engine-house,--that man whom you are about to hang, to send to
    the other world, though not to represent you there. No, he was not
    our representative in any sense. He was too fair a specimen of a
    man to represent the like of us. Who, then, were his constituents?
    If you read his words understandingly you will find out. In his
    case there is no idle eloquence, no made, nor maiden speech, no
    compliments to the oppressor. Truth is his inspirer, and earnestness
    the polisher of his sentences. He could afford to lose his Sharpe's
    rifles, while he retained his faculty of speech,--a Sharpe's rifle
    of infinitely surer and longer range.

    And the New York Herald reports the conversation verbatim! It does
    not know of what undying words it is made the vehicle.

    I have no respect for the penetration of any man who can read the
    report of that conversation, and still call the principal in it insane.
    It has the ring of a saner sanity than an ordinary discipline and
    habits of life, than an ordinary organization, secure. Take any
    sentence of it,--"Any questions that I can honorably answer, I
    will; not otherwise. So far as I am myself concerned, I have told
    everything truthfully. I value my word, sir." The few who talk
    about his vindictive spirit, while they really admire his heroism,
    have no test by which to detect a noble man, no amalgam to combine
    with his pure gold. They mix their own dross with it.

    It is a relief to turn from these slanders to the testimony of his
    more truthful, but frightened jailers and hangmen. Governor Wise
    speaks far more justly and appreciatingly of him than any Northern
    editor, or politician, or public personage, that I chance to have
    heard from. I know that you can afford to hear him again on this
    subject. He says: "They are themselves mistaken who take him to
    be madman.... He is cool, collected, and indomitable, and it is
    but just to him to say, that he was humane to his prisoners....
    And he inspired me with great trust in his integrity as a man of
    truth. He is a fanatic, vain and garrulous," (I leave that part
    to Mr. Wise,) "but firm, truthful, and intelligent. His men, too,
    who survive, are like him.... Colonel Washington says that he
    was the coolest and firmest man he ever saw in defying danger and
    death. With one son dead by his side, and another shot through, he
    felt the pulse of his dying son with one hand, and held his rifle
    with the other, and commanded his men with the utmost composure,
    encouraging them to be firm, and to sell their lives as dear as
    they could. Of the three white prisoners, Brown, Stephens, and
    Coppic, it was hard to say which was most firm."

    Almost the first Northern men whom the slaveholder has learned to

    The testimony of Mr. Vallandigham, though less valuable, is of the
    same purport, that "it is vain to underrate either the man or his
    conspiracy.... He is the farthest possible removed from the ordinary
    ruffian, fanatic, or madman."

    "All is quiet at Harper's Ferry," say the journals. What is the
    character of that calm which follows when the law and the slaveholder
    prevail? I regard this event as a touchstone designed to bring
    out, with glaring distinctness, the character of this government.
    We needed to be thus assisted to see it by the light of history.
    It needed to see itself. When a government puts forth its strength
    on the side of injustice, as ours to maintain slavery and kill the
    liberators of the slave, it reveals itself a merely brute force, or
    worse, a demoniacal force. It is the head of the Plug-Uglies. It
    is more manifest than ever that tyranny rules. I see this government
    to be effectually allied with France and Austria in oppressing
    mankind. There sits a tyrant holding fettered four millions of
    slaves; here comes their heroic liberator. This most hypocritical
    and diabolical government looks up from its seat on the gasping
    four millions, and inquires with an assumption of innocence: "What
    do you assault me for? Am I not an honest man? Cease agitation
    on this subject, or I will make a slave of you, too, or else hang

    We talk about a representative government; but what a monster of
    a government is that where the noblest faculties of the mind, and
    the whole heart, are not represented. A semi-human tiger or ox,
    stalking over the earth, with its heart taken out and the top of
    its brain shot away. Heroes have fought well on their stumps when
    their legs were shot off, but I never heard of any good done by
    such a government as that.

    The only government that I recognize,--and it matters not how few
    are at the head of it, or how small its army,--is that power that
    establishes justice in the land, never that which establishes
    injustice. What shall we think of a government to which all the
    truly brave and just men in the land are enemies, standing between
    it and those whom it oppresses? A government that pretends to be
    Christian and crucifies a million Christs every day!

    Treason! Where does such treason take its rise? I cannot help
    thinking of you as you deserve, ye governments. Can you dry up
    the fountains of thought? High treason, when it is resistance to
    tyranny here below, has its origin in, and is first committed by,
    the power that makes and forever recreates man. When you have caught
    and hung all these human rebels, you have accomplished nothing but
    your own guilt, for you have not struck at the fountain-head. You
    presume to contend with a foe against whom West Point cadets and
    rifled cannon point not. Can all the art of the cannon-founder
    tempt matter to turn against its maker? Is the form in which the
    founder thinks he casts it more essential than the constitution of
    it and of himself?

