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  • Writer's pictureRich Condon

"A brave but misguided philanthropist" - The Pittsburgh Daily Post reflects on John Brown

Nearly a month had passed by the time the Pittsburgh Daily Post weighed in on the hot topic of John Brown's ill-fated raid at the United States Arsenal in Harpers Ferry. On November 9, 1859, the Post shared some thoughts pertaining to Brown's character and motives. As a former resident of nearby Crawford County, the abolitionist's name was somewhat familiar to those in the Western Pennsylvania region.

(Library of Congress)

Pittsburgh Daily Post - November 9, 1859

"There are many points in the character of this bold, misguided man, on which nine-tenths of the writers and thinkers of the country seem to agree. No one questions that he was brave and self-sacrificing, and in most respects, vastly superior to the cowardly schemers who set him on. In the single quality of "discretion," which is no doubt esteemed by such fellows as Seward, Fred Douglass and Giddings, "the better part of valor," they had the advantage of poor old John - if advantage it be esteemed. They gave sparingly of their money to have the work of murder and pillage performed. He risked his life, and will doubtless forfeit it - and, moreover, he led to a sudden and fearful death two of his songs, for whom, it is evident, he had the strongest affection. It would be well for the memory of John Brown if those who are to record his history and his crimes, could stop here. But there is a darker stain upon his character. The published correspondence of those connected with this horrible affair, shows that, while they were ostensibly devoted to the purpose of getting up a slave rebellion, they coolly calculated that there "was money in the thing," which was to be realized out of a "cotton speculation." In this arrangement it seems John Brown had his full share; and this development must check the sympathy that would be otherwise called forth by his bravery and candor.

While organizing a scheme that would result in one wide scene of carnage and plunder, that would desolate half the hearths and home of the union. John Brown did not forget the commercial effect of his proposed operations. He foresaw that, if his plans prevailed, there would be a failure of the cotton crop next year and he coolly arranges for that contingency, and prepares to share in the profits that would accrue.

What a falling off is here! John Brown & Co., the self-constituted champions of the down trodden African, the brave and devoted soldiers of freedom and equality for all races of men - and dealers in "cotton" by the bale or otherwise. Such would be the card of this unprecedented firm, created for the advancement of the rights of man, and for the prosecution of the cotton commission business. This is a "combination and a form indeed."

Were it not for the mercenary blot on the programme of John Brown, he would have commanded for some of his personal qualities, a large degree of sympathy, from persons who loathe and condemn his designs. But those who might admire a brave but misguided philanthropist, have no room in their hearts for admiration of the bloody cotton speculator."



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