Chicago Press and Tribune/Editorial on Harper's Ferry

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Where the Responsibility Belongs  (1857) 
Chicago Press and Tribune
published 20 October 1859

The attempt of the Chicago Times to place the responsibility of the Harper's Ferry affair upon the Republican party, is a resort to the rogue's trick of crying "stop thief, stop thief," for the purpose of diverting attention from the really guilty party. Holding to the doctrines of the Revolutionary fathers and the earlier statesmen of this country on the subject of slavery -- that it is a moral, social and political evil; that it is a creature of local law, to be controlled exclusively by the States, in which it exists, and that its area ought not to be extended, for its accompanying evils be fastened upon our new frontier communities -- the Republican party depreciates, no less than these worthies would have done, everything looking towards violent measures for the enfranchisement of the slaves of the South. The opposition to slavery is based upon moral and economic considerations, and the only action it proposes or that it would countenance, with respect to the institution, is to confine it to its present limits, leaving the problem of "what will they do with it?" to the solution of the people of the slaveholding States.

The Democratic party, however proposes to increase the chances for insurrection, bloodshed and all the horrors of servile war, by extending the area of slavery indefinitely and by re-opening the African slave trade. It would have the bloody scenes of Harper's Ferry re-enacted in the new States to be carved out of our territories, and it would transmit to generations yet unborn the unspeakable dread arising from constant exposure to midnight carnage and the accompanying nameless horrors of insurrection.

As respects the attempt of an insane old man and his handful of confederates to excite a negro insurrection in Virginia and Maryland, it is easy to determine where the responsibility really belongs. That act is but a part of the legitimate fruit of the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. In another part of this paper, in a sketch of the life of the leader of the attempted insurrection, will be found a statement of some of the wrongs heaped upon old Brown by the minions of that power at whose command and for whose benefit the compromise was broken down -- wrongs which entered his soul and made him what he is -- a monomaniac who believes himself to be a God-appointed agent to set the enslaved free. Upon the heads of those who repealed that compromise and who sanctioned the lawless violence and bloodshed which grew out of it on the plains of Kansas, rests the blood of those who fell at Harper's Ferry. Through a chain of events, the one inseparably connected with the other, the last-named tragedy goes back to the first-named violation of plighted faith as its cause, including among its intermediate steps a series of outrages and wrongs which taken together, make up the blackest page of our National history. No one has a clearer appreciation of this fact than the Chicago Times; no one understands more clearly that the popular verdict will accord with the historical statement. Hence, in its zeal to save itself, its master, and its party from the consequence of their own acts, it falsely lays the blame upon those whose policy it is to diminish the chances of the recurrence of such tragedies, who deplore the crime whenever it is committed as a sore calamity, and who have no sympathy for the criminal by whom it is instigated.. The public intelligence will not be imposed upon by the effort of the Times to shirk a responsibility which belongs to itself and its political associates.

This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.