North and South
Harper's Weekly, December 17, 1859, page 802 (Editorial)
Half the troubles of mankind have arisen from misunderstandings. There is just now some small danger that a misunderstanding may engender trouble between the North and the South. Each section of the country misunderstands the other. Each is excited and disposed to be angry; and if an opportunity offers, there may be a quarrel between them before a chance is afforded for mutual explanation and candid interchange of opinion.

The South imagines that the Northern people sympathize with John Brown, and regard him as a martyr. Among others, Governor Wise, of Virginia, and Governor Gist, of South Carolina, entertain, and endeavor to disseminate this opinion. Yet it is a notorious fallacy.  The bulk of the Northern people have no sympathy whatever with John Brown. They regard him as a man who broke his country's laws willfully, who caused the death of innocent men, and who has been justly punished for his crimes. This is the view taken by the great conservative body of the Northern people, including most of the merchants, farmers, mechanics, and citizens generally. Members of the Republican party -- while owning to some tenderness for Brown on account of his sincerity and manliness -- still admit that he was rightly punished. Of those who deem him a martyr, and censure Virginia for having executed the law, there is a mere handful -- Cheever, Emarson, Phillips, and a select party of radical abolitionists, who have never had any following worth mention.

On the other hand, the North is apt to be misled by the vaporing of Southern newspapers and Southern politicians, clamoring for disunion. These newspapers and these politicians misapprehend and misrepresent the true sentiments of the South. The disunion party -- so far as we are enabled to learn -- is no stronger in the South than the radical abolition party in the North. Both are mere noisy minorities.  A great number of the Southern newspapers are party political organs, whose sole aim is the elevation of this or that politician to a Governorship or to the Presidency. They assume and promulgate extreme views in the hope of currying favor with the masses of the Southern people. Their nonsense does not deserve a moment's serious attention. In the event of disunion, gravely as the North would suffer at first, the South would be at least as great a sufferer in the end. Seven-eighths of the fiscal revenue of the Confederacy is collected in the North;  in the event of disunion the South would need to impose new and very onerous taxes on its people to support a central Government. In the border States it would be morally impossible to maintain the slave institution; for, in the absence of the present Constitutional compact and the Fugitive Slave Law, no restraint, legal or moral, would interpose to prevent organized slave stampedes. The foreign trade of the country would continue, as now, to be carried on at the North; for trade dépôts can not be created by laws; they are the offspring of natural causes, over which Legislatures have no control; and all that the South would gain would be some additional charges on its imports to defray the cost of bonding them in New York in transitu for the Southern country.  These considerations are quite familiar to the intelligent statesmen of the South. They weigh with the planters. We of the North may rest assured that, whatever politicians and political newspapers may say, the Southern people, as a body, are decidedly opposed to disunion.

We hope that the patriotic men who have seats in Congress will interchange these mutual explanations -- that the Northern members, as a body, will express their conviction that, whatever admiration some may feel for the fortitude of Old Brown, he was justly punished; and, on the other hand, that the leading Southern men will denounce the disunionists of the South in the terms which are suitable.

It is really too bad that a parcel of politicians of both sections, none of whom have any real claim to authority, should be allowed to endanger the edifice which, in eighty years, has reached so grand an elevation. One can not help thinking that John Brown's gibbet would be a fitting tail-piece to the career of some of the knaves who -- seeking nothing beyond personal gain or the gratification of private ambition -- are pandering to the worst passions of the mob in both sections of the country, and doing all that in them lies to plunge a peaceful and contented people into the horrors of civil war.
Harper's Weekly, December 17, 1859, page 802 (Editorial)


This editorial was written in the wake of John Brown’s execution. Managing editor John Bonner expresses the typical Harper’s Weekly argument that (white) Northerners and Southerners simply misunderstand each other because of the exaggerated, erroneous rhetoric of a small minority of hot-heads in both sections—Northern abolitionists and Southern secessionists.

The editor attempts to set the record straight by explaining that most Northerners do not support men like John Brown and that most Southerners do not want disunion. The editorial goal of Harper’s Weekly was to ease sectional tensions and promote reason and understanding. Their chosen method was to identify, equate, and isolate "extremists" from the great mass of sensible, practical Americans.


This site is brought to you by…
Website and all Content © 1999-2004 HarpWeek, LLC
Please report problems to