John Minor Botts shares some thoughts on John Brown’s raid… and a little more

Posted on October 19, 2009 by


I’ll get back to my thread of posts on Southern Unionism in western Maryland (which began here), but today, considering the 150th anniversary events surrounding John Brown’s raid over the past weekend, I want to post something rooted in thoughts of the raid. Actually, while scrolling through the old CW-era Hagerstown newspapers this weekend, I ran across this item of interest that was re-published in the Hagerstown Herald of Freedom and Torch Light on February 8, 1860 (from the Baltimore Patriot). By then, well, as my grandmother used to say “John Brown’s [was] dead and the big day is [was] over.” O.k., I can’t resist… I’m going to go off on a very brief tangent with this…

Yes, believe it or not, my grandmother (born in 1903) used to say that. The first time I heard it, the comment darn near knocked me on my tail because, even though a kid, I was a kid with a huge infatuation with the Civil War. Thus, it was one of my original introductions to the “memory” of the Civil War-era. How it trickled down in memory would be an interesting study, but that might be better left to a post unto itself… maybe in November.

Anyway, by February 8, 1860, the raid was almost four months in the past, but it was still fueling opinions. This particular article was generated from a letter written by John Minor Botts… yes, that’s right, the same Virginian who was later during the war known for his unconditional Unionists views. It seems that this would have been well received by those who were leaning toward Bell in the upcoming Presidential election. Botts shares his thoughts on Brown’s raid, but then gives us a little more as well. All-in-all, it’s an interesting read. That said, here’s the article…

John Minor Botts on the Condition of the Country.


Mr. Botts is out in a long and interesting letter, in reply to an invitation of certain Opposition members of the Virginia Legislature to favor them with his views upon the various questions now agitating and distracting the public minds. It occupies eight and a half columns of one of the Richmond papers, and as we are precluded by its length from laying it extenso before our readers, we will try and give them the gist thereof.


This monomaniac on the subject of slavery, was taught, says Mr. Botts, by the dominant party of Virginia to believe that he had sympathizers, aiders and abettors to that State, amongst whom all the men of rank in the Opposition were numbered, including himself, but he does not believe that any others but those engaged in the Harper’s Ferry raid had any knowledge of it. His blood runs cold, and he shudders at the effort which has been made to involve directly and indirectly the Republican party in this assault upon Virginia. If he could be brought to believe in such an idea, he would as soon continue to inhabit a house in flames from roof to foundation, as to live in a political community with that party; but as he is opposed to lynch law, he would never condemn any man unheard upon any charge whatever, much less on such is one as this.


The existence of these two classes of men does not involve, in his opinion, the complicity of the general population of either North or South with them. They of the North are no more called on to purge themselves of all connection with Abolitionists, than they of the South should acquit themselves of all participation in the treasonable schemes of Disunionists. If John Brown was a Republican, Cook and four others of his offers were Administration men. If these men had been from Southern States, or from Virginia, they would have suffered the penalty of their crimes without any excitement, but because they were from the North, the Union has been convulsed, and is regarded by even some conservative men as intolerable.


Mr. Botts does not believe there was any necessity for lionizing, martyrizing and canonizing John Brown, by the State of Virginia, as was done. The State has been run in debt a half a million of dollars, and dictatorial powers have been exercised, when there was no need for it. – But all this ado has phrenzied the public mind, and raised the drooping hopes of the Administration party for the moment, and he does not believe it to be accidental. It is the periodical visitation of the party in power, their leap-year of horrors, just before a Presidential Election. In a rapid review of the incidents of the Brown war, Mr. Botts fastens the responsibility of the military excitement upon Governor Wise, who avowed that he never had any fears of a rescue, but wanted a chance to put his boys in training. It was not a Tempest in a Tea Pot, but a Hurricane in a Tea Spoon!


He regards the Abolitionists and the Disunionists as the Capulets and Montagus of the nation, and devotes a plague on both houses. He thinks they can only be put down by withholding from them all public office, patronage and influence, for we have become a nation of hunters after spoils. – Money, Place and Power are what the mischiefmakers make mischief for.


Mr. Botts sees nothing to justify, the clamor for Disunion and the preparation for civil war. Old Brown and his followers are dead and Mr. Botts would not wage a war against even the false law. He would not ‘smash up’ this great empire for any such cause. He does not believe there will be any more John Brownism again in this country.


