October 16, 1859: John Brown seizes the Armory at Harper’s Ferry

I have, may it please the Court, a few words to say.

In the first place, I deny everything but what I have all along admitted, the design on my part to free the slaves. I John_Brownintended certainly to have made a clean thing of that matter, as I did last winter, when I went into Missouri and there took slaves without the snapping of a gun on either side, moved them through the country, and finally left them in Canada. I designed to have done the same thing again, on a larger scale. That was all I intended. I never did intend murder, or treason, or the destruction of property, or to excite or incite slaves to rebellion, or to make insurrection.

I have another objection; and that is, it is unjust that I should suffer such a penalty. Had I interfered in the manner which I admit, and which I admit has been fairly proved (for I admire the truthfulness and candor of the greater portion of the witnesses who have testified in this case), had I so interfered in behalf of the rich, the powerful, the intelligent, the so-called great, or in behalf of any of their friends, either father, mother, brother, sister, wife, or children, or any of that class, and suffered and sacrificed what I have in this interference, it would have been all right; and every man in this court would have deemed it an act worthy of reward rather than punishment.

This court acknowledges, as I suppose, the validity of the law of God. I see a book kissed here which I suppose to be the Bible, or at least the New Testament. That teaches me that all things whatsoever I would that men should do to me, I should do even so to them. It teaches me, further, to “remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them.” I endeavored to act up to that instruction. I say, I am yet too young to understand that God is any respecter of persons. I believe that to have interfered as I have done as I have always freely admitted I have done in behalf of His despised poor, was not wrong, but right. Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I submit; so let it be done!

Let me say one word further.

I feel entirely satisfied with the treatment I have received on my trial. Considering all the circumstances. it has been more generous than I expected. But I feel no consciousness of guilt. I have stated from the first what was my intention and what was not. I never had any design against the life of any person, nor any disposition to commit treason, or excite slaves to rebel, or make any general insurrection. I never encouraged any man to do so, but always discouraged any idea of that kind.

Let me say, also, a word in regard to the statements made by some of those connected with me. I hear it has been stated by some of them that I have induced them to join me. But the contrary is true. I do not say this to injure them, but as regretting their weakness. There is not one of them but joined me of his own accord, and the greater part of them at their own expense. A number of them I never saw, and never had a word of conversation with, till the day they came to me; and that was for the purpose I have stated.

Now I have done.

January 29, 1861: Bleeding Kansas is admitted to the Union

On this day in 1861, Kansas was admitted to the Union as Free State. It was the 34th state to join the Union.

Bleeding KansasExcept that South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana had just seceded from the Union. So it was the 28th state. Texas and Virginia would soon leave as well, and Kansas would shortly be only the 26th state in the dwindling Union.

Exactly 11 years before, on January 29, 1850, Henry Clay had introduced the Compromise of 1850. It was meant to be a grand bargain that would address the sectional conflict of the increasingly fragile United States: California would become a free state, slavery in the Utah and New Mexico Territories would be decided by popular sovereignty, the slave trade would be abolished in Washington, D.C. (but not slavery itself); and the Fugitive Slave Act would be strengthened.

It didn’t work for long. In 1854, Kansas and Nebraska were organized as territories. Again a popular vote would decide the issue of slavery.

There was little debate in Nebraska as the territory was filled with settlers from the Midwest. But in Kansas, where many settlers were anti-slave or abolitionists, many pro-slave Missourians lurked just over the border. When residents in the territory cast their votes on the issue, many fraudulent votes were cast from Missouri.

Blood started to flow. On May 21 1856 Border Ruffians from Missouri burned down the “Free State Hotel”, destroyed two newspaper offices, and ransacked homes and stores in the anti-slavery town of Lawrence, Kansas.

The following day Senator Charles Sumner made his “Crime Against Kansas” speech from the floor of the Senate. He mocked and vilified pro-slavery senators and accused them of attempting to “rape a virgin territory”. Two day later Senator Preston Brooks of South Carolina attacked Sumner with a gutta-percha cane and very nearly beat him to death on the floor of the Senate.

Two nights later on May 24, 1856, John Brown and his company of Free State volunteers raided pro-slavery settlements along the Pottawatomie Creek in southeastern Kansas and murdered James Doyle and two of his sons, William and Drury.

Three years later, after John Brown was captured at Harpers Ferry, Doyle’s widow wrote him a personal letter:

Chattanooga Tennessee
     20th November 1859.

John Brown
    Altho vengence is not mine, I confess, that I do feel gratified to hear that you ware stopt in your fiendish career at Harper’s Ferry, with the loss of your two sons, you can now appreciate my distress, in Kansas, when you then and there entered my house at midnight and arrested my husband and two boys and took them out of the yard and in cold blood shot them dead in my hearing, you cant say you done it to free our slaves, we had none and never expected to own one, but has only made me a poor disconsolate widow with helpless children while I feel for your folly. I do hope & trust that you will meet your just reward. O how it pained my Heart to hear the dying groans of my Husband and children if this scrawl give you any consolation you are welcome to it
                                                                           Mahala Doyle

NB my son John Doyle whose life I begged of you is now grown up and is very desirous to be at Charleston on the day of your execution would certainly be there if his means would permit it, that he might adjust the rope around your neck if gov: wise would permit it
                                                                                 M. Doyle.

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