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Secessionist Crisis of 1859, Parts 1 & 2 by Steve Payne, Scott Palter and Eric Oppen

Author says: the abolitionists' raid on Harper's Ferry leads to Civil War.

Part 1: on November 11th 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.

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".

Part 1: Those Who Sent Him

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, left).

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 (pictured, right), 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.

Part 2: on November 12th 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.

As 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.

Part 2: Secret Six Pursued across North America
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" 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.

Author says, please note that extensive amounts of content have been repurposed from the source articles comprising Wikipedia, McGlone, Robert E. "The 'Madness' of John Brown" and "Civil War Chronicles: The Secret Six" by Jason Emerson published in the Fall Edition of "American Heritage".

Steve Payne

Editor of Today in Alternate History, a Daily Updating Blog of Important Events In History That Never Occurred Today. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Imagine what would be, if history had occurred a bit differently. Who says it didn't, somewhere? These fictional news items explore that possibility. Possibilities such as America becoming a Marxist superpower, aliens influencing human history in the 18th century and Teddy Roosevelt winning his 3rd term as president abound in this interesting fictional blog.


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