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[Published in 1865, after the capture of Jefferson Davis]

From the collection of the New York Historical Society


not to be," he said; "citizens should be allowed to be present as well as others."

After being kept standing on the scaffold for some time while the troops were deployed about it, the trap was sprung, but the fall was so short that it was more than half an hour before the body ceased struggling and life was pronounced extinct. His body was conveyed by his widow to their home in New York State, and there buried. In later years a simple monument was placed above the grave.

On the day of Brown's execution funeral bells were tolled and divine services were held in hundreds of Northern towns. On the other hand a number of "Union meetings" were held in the North shortly after the execution, in which the South was assured that the conservative men of the North repudiated the act of Brown and abhorred the fanatical Abolition spirit of which it was a logical, though fearful, result. One such meeting was held in New York on December 19, at which the first and chief speaker was Charles O'Conor, a distinguished lawyer. Sweeping aside all the familiar constitutional arguments, pro and con, on the slavery question as Brown had done, he based the issue on the morality of slavery-on which, however, he took the opposite side from that of the Abolitionist whose acts in accord with his view had brought him to the gallows.





Is negro slavery unjust? That is the point to which this great argument, involving the fate of our Union, must now Is negro slavery unjust? If it violates that great rule of human conduct, "Render to every man his due, it is unjust. If it violates the law of God, which says, "Love thy neighbor as thyself," it is unjust. And, gentlemen, if it could be maintained that negro slavery is thus in conflict with the law of nature and the law of God, I might be prepared-perhaps we should all be prepared-to go with a distinguished man [Senator William H. Seward] and say there is a "higher law"

which compels us to disregard the Constitution and trample it beneath our feet as a wicked and unholy compact.

I insist that negro slavery is not unjust. [Cries of "Bravo!"] It is not only not unjust, but it is just, wise, and beneficent. [Applause and loud hisses. Cries of "Bravo!" and disorder.] .. I maintain that negro slavery is not unjust [Cheers], but that it is benign in its influences on the white man and the black. . . . We must no longer favor political leaders who talk about slavery being an evil; nor must we advance the indefensible doctrine that negro slavery is a thing which, although pernicious, is to be tolerated merely because we have made a bargain to tolerate it. . . . Yielding to the decree of nature and the voice of sound philosophy, we must pronounce the institution just, beneficent, lawful, and proper. The negro, to be sure, is a bondman for life. He may be sold from one master to another, but where is the ill in that?


The speaker did not even recoil from the final conclusion of his premises: that the South would be justified in seceding from the Union "if the North continues to conduct itself in the selection of representatives in the Congress of the United States as, perhaps from a certain degree of negligence and inattention, it has heretofore done."

On December 5, 1859, three days after the execution of John Brown, Congress convened, and the first act of the Senate was, on motion of James M. Mason [Va.], to appoint a committee to investigate the insurrection at Harper's Ferry, in order to find if John Brown and his companions had planned the affair of themselves, or if there was an organized effort behind them, and, in accordance with these findings, to report upon what legislation was in their opinion necessary "for the future preservation of the country, or for the safety of the public property."

In speaking on this motion Northern Senators condemned the act of Brown and declared that the investigation would reveal that it had received no countenance nor support from any considerable number of persons. However, they could not forbear calling the attention of the Southern Senators to the fact that no investigation had been made into a similar attack upon a

Federal arsenal in the West when this assault had been made in the interests of slavery.

In this debate the chief Democratic speakers were Senators Mason, Robert M. T. Hunter [Va.], Jefferson Davis [Miss.], John J. Crittenden [Ky.], Albert G. Brown [Miss.], Alfred Iverson [Ga.]; and the chief Republican speakers were Lyman Trumbull [Ill.], John P. Hale [N. H.], Henry Wilson [Mass.], William P. Fessenden [Me.], Zachariah Chandler [Mich.].



SENATOR TRUMBULL.-No man who is not prepared to subvert the Constitution, destroy the Government, and resolve society into its original elements can justify such an act. No matter what evils, either real or imaginary, may exist in the bodypolitic, if each individual, or every set of twenty individuals, out of more than twenty millions of people, is to be permitted in his own way and in defiance of the laws of the land to undertake to correct those evils, there is not a government upon the face of the earth that could last a day. And it seems to me, sir, that those persons who reason only from abstract principles, and believe themselves justifiable on all occasions, and in every form, in combating evil wherever it exists, forget that the right which they claim for themselves exists equally in every other person. All governments, the best which have been devised, encroach necessarily more or less on the individual rights of man, and to that extent may be regarded as evils. Shall we, therefore, destroy government, dissolve society, destroy regulated and constitutional liberty, and inaugurate in its stead anarchy-a condition of things in which every man shall be permitted to follow the instincts of his own passions or prejudices or feelings, and where there will be no protection to the physically weak against the encroachments of the strong? Till we are prepared to inaugurate such a state as this, no man can justify the deeds done at Harper's Ferry.

In regard to the misguided man who led the insurgents on that occasion I have no remarks to make. He has already expiated upon the gallows the crime which he committed against the laws of his country; and to answer for his errors or his virtues, whatever they may have been, he has gone fearlessly

and willingly before that Judge who cannot err: there let him rest.

Therefore, sir, I am for this investigation. I hope it may be thorough and impartial, and I believe the effect upon the country will be most salutary. Had a similar investigation been instituted when a similar transaction took place some years ago, this probably would never have occurred. The amendment which I propose to offer to the resolution which is pending, and in which, I trust, I may have the support of every Senator, provides for the investigation of a like transaction which occurred in the State of Missouri.

The speaker here recounted the circumstances of the seizure in December, 1855, of the Federal arsenal at Liberty, Mo., by a mob of pro-slavery men, and taking therefrom of arms and ammunition which were subsequently used against the Free State men of Kansas.

Then the complaints that were made were treated as the "shrieks of bleeding Kansas," and they could not be heard. I trust they may get a better hearing now. Now, sir, when the shrieks of Virginia are heard, and the ears of the country are opened, I trust those from Kansas may get a hearing also. I am prepared to hear both; and I hope that the investigation in regard to Harper's Ferry may be impartial, thorough, and complete, and let whoever is implicated in the unlawful transactions there be held responsible; and so, too, in regard to the seizure of the arsenal in the State of Missouri.

Senator Trumbull then offered to Senator Mason's resolution an amendment calling for an investigation into the Liberty arsenal affair.

Senator Mason, while implying that Senator Trumbull had an ulterior and partisan object in his amendment, the facts in the Liberty affair being on record, nevertheless declared that he was willing to vote for the proposed investigation.

He denied that there were "shrieks" from Virginia in regard to the John Brown affair, and reprobated the use of such language in regard to one sovereign state by the representative of another.

Senator Trumbull replied that if the term "shrieks" was indefensible in the case of a State, it was also in

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