This Day In Writing History
On September 10th, 1856, the legendary American poet, philosopher, and orator Ralph Waldo Emerson gave his famous "On the Affairs in Kansas" speech in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at a Kansas Relief meeting. The object of the meeting was to alert abolitionists to the plight of their fellow anti-slavery activists in the Kansas-Nebraska territory, and to raise money for the cause - and the work of legendary militant abolitionist John Brown, who would arrive in four months.
Two years earlier, the Kansas-Nebraska Act had been passed. It repealed the banning of slavery in new territories, as outlined in the Missouri Compromise, giving residents the right to decide whether or not to allow slavery in their territories. Following the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, more violence broke out between the pro-slavery and abolitionist factions, with pro-slavery posses shooting and even scalping abolitionists.
In May of 1856, four months before Ralph Waldo Emerson gave his speech, the city of Lawrence, Kansas, was violently sacked by an 800-man pro-slavery force led by the local sheriff. The small army surrounded the town, then invaded it, destroying the offices of abolitionist newspapers, smashing their printing presses, and dumping the types into the river. Private homes and a hotel were also destroyed, and the town was looted by the pro-slavery militants.
The legendary militant abolitionist John Brown, angered by both the violence of pro-slavery militants and the cowardly response of Lawrence's abolitionists, formed a posse of his own near the Pottawatomie Creek in Franklin County, Kansas, hunting and killing seven pro-slavery militants in what came to be known as the Pottawatomie Massacre. It would be one of many violent incidents that would occur in the Kansas-Nebraska territory prior to the Civil War.
Abolitionists across the country formed the Kansas Relief Movement to help their brothers in the Kansas-Nebraska territory. As Ralph Waldo Emerson stated in his famous speech, "The people of Kansas ask for bread, clothes, arms, and men, to save them alive, and enable them to stand against these enemies of the human race." The Kansas Relief Movement raised money and support for John Brown, who arrived the following January to visit Massachusetts, New York, and other Eastern states.
Emerson was a friend and admirer of John Brown, who would become famous for his ill-fated 1859 raid on the federal armory at Harper's Ferry, Virginia, which historians believe provoked the Southern states to secede from and ultimately wage war with the Union. Although Brown's raid had been initially successful - he and his men had seized the armory - his ultimate plan (to arm slaves with weapons from the arsenal so they could wage a violent revolt) collapsed when, within 36 hours, his men were captured or killed by locals and U.S. Marines led by future Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
John Brown was tried for treason, convicted, and hung. At trial, Brown was defiant and passionate, stating "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!"
While Brown awaited his sentence, Ralph Waldo Emerson said of him, "[John Brown is] that new saint, than whom none purer or more brave was ever led by love of men into conflict and death - the new saint awaiting his martyrdom, and who, if he shall suffer, will make the gallows glorious like the cross."
Quote Of The Day
"The South calls slavery an institution... I call it destitution... emancipation is the demand of civilization." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Today's video features a reading from Ralph Waldo Emerson's May 1851 speech against the Fugitive Slave Law, performed by actor Wendell Refior. The Fugitive Slave Law, passed by the U.S. Congress in September of 1850, compelled law enforcement officers - even those in free states - to arrest suspected runaway slaves and return them to their masters. Enjoy the video!