William M. Fishback Calls for Moderation After John Brown's Raid
November 11, 1859

After John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia, William M. Fishback denounced sectional extremists in the North and the South. He championed moderation, hoping to realign the country's political parties on "broad, national and constitutional grounds."


The late ebulition of fanaticism at Harper’s Ferry, Messrs. Editors, is well adapted to excite the just indignation of every man, certainly not less mine than that of any other. And yet I must confess that one of the chief sources of regret to me, attendant upon the affair, is the fact that some (though but few, I am glad to say) of the Southern press and of Southern politicians, [are] making such an unpatriotic use of that indignation in exciting passions already too much excited. Surely, if there ever was a time for moderation and magnanimity on the part of the South, whether considered as mere matter of sentiment or as matter of policy, that time is now! To show mercy and moderation now, when we have so much and so just a cause for indignation and resentment, could not but be most fertile of beneficial results. Indeed, although some of the murdered victims of that most wicked affray, were friends and acquaintances of mine, I yet cannot but feel a wish that it might be consistent with duty to Virginia and to her laws, to pardon the bloody perpetrators! It would teach a lesson to northern fanaticism as beneficial as it would be lasting. It might even prove effectual in silencing sectionalism, and in giving a check to a tendency from which our Union has so much to fear. The condemnation elicited from the entire press of the North shows that the conservatism of our northern brethren is even already aroused. Let us of the South not forfeit this advantage by over excitement and measures of violence; let us rather meet those of the North who are willing to unite with us in suppressing this spirit of fanaticism, conjured up by the “irrepressible conflict" doctrines of Seward and his confederate Republicans. Violence can do no possible good. By measures of violence we but ourselves commit the sin which we are in the habit of so much condemning in the men of the North.

            Entertaining such views as these, it affords me no little pleasure to observe the calm moderation and impartial fairness with which the trial of Brown and associates has been conducted by a Court of my native State. Nor has it given me any less pleasure to read the following extract from a recent speech of her Governor: “If,” says he, “any one should smuggle off Gerritt Smith some night and bring him to me, I would read him a moral lecture and send him home.” The New York Journal of Commerce, in remarking upon this speech says: “Such an act of mercy, so sagacious as a stroke of policy, and in such glaring contrast with the murderous disposition evinced by the vaunted advocates of human freedom, would be worthy of the Old Dominion. Hostilities would be disarmed throughout a large section of the country where the South has been systematically vilified; conservative men would receive a large accession of strength, and abolition emissaries would be compelled by the force of public opinion, to desist from their “Kansas work.” These are sentiments that must recommend themselves to the approbation of all right-minded men. Indeed, if this affair prove efficient in awakening the thinking men of the North to the natural tendencies of Republicanism, and in re-establishing the parties of the present day upon broad, national and constitutional grounds, I, for one, shall regard it a matter, not so much to be regretted, as its atrocity would seem to justify and even demand.

W. M. Fishback

Oreenwood [Greenwood], Nov 11, 1859


Thirty-Fifth Parallel (Fort Smith, Arkansas), May 11, 1861, re-publishing a letter from November 11, 1859.