Lessons of History #3
Emotions that Led to Secession
Outpost of Freedom
December 31, 2014
On October 16, 1859, John Brown and 18 men took over the Harpers Ferry Armory, in northern Virginia (now West Virginia). His intention was to seize the arms and get them to slaves in the South so that they could rise up against their masters, and kill them. Brown’s effort was cut short when he was captured on October 18.
His trial began on October 27 and a jury convicted him on November 2, 1859.
Thomas J. Jackson, from Virginia Military Institute was in charge of the military security detail assigned to keep the crowds in order for the December 2 hanging. Just two years later, Jackson would be known as “Stonewall” Jackson, and would encourage his troops, at the Battle of Bull Run, to “yell like banshees”, which was the beginning of the famous Rebel Yell.
The people of the North, especially the abolitionists, considered the conviction and hanging of Brown to be a travesty, as Brown had become a folk hero in that part of the country.
The South, observing the North’s disrespect for the laws and the system that convicted and hanged Brown, were outraged. A popular hero had grown from the event, and his purpose was to foment a slave uprising by arming them so that they could kill their masters, and presumably, any whites they could find. The Yankees had overtly sought the death of the Southern whites at the hands slave population.
Is it any wonder that just a year later, on December 20, 1860, South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union? Could anyone remain in a union with other states that had openly and publically supported an effort that might well have led to their deaths?
We are often caught up in the events that may have led to secession, such as tariffs, slavery, or any other easily identifiable cause, however, we seldom, if ever, want to look at the social relationship that was straining both sides to a breaking point. The first, with open and exuberant support for a cause that may have left hundreds of thousands of dead fellow countrymen, and the other, who chose not to be identified as of the same nation as those who had called for their deaths. We fail to understand the mindset, dwelling on the actions, and focus strictly on those bits of history written in out textbooks (by the winner), rather than the emotional undercurrents that might reasonably justify the response, in this case secession.