Into this field of overheated political controversy the news of the John Brown raid at Harper’s Ferry on Sunday, October 19, fell with startling portent. The scattering and tragic fighting in the streets of the little town on Monday; the dramatic capture of the fanatical leader on Tuesday by a detachment of Federal marines under the command of Robert E. Lee, the famous Confederate general of subsequent years; the undignified haste of his trial and condemnation by the Virginia authorities; the interviews of Governor Wise, Senator Mason, and Representative Vallandigham with the prisoner; his sentence, and execution on the gallows on December 2; and the hysterical laudations of his acts by a few prominent and extreme abolitionists in the East, kept public opinion, both North and South, in an inflamed and feverish state for nearly six weeks.
Mr. Lincoln’s habitual freedom from passion, and the steady and common-sense judgment he applied to this exciting event, which threw almost everybody into an extreme of feeling or utterance, are well illustrated by the temperate criticism he made of it a few months later:
“John Brown’s effort was peculiar. It was not a slave insurrection. It was an attempt by white men to get up a revolt among slaves, in which the slaves refused to participate. In fact, it was so absurd that the slaves, with all their ignorance, saw plainly enough it could not succeed. That affair, in its philosophy, corresponds with the many attempts, related in history, at the assassination of kings and emperors. An enthusiast broods over the oppression of a people till he fancies himself commissioned by Heaven to liberate them. He ventures the attempt, which ends in little else than his own execution. Orsini’s attempt on Louis Napoleon and John Brown’s attempt at Harper’s Ferry were, in their philosophy, precisely the same. The eagerness to cast blame on old England in the one case, and on New England in the other, does not disprove the sameness of the two things.”
Lincoln’s Kansas Speeches—The Cooper Institute Speech—New England Speeches—The Democratic Schism—Senator Brown’s Resolutions—Jefferson Davis’s Resolutions—The Charleston Convention—Majority and Minority Reports—Cotton State Delegations Secede—Charleston Convention Adjourns—Democratic Baltimore Convention Splits—Breckinridge Nominated—Douglas Nominated—Bell Nominated by Union Constitutional Convention—Chicago Convention—Lincoln’s Letters to Pickett and Judd—The Pivotal States—Lincoln Nominated
During the month of December, 1859, Mr. Lincoln was invited to the Territory of Kansas, where he made speeches at a number of its new and growing towns. In these speeches he laid special emphasis upon the necessity of maintaining undiminished the vigor of the Republican organization and the high plane of the Republican doctrine.