Article Title

Gerrit Smith's Insanity.


Newspaper Title


Publication Date


Publication Place

New Orleans, Louisiana

Event Topic

John Brown

Political Party



slave state


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None of these are improbable effects of the Harper's Ferry events on a man of Gerrit Smith's temperament, history frailties and fanaticisms

Document Type

Article (Journal or Newsletter)

Full Text Transcription

We suppose it likely to be true, through itmay not be as reported by the telegraph fromNew York, that Gerrit Smith has becomeinsane, so as to require to be put underrestraint. Nothing is more probable than suchan effect of the circumstances in which he isplaced upon a mind like his. Born to a largefortune, his training in youth was neglected,and he grew up unregulated and self willed.The habit of following his own whimscontinued when he came into possession ofvery great wealth, and his self indulgencetook the form of an eccentric care for thepublic. Having no regular occupation toemploy his thoughts and time, and beingnaturally vain and obstinate, he began early tothink himself called to regulate the affairs ofothers, and to undertake the radical reform of society.

His disposition was easy and liberal, and hecould be induced at any time to do works ofreal charity; money was plenty, and he gavewith facility; but as often and as easily, hecould be led into lavish contributions, andcrotchetty zeal for any scheme which proposedto dislocate the established order of things,with a view to reconstruct society, accordingto the model of some ranting reformer inmorals and politics. With him the ruleappeared to be established that whatever is, iswrong, and that he was born, and endowedwith money, to set everything right. Theprocess by which he grew to think this resultis to be effected, is by dissolving society intoits elements, that he and the philosophers,with and without petticoats, with whom heconsorted, and who preyed on him, mightreconstruct it, extemporareously, better thancustom, philosophy, law, statesmanship, andthe Bible have been able to do since thebeginning of the world. The idle, visionarybrain became the workshop for a multitude ofabsurd and impracticable projects, upon whichhe wasted his money, to no better purposethan to feed ranters and impostors.

The negro question, at last, seems to haveabsorbed him, above all others, and he hasbeen engaged for years in writing andpublishing and speaking rhapsodies on thesubject of negro rights, and in advising andcontriving projects for the extinction of slavery.He made expensive experiments of trying todemonstrate the capacity of the negro to takecare of himself by dividing a large body ofland among blacks and helping them tocultivate it -- an experiment that ended in amiserable failure, besides the large cost, to whichhe attached little importance. He workedhimself into a sort of frenzy on this topic,and wrote and talked, and gave money forthe purpose of encouraging the flight of slavesfrom their masters, and to prevent theirrecapture. He came at last to open denouncementof all laws that protect this species ofproperty, and to open contempt and defiance ofthe officers of the law, and he gave counseland furnished means to support and rewardthe resistance. He came to preach seditionand robbery, as the proper instruments forworking out his idea of negro rights. Thepursuit of these objects became so intensifiedin his thoughts that it got to be the one ideawhich dominated exclusively over all others,and made a fierce and bloody fanatic of himwho was not naturally cruel by temperament.

We have said that it is not surprising thatthe effect of recent events should have unwitted a man of this cast, with a brain so feveredand a judgment so shattered must havebeen. To any man not totally depraved andutterly insensible, the result of the outbreakat Harper's Ferry must have been a dreadful shock. That he had a guilty knowledge of the plans of which this was one, and of thepurpose of invasion, in some form, if notspecifically that of Brown, is very evidentlyis in conformity with opinions publiclyexpressed, which cannot be withdrawn. It isquite as likely that he gave money directlyfor this particular object. He has given largesums before for objects of the same essentialcharacter; and this is but the practicalembodiment of the theories he has preached and labored for.

If he have any sensibility left -- if he benot entirely without nerves and heart, a morebold, bad ruffian -- he must shrink with horrorand alarm at the consequences of the actswhich he has been encouraging so recklessly-- the crime to which he has been incitingothers, and for which they are to pay theforfeit of their lives. If there were noremorse for the train of unspeakable calamitieswhich the success of their attempt wouldbring upon hundreds of innocent families,there must, at least, be compunction, sorrow,and regret, for the deluded conspirators whorushed into this foolish enterprise under theincitement of such doctrines as Gerrit Smithhas preached, and in the expectation of succorfrom each man as he is, and as he preparesfor such work. He cannot but feel that he ismorally guilty of their blood -- their tempterinto the crime which has led them toshameful death.

Perhaps the sense of this awful responsibilitymay have come with sudden awakeningeffect upon the conscience, and startled itinto a knowledge of the enormity of thecrimes to which it had been dragged, and thefevered brain gave way before the shock.Perhaps the fear of consequences, theexcitement of a threatened arrest, terror andapprehension for himself, may have helpedto overthrow reason, and to give a relieffrom present terror, and an asylum frompunishment in the unconsciousness ofmadness. None of these are improbable effects ofthe Harper's Ferry events on a man ofGerrit Smith's temperament, historyfrailties and fanaticisms; and be succumbing tothe powers of that terrible condition, hewill have proven himself, in some respects,a better man than those who, guilty as heof the great conspiracy against humanityand justice, can look calmly on the frightfuldisasters they are inciting, and the bloodycatastrophe, and go about remorselessly toprepare new schemes and entice new victimsby canonizing the foiled conspirators as heroesand martyrs.

Edited/Proofed by

Entered by James Cash. Proofed by Lloyd Benson




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Event Location


Gerrit Smith's Insanity.

None of these are improbable effects of the Harper's Ferry events on a man of Gerrit Smith's temperament, history frailties and fanaticisms