"The Whole Affair Seems the Work of a Madman"

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Editorial, New York Tribune, October 19, 1859.

The insurrection, so called, at Harper’s Ferry, proves a verity. Old Brown of Osawatamie, who was last heard of on his way from Missouri to Canada with a band of runaway slaves, now turns up in Virginia, where he seems to have been for some months plotting and preparing for a general stampede of slaves. How he came to be in Harper’s Ferry, and in possession of the U. S. Armory, is not yet clear; but he was probably betrayed or exposed, and seized the Armory as a place of security until he could safely get away. The whole affair seems the work of a madman; but John Brown has so often looked death serenely in the face that what seems madness to others doubtless wore a different aspect to him. He had twenty-one men with him, mostly white, who appear to have held the Armory from 9 P. M. of Sunday till 7 of Tuesday (yesterday) morning, when it was stormed by Col. Lee1 and a party of U. S. Marines, and its defenders nearly all killed or mortally wounded . . . . Of the original twenty-two, fifteen were killed, two mortally wounded, and two unhurt. The other three had pushed northward on Monday morning guiding a number of fugitive slaves through Maryland. These were of course sharply pursued and fired on, but had not been taken at our last advices2. . . .

There will be enough to heap execration on the memory of these mistaken men. We leave this work to the fit hands and tongues of those who regard the fundamental axioms of the Declaration of Independence as “glittering generalities.” Believing that the way to Universal Emancipation lies not through insurrection, civil war and bloodshed, but through discussion, and the quick diffusion of sentiments of humanity and justice, we deeply regret this outbreak; but remembering that, if their fault was grievous, grievously have they answered it, we will not, by one reproachful word, disturb the bloody shrouds wherein John Brown and his compatriots are sleeping. They dared and died for what they felt to be the right, though in a manner which seems to us fatally wrong. Let their epitaphs remain unwritten until the not distant day when no slave shall clank his chains in the shades of Monticello or by the graves of Mount Vernon.

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