    The United States have a coffle of four millions of slaves. They
    are determined to keep them in this condition; and Massachusetts
    is one of the confederated overseers to prevent their escape. Such
    are not all the inhabitants of Massachusetts, but such are they
    who rule and are obeyed here. It was Massachusetts, as well as
    Virginia, that put down this insurrection at Harper's Ferry. She
    sent the marines there, and she will have to pay the penalty of
    her sin.

    Suppose that there is a society in this State that out of its own
    purse and magnanimity saves all the fugitive slaves that run to
    us, and protects our colored fellow-citizens, and leaves the other
    work to the government, so-called. Is not that government fast
    losing its occupation, and becoming contemptible to mankind? If
    private men are obliged to perform the offices of government, to
    protect the weak and dispense justice, then the government becomes
    only a hired man, or clerk, to perform menial or indifferent
    services. Of course, that is but the shadow of a government who
    existence necessitates a Vigilant Committee. What should we think
    of the Oriental Cadi even, behind whom worked in secret a vigilant
    committee? But such is the character of our Northern States generally;
    each has its Vigilant Committee. And, to a certain extent, these
    crazy governments recognize and accept this relation. They say,
    virtually, "We'll be glad to work for you on these terms, only
    don't make a noise about it." And thus the government, its salary
    being insured, withdraws into the back shop, taking the Constitution
    with it, and bestows most of its labor on repairing that. When I
    hear it at work sometimes, as I go by, it reminds me, at best, of
    those farmers who in winter contrive to turn a penny by following
    the coopering business. And what kind of spirit is their barrel
    made to hold? They speculate in stocks, and bore holes in mountains,
    but they are not competent to lay out even a decent highway. The
    only free road, the Underground Railroad, is owned and managed
    by the Vigilant Committee. They have tunnelled under the whole
    breadth of the land. Such a government is losing its power and
    respectability as surely as water runs out of a leaky vessel, and
    is held by one that can contain it.

    I hear many condemn these men because they were so few. When were
    the good and the brave ever in a majority? Would you have had him
    wait till that time came?--till you and I came over to him? The
    very fact that he had no rabble or troop of hirelings about him
    would alone distinguish him from ordinary heroes. His company was
    small indeed, because few could be found worthy to pass muster.
    Each one who there laid down his life for the poor and oppressed
    was a picked man, culled out of many thousands, if not millions;
    apparently a man of principle, of rare courage, and devoted humanity;
    ready to sacrifice his life at any moment for so much by laymen as
    by ministers of the Gospel, not so much by the fighting sects as
    by the Quakers, and not so much by Quaker men as by Quaker women?

    This event advertises me that there is such a fact as death,--the
    possibility of a man's dying. It seems as if no man had ever died
    in America before; for in order to die you must first have lived.
    I don't believe in the hearses, and palls, and funerals that they
    have had. There was no death in the case, because there had been
    no life; they merely rotted or sloughed off, pretty much as they had
    rotted or sloughed along. No temple's veil was rent, only a hole
    dug somewhere. Let the dead bury their dead. The best of them
    fairly ran down like a clock. Franklin,--Washington,--they were
    let off without dying; they were merely missing one day. I hear
    a good many pretend that they are going to die; or that they have
    died, for aught that I know. Nonsense! I'll defy them to do it.
    They haven't got life enough in them. They'll deliquesce like
    fungi, and keep a hundred eulogists mopping the spot where they
    left off. Only half a dozen or so have died since the world began.
    Do you think that you are going to die, sir? No! there's no hope
    of you. You haven't got your lesson yet. You've got to stay after
    school. We make a needless ado about capital punishment,--taking
    lives, when there is no life to take. Memento mori! We don't
    understand that sublime sentence which some worthy got sculptured
    on his gravestone once. We've interpreted it in a grovelling and
    snivelling sense; we've wholly forgotten how to die.

    But be sure you do die nevertheless. Do your work, and finish it.
    If you know how to begin, you will know when to end.

    These men, in teaching us how to die, have at the same time taught
    us how to live. If this man's acts and words do not create a
    revival, it will be the severest possible satire on the acts and
    words that do. It is the best news that America has ever heard.
    It has already quickened the feeble pulse of the North, and infused
    more and more generous blood into her veins and heart, than any
    number of years of what is called commercial and political prosperity
    could. How many a man who was lately contemplating suicide has
    now something to live for!

    One writer says that Brown's peculiar monomania made him to be
    "dreaded by the Missourians as a supernatural being." Sure enough,
    a hero in the midst of us cowards is always so dreaded. He is just
    that thing. He shows himself superior to nature. He has a spark
    of divinity in him.

    "Unless above himself he can
    Erect himself, how poor a thing is man!"

    Newspaper editors argue also that it is a proof of his insanity
    that he thought he was appointed to do this work which he did,--that
    he did not suspect himself for a moment! They talk as if it were
    impossible that a man could be "divinely appointed" in these days
    to do any work whatever; as if vows and religion were out of date
    as connected with any man's daily work; as if the agent to abolish
    slavery could only be somebody appointed by the President, or by
    some political party. They talk as if a man's death were a failure,
    and his continued life, be it of whatever character, were a success.

