In 1859, on this day the State of Virginia issued warrants for the half-dozen prominent northerners who conspired to organize John Brown's attack on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry.
Harpers Ferry Raid, Part 1: "Those Who Sent Him"Accordingly, the "Secret Six" would be obliged to "surrender to fugitive's justice [from Brown's raid]" , being collectively "charged with murder, and with inciting servile insurrection in the State of Virginia". Because widespread popular protests in the North on the day of John Brown's execution infuriated Southerners such as Virginia Governor Henry A. Wise who admired Brown's courage and forthrightness but condemned "those who sent him [John Brown]". The enduring image is captured in "The Last Moments of John Brown", by Thomas Hovenden (pictured).
Governor Wise admired Brown's courage and forthrightness but condemned "those who sent him" Despite appeals for clemency, Wise staunchly refused to commute Brown's sentence. And his insistence on pursuing the "Secret Six" was no less determined. Wise argued convincingly that Harpers Ferry wasn't Brown's first act of psychotic madness. Just days after the proslavery sack of Lawrence, his band of men had killed several proslavery settlers in "Bleeding Kansas", hacking to death five men along Pottawatomie Creek with short, heavy swords.
If abolitionists praised Brown's compassion for the "poor slave," to white Southerners he was anarchy incarnate. Yet easy as it was to dismiss John Brown as a madman, the "Secret Six" were neither hardscrabble ruffians nor ex-slaves but respectable, wealthy residents of Boston radiating culture, education, and fortune. As such, they presented an especial threat to the slave-holding plutocracy, by serving as the archetypical Northern mercantilists who had undermined the Founding Father's dreams for Confederacy.
Senator James Mason of Virginia formed a Senate committee to investigate the raid, to validate Wise's allegations of Northern abolitionist complicity. After much hard talk about a Northern abolitionist cabal his committee colleague Senator Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, the committee found proof of Northern complicity "It would be hard to conceive of a conclusion other than conspiracy that to which the whole affair has come," the New York Times observed in June 1860. The same paper suggested that it would be a miracle if the next President had a Union to preside over come the next inauguration.