Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A John Brown Attack on Kentucky, or Not?

The Old State Capital - Frankfort, Kentucky
In my last post I discussed Kentucky Governor Beriah Magoffin's December 1859 call to the state legislature to reorganize the Commonwealth's militia in the wake of John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry. He obviously saw a potential for a Brown-styled attack on the Bluegrass state and he took measures to prevent or mitigate that possibility.

Interestingly, only eleven days after the Harpers Ferry raid, the editor of the Frankfort Commonwealth newspaper provided his explanation why John Brown chose to attack Virginia rather than Kentucky. State pride was on display as he viewed Virginia's anxiety for Kentucky as misplaced. He stated "Kentuckians will not feel complimented at the great solicitude for our State [Kentucky]. Apparently, the newspaper editor was of much different mind than the governor was two months later. The editor was confident that the state could defend itself. He wrote, "We hardly suppose there is a town of any size in the Commonwealth that could be held possession of by twenty-five Abolitionists, and the whole State thrown into convulsions of terror, as was the case at Harper's Ferry."

The editor seems to almost deprecate Virginia's need to call on the Federal troops (Marines) that showed up and finally captured Brown and his men at Harpers Ferry. He continued, "Let such an attack be made in Kentucky, and our Governor will hardly be compelled to call in the assistance of the Federal Government to quell the insurrection." The newspaper man's confidence in the state's militia is apparent by his statement that, "The gallant gentlemen whom he [the governor] has appointed as Aids, with the rank of Colonel would form a phalanx of sufficient numerous and brave to strike terror into the souls of any array of Abolitionists that could be marched into the State." In addition to the Kentucky militia's supposed bravery, the editor believed that military training and acumen would prove too much for any band of raiders. "Besides, their [militia officers] skill in military tactics and the strategies of war would give them an immense advantage over the insurgents. No wonder that Brown chose Virginia instead of Kentucky as the scene of his exploits." To the editor, Brown's choice of Virginia instead of Kentucky was quite obvious, but as we saw, the governor was not of the same mind.

Either the Commonwealth's editor was not as privy to the militia's current condition as the governor, or he was attempting to put on a brave front to discourage any potential abolitionist raiders. His cocksure confidence would be not displayed by fellow Kentuckians. In October, November, and December 1859, Kentuckians suspected of abolitionist sympathies would be mobbed, tarred and feathered, and exiled from the state. Fear for public safety was their justification for their harsh actions against fellow men.

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