As we near the end of the class, I am shifting my efforts to those events that took place as the nation moved ever closer to the outbreak of war. Thus, my focus this week was on John Brown’s raid at Harpers Ferry.
The primary source that I published this week from the New York Times, while lengthy, offered a very interesting Northern perspective of the effects that Brown’s raid had on the nation, especially in the South. At first, the article seems to attempt to dismiss the raid itself as something not worth the attention and hype that it was continuing to receive—that is, they were “astonished at the immense outcry raised over that wild and absurd freak of a hard-headed, strong-willed fanatic.” Yet, when one moves beyond this flashy introduction, the article itself begins to dig into several of the larger political themes that Ratner and Teeter discuss in their secondary source Fanatics and Fire-Eaters over how the raid was covered in both Northern and Southern papers of various political backgrounds.
To one end, Ratner and Teeter point to efforts that were common among Southern (and Northern Democratic) newspapers to try and link Brown’s efforts to those of Northern abolitionists. The Times also makes a connection between Brown’s raid and Northern abolitionists, but in the reverse. That is, they argue that it was not the work of abolitionists that contributed to Brown’s raid, but rather the work of Brown that was inspiring Northern abolitionists to act: “It has done more to stimulate the Abolitionists to fresh efforts, by convincing them of their feasibility, than any other incident of the day.” In the opinion of this article’s writers, however, such a connection was both “dangerous” and “deplorable.”
From there, the article moves on to discuss what its writers saw as possible political actions that could be spurred on by Brown’s raid. As Ratner and Teeter explain, “Each side accused the other of putting politics above national interest,” and that is precisely what the Times appears to be doing in the remainder of the article. Most noticeable is the predictions that the article makes about how the Southern Democratic party will likely use what happened at Harpers Ferry to push the agenda and nomination of a Southern Democratic candidate—something that the article warns is not likely to be met with approval by Northern Democrats. Furthermore, to this potentially split Democratic party they juxtapose a “Republican Party [that] has not been weakened in the least by the Harper’s Ferry affair,” which seems to speak volumes to the ways in which the politically-affiliated newspapers at the time were able to filter their reporting of events through the agendas of an associated party.