About the Author

Historian Christopher Hamner teaches at George Mason University, serves as Editor-in-Chief of Papers of the War Department, 1784-1800, and is the author of Enduring Battle: American Soldiers in Three Wars, 1776-1945.

John Brown's Raid

Nashville Republican Banner (1859)


Nashville’s newspaper took a decidedly moderate stance towards Brown’s raid in this editorial, suggesting that the root cause of the attempted uprising was the ceaseless agitation on the subject of slavery from both sides, North and South. The editors of the Banner urged Southerners not to be caught in an impassioned, emotional response to the raid but rather to give the event “that calm reflection and careful consideration that it deserves.”

The Banner’s editorial is also noteworthy in its prescription for the future, particularly given the paper’s location in a slaveholding Southern state (albeit one with more ambivalence toward the institution than states in the deep South). The editors caution their readers against the “folly of the Southern people in their incessant demand for more slavery legislation,” suggesting that anti-slavery agitation in the North would wither quickly in the absence of such agitation.

We are at length enabled to lay before our readers a connected and apparently truthful, narrative of the late revolutionary movement in and around Harper's Ferry. It can no longer be doubted that the object of the conspirators was the liberation of the slaves in Virginia and Maryland. It is gratifying to record that the energy of President Buchanan and Governor Wise, the activity of the soldiery and the zeal of the citizens have crushed out the conspiracy before it could attain the huge dimensions of a revolution. But though the movement resulted so disastrously to the insurgents and met with so little sympathy from the negro population, for whose benefit it was designed, it will nevertheless prove a valuable lesson to the people of the South, if they give it that calm reflection and careful consideration that it deserves.

This attempt to excite an insurrection among the slaves is one of the natural results of the agitation of the slavery question, originated and so persistently kept up by designing politicians, both of the North and the South for partisan purposes. It can be traced to no other cause, and unless the people of both sections rise in the majesty of their strength and put an end at once to this mischievous agitation, the page that records the bloody events of the last two days, will be but a preface to the history of a civil war in which the same scenes will be re-enacted on a larger scale, and end in the dissolution of our glorious Union.

In the language of the New York Herald, "we have before us some of the ripening fruits of that mischievous reopening of the slavery agitation in 1854, commenced by Douglas and Pierce as Presidential candidates for the decisive vote of the South in the Cincinnati Convention. There would have been no invitation to them to fight out the slavery issue, face to face, on the soil of Kansas. And this man Brown was only a discharged guerilla free State soldier from the border ruffian scenes of that bloody Territory. Flushed with the success of the war for freedom there, and rendered daring, reckless, and an abolition monomaniac, by the scenes of violence and blood through which he had passed, he believed the time at hand for carrying the Kansas war for freedom into the hearts of the Southern States."

The folly of the Southern people in their incessant demand for more slavery legislation is exhibited in a strong light by this view of the subject, and should convince them of the impolicy of further agitation. By ceasing the agitation in the South, an end will be put to the discussion of this subject in the North. As long as we agitate the North will do the same, and though only seventeen men of the entire North were engaged in the conspiracy, there is no telling how many may engage in the next plot unless the subject of slavery ceases to be a matter of discussion among demagogues. The people have the means in their hands of putting an end to this evil, by resolutely refusing to elevate men to political office who seek to ride into power by incendiary appeals to sectional prejudices.


Secession Era Editorials Project. "The Harper's Ferry Riot." Nashville Republican Banner, October 24, 1859. Accessed March 2, 2012.