Mr. Botts thinks this book contains a vast amount of incendiary matter for the non-slaveholders of the South, but he does not blink the fact, that it quotes largely from Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Patrick Henry, George Mason, Clay, Governor Hammond of South Carolina, Governor McDowell, Rives, Father Ritchie, Governor Wise, French Ambassador Faulkner, ex-Secretary W. Ballard Preston, and others, all of Virginia, against slavery. He believes, from the letters he has received, that if ever the House is organized, there is not one of the members who recommended this book, who will not purge himself of all purpose or endorse the offensive parts. If they do not, he will denounce them. But the endorsement of any book – no matter what its character, by 68 or 6800 men, is no cause for sundering this Union. – If the Union, however, is no longer durable, let those who are dissatisfied with it, go to Louis Napoleon for help, if they can.


He would use the appellation ‘Democrat’ only in reference to the bossmen of the party in power, now seeking to break up the Union. The masses only execute the work cut out for them.


Mr. Botts next gives a masterly bird’s eye view of the policy pursued by the party that calls itself Democratic, howling clearly that Aaron Burr was its founder, and not Thomas Jefferson, and brings it down to the present time. – As a historical summary, it is unsurpassed by any thing that has yet appeared, for is outspoken truth. It tears the mask from the hideous features of the most corrupt cabal that ever controlled the government of a civilized country. At the proper time we shall lay it before our readers.


By the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, the fire was kindled with which the Burrites now seek to burn down Rome, and the Fiddlers, Nero-like, are now hobnobbing at Washington, ‘dining, drinking wine, cracking nuts, and cracking jokes,’ says Mr. Botts, with as much unconcern as a company of drunkards. And they are calling upon the Whigs of the South to help them in their wicked assaults on the Union, but they call in vain on Mr. Botts. Doomsday may crack before he comes to their help, howl, rave, and tear their passions to pieces as they may, at the prospect of the loss of power.


The pretence that it is the protection of slavery that animates the course of the Administration in refusing to organize the house, is proven by Mr. Botts to be utterly false; but while it is true that the Locofocos could have made Mr. Gilmer Speaker, we must beg to dissent from Mr. Botts, in his conclusion, that either Boteler or Maynard could have been elected. But by their refusal to go for Gilmer, they have shown that it is power and place and spoils that they are after, not the protection of slavery, which Mr. Botts shows is in no danger whatsoever.


The propositions to put Virginia upon a military footing, to establish armories and all that, are shown to be so many wind-mills of the cracked brain, that have devised them, and are ridiculed to the top of his bent.


The man who talks of dissolving the Union, is shown by Mr. Botts to be an ignoramus. It was made to be perpetual, and perpetual it will be of necessity. Its founders provided for its perpetuation, and omitted to provide for its dissolution. – His argument on this point is irresistible. We may reproduce it on some convenient occasion. He says, if Virginia should vote to withdraw, Maryland might vote to stay in. That she would, and there she would stay till the crack of doom, malgre Mr. Freaner.


Mr. Botts declares that there are not Locofocos enough alive to strip him of his birthright as an American citizen; that where the Stars and Stripes float, there will he be found, and that no power on earth can carry him out of this Union. To his sentiment responds the Baltimore PATRIOT – Amen! Even if Congress were to break up in a row, Mr. Botts contends it would not affect the law in a body, a quorum would still be [illegible… page shift for four lines]


Mr. Botts excepts to the legislation in the free States, hostile to the recovery of fugitive slaves, but he does not think that this hostility is any justification for the perpetuation of the joke offering a reward for the heads of prominent members of the Republican party, originally published in the Richmond papers. He is against all crimination and recrimination. The recent lynching of Northern people in the South, he condemns in all their length and breadth.


He deals Locofocoists a terrible blow for its free trade policy and calls on Virginia to vote for the adoption of Mr. Clay’s American system of protection to Home Industry, and then, not till then, will Virginia be able to cope with the manufacturing States of the Union. This point is admirably put.


Mr. Botts, in conclusion, is opposed to carrying slavery into free Territories by national legislation or by force of arms. In this particular he adopts Mr. Clay’s doctrine to the very letter. He calls on the Opposition party in the South to rally on this great principal, against the ‘nightmare politicians,’ who repealed the Compromise of 1820, and inaugurated the Act of 1854.


There is no public man in the Union who wields a more logical and a smoother pen than Mr. Botts, but much as we admire his general style of public speaking and writing, we think he has exceeded himself in his admirable Letter. It abounds in sarcasm, wit, genuine patriotism, hard sense, eloquence, unanswerable logic; it is John Minor Botts all over, and when we say this, we do not think we can say more in its praise. His name is associated in undying memory with that of Henry Clay, as his fidus Aehates, and we may be sure, when we read anything from his pen, that it will bear the impress of his master’s doctrines. The sprit of Mr. Clay breathes throughout every fine of this wonderful Letter. We trust it will serve to bring back those Opposition men everywhere in the South, who have been disposed to run after the false light of Locofocoism, upon the question of slavery.