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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

Seward was the most prominent Republican politician


is sometimes vaguely suggested,

it did anything whatever towards the emancipation of the slaves, but because it certainly increased, not unnaturally, the anger and alarm of the South. Old John Brown had suspended for a time his programme of murder and mutilation in Kansas and returned to New England, where he approached a number of wealthy men of known Abolitionist sympathies whom he persuaded to provide him with money for the purpose of raising a slave insurrection. That he should have been able to induce men of sanity and repute to support him in so frantic and criminal an enterprise says much for the personal magnetism which by all accounts was characteristic of this extraordinary man. Having obtained his supplies, he collected a band of nineteen men, including his own sons, with which he proposed to make an attack on the Government arsenal at Harper's Ferry in Virginia, which, when captured, he intended to convert into a place of refuge and armament for fugitive slaves and a nucleus for the general Negro rising which he expected his presence to produce. The plan was as mad as its author, yet it is characteristic of a peculiar quality of his madness that he conducted the actual operations not only with amazing audacity but with remarkable skill, and the first part of his programme was successfully carried out. The arsenal was surprised, and its sleeping and insufficient garrison overpowered. Here, however, his success ended. No fugitives joined him, and there was not the faintest sign of a slave rising. In
fact, as Lincoln afterwards said, the Negroes, ignorant as they were, seem to have had the sense to see that the thing would come to nothing. As soon as Virginia woke up to what had happened troops were sent to recapture the arsenal. Brown and his men fought bravely, but the issue could not be in doubt. Several of Brown's followers and all his sons were killed. He himself was wounded, captured, brought to trial and very properly hanged--unless we take the view that he should rather have been confined in an asylum. He died with the heroism of a fanatic. Emerson and Longfellow talked some amazing nonsense about him which is frequently quoted. Lincoln talked some excellent sense which is hardly ever quoted. And the Republican party was careful to insert in its platform a vigorous denunciation of his Harper's Ferry exploit.

Both sides now began to prepare for the Presidential Election of 1860. The selection of a Republican candidate was debated at a large and stormy Convention held in Chicago. Seward was the most prominent Republican politician, but he had enemies, and for many reasons it was thought that his adoption would mean the loss of available votes. Chase was the favourite of the Radical wing of the party, but it was feared that the selection of a man who was thought to lean to Abolitionism would alienate the moderates. To secure the West was an important element in the electoral problem, and this, together with the zealous backing of his own State, within whose borders the Convention met, and the fact that he was recognized as a "moderate," probably determined the choice of Lincoln. It does not appear that any of those who chose him knew that they were choosing a great man. Some acute observers had doubtless noted the ability he displayed in his debates with Douglas, but in the main he seems to have been recommended to the Chicago Convention, as afterwards to the country, mainly on the strength of his humble origin, his skill as a rail-splitter, and his alleged ability to bend a poker between his fingers.


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