Article Title

The Virginia Insurrection.


Newspaper Title

New-York Daily Tribune

Publication Date


Publication Place

New York, New York

Event Topic

John Brown

Political Party



free state


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The slave-statutes of Virginia are but legislated, enacted, concrete fright.

Document Type

Article (Journal or Newsletter)

Full Text Transcription

There are two points of view from which we may look at the little servile trouble at Harper's Ferry in Virginia. We notice that The Richmond Whig, with a degree of laughing philosophy not to be lightly contemned in this solemn and sober age, takes the jolly and joking side, and ridicules the agony of those brave fellows who shed a few natural tears over their helpmates and offspring; before departing for the seat and scenes of war. The Whig says that these noble militiamen cried. There was, we are particularly informed, "weeping and wailing." Well, suppose there was! Was it not very natural? These despairing wives, these frightened children, what did they know of the real extent of the danger threatening their beloved protectors? They have been taught -- they have been taught from infancy -- by legislation, by preaching, by journalism, by common conversation, by constant fears, by the pulpit, by the press, by apprehensions too grave almost to be whispered -- that in spite of police regulations as stringent as the ingenuity of the human intellect could devise, daily life was lived in peril and nightly sleep snatched in peril; and that white men and white women and white children breathed and had their being at the mercy and by the gracious permission of black men -- of a race, the latent strength of which could only be prevented from breaking into open and murderous insurrection by all manner of precautions, whether savagely oppressive or simply the manifestations of timidity. The slave-statutes of Virginia are but legislated, enacted, concrete fright. So, when the train-bands of Virginia buckled and strapped, and helmeted, and knapsacked themselves, and when the drums beat and the swords flashed, and the fifes squeaked, and the banners flapped, why should not each Andromache have wept upon the well-buttoned bosom of her crest-waving Hector, and, with prophetic premonitions, have imagined to herself her beloved, with cloven casque, with hideous gashes in fatal places, or possibly, having been enslaved by the triumphant blacks, and exposed in the most ignominious manner upon the auction block, sold for a ridiculously small sum of money, changing his relation suddenly from owner to owned, and compelled to dig for the rest of life, instead of compelling others to dig -- finding his property confiscated, his children bastardized, his beloved, dearly cherished vote -- his principal property -- refused at the hustings, flogged if caught reading, flogged if caught writing, flogged very severely indeed if he grumbled, without wages, without adequate food, without fashionable clothing -- snubbed, spit upon, sworn at -- without hope here and with no hope for the hereafter except that which Southern assemblies and synods, presbyteries and sessions, congregations and conferences, graciously -- in fact, by special grace -- permitted him in his horrible condition to indulge? The gentle hearted dames of Richmond foresaw all this, and wept profusely at the roll of the departing drums. Whereupon the Richmond Whig, with a want of feeling which argues a plenty of brutality, exclaims: What are you crying at? This 'weeping and 'wailing' are ridiculous! Put up your pocket- handkerchiefs and shoulder arms!" And a journal of this city very justly thinks that these sneers indicated "cold-hearted indifference and malevolence;" and for once -- for the first time, if our memory serves us -- we agree with the journal aforesaid.

Without attaching too much importance to the Harper's Ferry émeute, and we believe certainly that the fuss and feathers have been out of all proportion to the actual danger, yet who does not see that really the affair might have been serious, in spite of the exceedingly bland humor of The Richmond Whig? It cannot be pleasant to the sensitive slaveholders of Virginia to know that there are men like Old Brown and his associates -- who are not afraid to risk their lives, their liberties, and their cash, in such a cause. It is not what one solitary fanatic can effect which constitutes the danger -- but it is the fact that there is one such. He can be captured, imprisoned, tried and strangled -- but all that does not bring safety. It is the possibility of insurrection, suggested to the mind of the slave by the most insignificant affair of this nature, which alarms the master. Alas! where is the remedy? Is it to be found in ferocious leading articles, prepared by the lickspittle presses of the North? Or in frightened leading articles in the mindless, the stultified presses of the South? Or in the proclamations of Gov. Wise? When the great catastrophe has come and passed -- when the dead are buried, and the wounded are healed and ravaged plantations bloom again, and men think more wisely, and feel more humanely, and act more sensibly, than it is possible for them now to do it Virginia -- many here, and most at the South, will wonder at the folly of their reasoning, and the fruit which it bore in their timidity. Politically, Virginia is not in a pleasant condition, not in any other Slave State; but has not Virginia -- have not the other Slave States -- moral courage and intellectual vigor enough to grapple with the difficulty, and to conquer it? Is the South always to get along by subterfuge, by expedients, by quenching the fire with flax? For the sake of retaining some little respect for Southern humanity, we kindly, and in the most generous spirit, assert Southern imbecility. For we do not believe that Southern men, in full intellectual vigor, and with half an eye open to the future, would dare to transmit to their children such a legacy of constant social trouble, of perpetuated barbarity or barbarism, of impoverishment, of moral stability, and of mental poverty. The human mind is decaying with awful rapidity in Virginia, or the human heart there is growing hard beyond all precedent in history.

Edited/Proofed by

Entered by James Cash. Proofed by Beatrice Burton




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The Virginia Insurrection.

The slave-statutes of Virginia are but legislated, enacted, concrete fright.