John Browns Raid on Harpers Ferry 1859 Newspaper Accounts

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John Brown's Raid of 1859 According to the Albany New York Evening Journal

The Albany New York Evening Journal was a Republican newspaper whose office was situated in upstate New York. Since the newspaper was printed in the North, it could be assumed that the journalist writing the articles on John Brown's raid on the Harpers Ferry arsenal would have an anti-slavery viewpoint. In addition, the journalist might even have praised John Brown, making him out to be a martyr as so many others had done from the North. However, this journalist wrote that John Brown was a madman and put the blame on southern Democrats. The newspaper maintained this viewpoint from the first report of the raid through to the execution of John Brown.

In the first report of the raid on Harpers Ferry, the Albany Evening Journal reported on the facts. It gave the location of the town as being on the border of Virginia and Maryland. The only significance of this town, the Journal states, was that the US armory was in the vicinity. Moreover, the accounts of the raid were confusing and the reason for the insurrection was unclear at that time. Few slaves and abolitionists lived in the area. Therefore, a raid by abolitionists in this area of Virginia would be 'indeed madness'. In addition, the Journal suggested that all reports of this incident were likely exaggerated.

The next day, October 19, 1859, more reports of the raid on Harpers Ferry were received by the Albany New York Evening Journal. The Journal reported that the men involved in this raid were misguided and desperate. At no point did the Journal justify the raid instead it stated that the act was treason. However, the Journal continued to write that all accounts received thus so far of the Harpers Ferry raid to be exaggerated due to the panic that occurred there after. Moreover, the article revealed the leader of the conspiracy as Captain Brown who had been a victim of the 'Border Ruffian Invasion from Missouri'.  In the opinion of the newspaper, Brown had led the raid in Harpers Ferry for revenge against all slaveholder for the cold blooded murder of his sons in the Missouri incident. However, the Journal quickly rebuked Brown for the raid by calling him a madman for his criminal intent upon innocent men, women and children.  It further stated that Brown would be condemned by all for his actions.

On October 20, 1859, the Journal attacked southern democrats as being the cause of their own malice. The Journal stated that southern Democrats and slaveholders had put the idea of insurrection into their slaves' heads by speaking of it constantly in public and private. Moreover, the uneducated slaves believed that the Republican Party would be their liberators because their masters said so. Thus any conspiracy to liberate the slaves began with the slaveholders. The Journal berated the Democratic Party for their sins that included 'border invasions, filibuster expeditions, lynching, violence at elections' and so forth. After which, the Journal suggested that Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry was the fault of the Democrats in that Brown had been taught by 'border ruffians in Kansas and the Democratic Administration in Washington.' Moreover, the Journal hailed the Republican Party not as an abolitionist party but that of one that did not interfere with slavery and did not tolerate any violence of any kind.

On October 27, 1859, the Albany Evening Journal again put the blame on the southern democrats for the raid on Harpers Ferry. The Journal accused the democrats of knowing of the raid two months in advance and did nothing to stop it.

A month later, on November 30, 1859, the Journal wrote that any attempt to rescue Brown would be futile as troops had been called in to prevent any attempt. John Brown and his associates had been sentenced and were prepared to be hung. Brown having had said 'hanging is the best use' that can be made of me. The article reiterated the opinion of the newspaper that Brown should not be executed because he would become a martyr. However, the paper did say that there were very few people who sympathized with Brown. The Journal also stated its opinion on slavery believing that all men should be free. Yet it also stated that by law, slaves were recognized as 'property and therefore the institution was to be tolerated'. It had been tolerated since colonial times and would go on being tolerated. That was just the way it was. However, slavery should not be taken into the new territories.

On December 1, 1859, the day before John Brown's execution, the Journal reported regretfully that John Brown was to be hung for the 'insane raid at Harpers Ferry.' It further reiterates the paper's opinion that mercy would have done more to curtail public sympathy. Instead, Brown and his associates would live on as martyrs remembered as heroes rather than murderers.


The Albany New York Evening Journal would be a good resource for anyone writing a research paper on John Brown. It gave accurate descriptions of the town of Harper's Ferry and surrounding areas. It also gave an objective viewpoint of the raid stating repeatedly that the raid was an act of a madman who intended to be caught. The Journal related much of the sentiment most people in the north felt towards the south.  Surprisingly, the Journal was not as anti-slavery as one would expect from a northern newspaper. However, the tone of the articles was very anti-democratic throughout, placing much of the blame on the Democratic Party. It was interesting that the Journal thought that the slaveholders had created the threat of an insurrection by their own fear and perhaps they did.