In 1859, on this day a team of "out of uniform" militiamen were dispatched from Richmond, VA, under secret orders from Governor Henry A. Wise to kidnap the half-dozen prominent northerners who had conspired to organize John Brown's attack on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry.
Harpers Ferry Raid, Part 2
In Pursuit of the Secret Six by Ed., Scott Palter & Eric OppenAs the secessionist crisis reached a new level of intensity, wiser heads in Washington recognised that southern demands for justice could only be satisfied by swiftly bringing to justice the "Secret Six". Trouble was, the tiny US Marshall Service were totally inequipped for the task, because many of the abolitionists had bolted, some across the border into Canada. Worse the Federal Government had absolutely no legal authority to seize the men, and on paper at least, was no more able to extradite the men than the State of Virginia, which had issued the arrest warrants just the day before. Which was precisely why Governor Wise had resorted to decidely unorthodox means to seize the men who sent John Brown to Harper's Ferry. And thus the Union was trapped in its own Federalist logic, because the General Government could only act by stamping on State's Rights which were the very core of the issue threatening to tear America in two.
And yet all was not lost. Because, fortunately for the future of the Union, the new Attorney General Wade Keyes was an independent thinking southern lawmaker who anticipated Governor Wise's hotheaded actions, and had developed his own super-clever strategem for defusing the crisis. Realising that US President John Buchanan was not up to the task of resolving crisis, he demonstrated true leadership by taking matters into his own hands, instituting treason charges on his own and daring Buchanan to repudiate them.
And surely Keyes' predecessor, the divisive figure of Jeremiah Sullivan Black (pictured) would have excaberated the crisis, being not only the most influential of President Buchanan's official advisers, but also a stubborn theocrat who made matters worse by spending his time denying the constitutionality of secession.
Black consider his biggest achievement to be his success in contesting the validity of the California land claims to about 19,000 square miles of land, fraudulently alleged to have been granted to land-grabbers and others by the Mexican government prior to the close of the Mexican-American War. Hell bent on re-inforcing the authority of the Federal Government, Black would was incapable of the higher order understanding developed by Wade, that Washington had to intervene imaginatively to resolve the dispute. For the good forture of everyone apart from the Harper's Ferry Raiders and the Secret Six themselves, early in 1959, Black had been forced to resign for personal reason.
There was one force at work more powerful than either Governor Wise or Attorny General Wade Keyes: money. And before long, the first Secret Six member was in Southern hands, Franklin Sanborn, arrested by mercenaries at Concord, MA before the residents of the Town could rouse for his defence.