The John Brown Raid Essay, Research Paper
On October 16, 1859 John Brown led a raid on a federal arsenal in Harper s Ferry, Virginia. The results were disastrous for Brown and his self-recruited army of 18 men. The events that followed were to speed our divided nation into a civil war. This event turned a country on each other and made Brown a martyr. In this paper I will break down the newspapers feeling, thoughts and ideas as they apply to Browns raid up through his execution.
In my researching the newspapers of the time period, I decided to draw information from two sources of the time to formulate my argument. I choose The New York Times and Harper s Weekly. I found that the New York Times covered the event from the beginning until the end, with the end happing to be Brown s execution. Both papers gave you an intimate look at Brown, what happen during the raid, trial and described the scene of the execution.
In using reporting from the new York times and some supplemental reporting of Harper s Weekly on the raid at Harper s Ferry I will attempt to construct an overview of the events, the attitude towards brown, and the fragile nature of America political landscape. The New York Times did the most comprehensive reporting on the Raid through the execution. Harper s Weekly reports were spread out due to it being a weekly publication. Harper s Weekly did however cover the events extensively when the trial first began. Both periodicals report the beginning of the raid with excited curiosity. The New York Times did maintain a neutral view and only reported factual information. Harper s Weekly used a more opinionated report, using quotes from people on scene to carry its message on the raid. With the majority of the opinionated reporting coming from people on the scene of the raid reaching the newspapers first it became apparent that this event was going to become a juggernaut for the north and south. Most of their views were that Brown was a mad man and that he and his followers were angels of death for the southern way of life. The southern fear of Brown as a threat to their way of life was for good reason. He had managed to recruit an army and march into to Harper s Ferry unchallenged and cause a national incident. Regardless of the outcome he had put his cause and ideals on the minds of all Americans. He also gained sympathy from abolitionists and moderate northerners. This made the South look upon him with contempt and realized they had to make an example of him, not only to be used as a deterrent for other abolitionists, but to show the north that Virginia would not waiver on her sovereign duties.
I read the initial reporting of the event in Harper s Weekly; I found the papers reporting to be pro south in its view. The look upon Brown as a crazy insurrectionist and feared his intentions. The paper states in the beginning of the article that there was a great confusion about what was going on the night of the raid and the nature of Brown s intentions. It then leads into explain the events that lead to Brown s army s defeat. I found Harper s Weekly difficult to interpret, because it skip around on the events a great deal. This lead to frustrating reading, I detected its pro south message when the paper condemned Brown for his action. The paper tried to use a pro America theme, but I think it was used in the intention to show the south the north disagreed with Browns actions, the paper had little effect on the population as the trial progressed.
When the New York Times begins to report on the trial, it gives exceptional coverage of events. It explains the proceedings on a day by day basis and gives all of the trials proceedings in great detail, it speaks of how Brown conducts himself, and how the attorneys argued. It discusses Browns Health as well as how the judge deliberates over the trial. I think for the communication abilities of the day and how slow information moved the New York Times did an excellent job in its coverage of the Trial. The part I admired most was its neutrality through out the raid and trial.
The political landscape of this period in American history makes it difficult for the New York Times to view its thought on the issue, on the other hand, it may have agreed with the south on the execution of brown. I tend to think that the sectionalist attitude of the day made the paper take a stance not to upset the fragile state of the country and just report events. This did not stop the north from showing outrage and calling the trial a mockery of justice. The paper does hold brown and his army responsible for the raids and their actions under the law, but as the trial continued it became apparent that brown fate was sealed. When it was discovered that brown received help from northern abolitionist it made the south blame the north of browns actions, the north in turn started to take a defensive position. The day of the execution, the New York Times reporting in of sympathy for Brown and his family, the paper is however very careful in its message it sends. It speaks of northern men not taking matters into their own hands, but to show a love for the American union and not to let this dissolve it. It blames the south for forcing the trial into worlds attention and attacks Virginia s sovereign powers, calling them sad and strange in pursuit of justice. The article ends with speaking of Brown s dream and then claims that Virginia was right in her decisions. It makes a plea for the Union one last time. This article I found the most interesting, because it wanted to send a message to the south that they were wrong, but did not want to rally the north around this event. It was as if the writer wanted to say something, but kept trying to mask it to appear neutral. Regardless of his intention the political landscape of the day remained and Brown was put to death.
In review of the events and the coverage of the day, I believe that the New York Times attitude change throughout coverage, but it was never a drastic change. It started out neutral and remained that way until conviction. Although sympathy was generated, it never was driving at the south; it was mostly for Brown s family. The paper was careful not to upset the south and its views. The paper found it best to maintain a neutral approach, with the exceptions of the letters sent in, the paper was mostly unbiased. The letters published could implicate the paper as being less then neutral, but it was smart to publish both southern and northern letters of outrage and sympathy. The paper basically covered all the bases it had too.
In looking back at this event in American history I can only argue that it would have been in the south s better interest not to execute Brown. Although the political situation was not going to ease, this event only added to its volatile nature. The nations fate was to divided it self into a civil war a year later. The south seceded when Lincoln was elected to office, but the damage had already been done, because eof events like Browns raid and sectionalism.
To understand the events and political landscape of the time, I think one would have to live through it. It is apparent that Brown had to pay with his life to slow the inevitable arrival of war. Although Browns execution only hasten the start of the war. Whether you look upon what Brown did as right or wrong, it is clear that he and his followers believed in there cause so much, they paid with there life s.