John Brown's Raid
Charleston Mercury (1859)
The Charleston Mercury published in the capitol of South Carolina, a notorious hotbed of secessionism and the first state to formally depart the Union after Abraham Lincoln’s election in November 1860. This early editorial attempts to parse the events at Harpers Ferry in its first paragraph, providing details about the planning and conspirators to impatient readers. White South Carolinians were particularly keen for such information; in 1860, South Carolina’s proportion of enslaved African Americans was the largest in the Union, and their fears of a violent slave insurrection accordingly high.
The editorial closes with an ominous warning about the raid’s significance for the future, labeling it “profoundly symptomatic of the future of the Union with our sectional enemies.” To the editors at the Mercury, Brown’s attempt to ignite a slave insurrection at Harpers Ferry offered incontrovertible proof of the existence in the North of “men ready to engage in adventures upon the peace and security of the southern people, however heinously and recklessly."
From the accounts given of the Harper's Ferry business, it would seem that it was concocted two months since at the Ohio State Fair, by Brown and other confederates, and that its object was to raise the slaves in that country, kill all persons interferring or in the way, and carry them off to freedom north of the Mason and Dixon's line. The number of whites directly concerned—only twenty-three—is small for the great preparations made in arms and ammunition. It is stated that recruits from the North were expected, but did not arrive in time, Brown having been precipitate in his movement. Three of the whites are said to have escaped with four hundred negros. As we anticipated, the affair, in its magnitude, was quite exaggerated; but it fully establishes the fact that there are at the North men ready to engage in adventures upon the peace and security of the southern people, however heinously and recklessly, and capable of planning and keeping secret their infernal designs. It is a warning profoundly symptomatic of the future of the Union with our sectional enemies.
Secession Era Editorials Project. "The Insurrection." Charleston Mercury, October 21, 1859. Accessed March 2, 2012.