    When I reflect to what a cause this man devoted himself, and how
    religiously, and then reflect to what cause his judges and all who
    condemn him so angrily and fluently devote themselves, I see that
    they are as far apart as the heavens and earth are asunder.

    The amount of it is, our "leading men" are a harmless kind of folk,
    and they know well enough that they were not divinely appointed,
    but elected by the votes of their party.

    Who is it whose safety requires that Captain Brown be hung? Is it
    indispensable to any Northern man? Is there no resource but to
    cast this man also to the Minotaur? If you do not wish it, say
    so distinctly. While these things are being done, beauty stands
    veiled and music is a screeching lie. Think of him,--of his
    rare qualities!--such a man as it takes ages to make, and ages to
    understand; no mock hero, nor the representative of any party. A
    man such as the sun may not rise upon again in this benighted land.
    To whose making went the costliest material, the finest adamant;
    sent to be the redeemer of those in captivity; and the only use
    to which you can put him is to hang him at the end of a rope! You
    who pretend to care for Christ crucified, consider what you are
    about to do to him who offered himself to be the savior of four
    millions of men.

    Any man knows when he is justified, and all the wits in the world
    cannot enlighten him on that point. The murderer always knows
    that he is justly punished; but when a government takes the life
    of a man without the consent of his conscience, it is an audacious
    government, and is taking a step towards its own dissolution. Is
    it not possible that an individual may be right and a government
    wrong? Are laws to be enforced simply because they were made? or
    declared by any number of men to be good, if they are not good?
    Is there any necessity for a man's being a tool to perform a deed
    of which his better nature disapproves? Is it the intention of
    law-makers that good men shall be hung ever? Are judges to interpret
    the law according to the letter, and not the spirit? What right
    have you to enter into a compact with yourself that you will do
    thus or so, against the light within you? Is it for you to make
    up your mind,--to form any resolution whatever,--and not accept
    the convictions that are forced upon you, and which ever pass
    your understanding? I do not believe in lawyers, in that mode of
    attacking or defending a man, because you descend to meet the judge
    on his own ground, and, in cases of the highest importance, it is
    of no consequence whether a man breaks a human law or not. Let
    lawyers decide trivial cases. Business men may arrange that among
    themselves. If they were the interpreters of the everlasting
    laws which rightfully bind man, that would be another thing. A
    counterfeiting law-factory, standing half in a slave land and half
    in free! What kind of laws for free men can you expect from that?

    I am here to plead his cause with you. I plead not for his life,
    but for his character,--his immortal life; and so it becomes your
    cause wholly, and is not his in the least. Some eighteen hundred
    years ago Christ was crucified; this morning, perchance, Captain
    Brown was hung. These are the two ends of a chain which is not
    without its links. He is not Old Brown any longer; he is an angel
    of light.

    I see now that it was necessary that the bravest and humanest man
    in all the country should be hung. Perhaps he saw it himself. I
    almost fear that I may yet hear of his deliverance, doubting if a
    prolonged life, if any life, can do as much good as his death.

    "Misguided"! "Garrulous"! "Insane"! "Vindictive"! So ye write
    in your easy-chairs, and thus he wounded responds from the floor of
    the Armory, clear as a cloudless sky, true as the voice of nature
    is: "No man sent me here; it was my own prompting and that of my
    Maker. I acknowledge no master in human form."

    And in what a sweet and noble strain he proceeds, addressing his
    captors, who stand over him: "I think, my friends, you are guilty
    of a great wrong against God and humanity, and it would be perfectly
    right for any one to interfere with you so far as to free those
    you willfully and wickedly hold in bondage."

    And, referring to his movement: "It is, in my opinion, the greatest
    service a man can render to God."

    "I pity the poor in bondage that have none to help them; that is
    why I am here; not to gratify any personal animosity, revenge, or
    vindictive spirit. It is my sympathy with the oppressed and the
    wronged, that are as good as you, and as precious in the sight of

    You don't know your testament when you see it.

    "I want you to understand that I respect the rights of the poorest
    and weakest of colored people, oppressed by the slave power, just
    as much as I do those of the most wealthy and powerful."

    "I wish to say, furthermore, that you had better, all you people
    at the South, prepare yourselves for a settlement of that question,
    that must come up for settlement sooner than your are prepared for
    it. The sooner you are prepared the better. You may dispose of
    me very easily. I am nearly disposed of now; but this question is
    still to be settled,--this negro question, I mean; the end of that
    is not yet."

    I foresee the time when the painter will paint that scene, no longer
    going to Rome for a subject; the poet will sing it; the historian
    record it; and, with the Landing of the Pilgrims and the Declaration
    of Independence, it will be the ornament of some future national
    gallery, when at least the present form of slavery shall be no
    more here. We shall then be at liberty to weep for Captain Brown.
    Then, and not till then, we will take our revenge.
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