Saturday, April 3, 2010

Pennsylvania Democrats React to Harpers Ferry

I am sorry that my "historical thoughts" have not been so random lately. Much like America in the winter of 1859-60, I have had John Brown on the brain. Part of the reason for that is because I have been doing research on how Kentuckians reacted to the Harpers Ferry raid, and part of it is because I just plain find it an intriguing story.

In doing my research I have found any variety of responses to Harpers Ferry. From outright contempt, to down right praise. Of course, how one reacted to the Harpers Ferry affair often had to do with where one came from....not always...but generally.

The best exception to that rule related to political parties. Northern Democrats sought to label John Brown as a Republican - a Black Republican at that - in effort to make political capital in the upcoming 1860 election. The Republicans had officially stated in their political platform that they were only against the extension of slavery into the territories; that they did not wish to meddle with the institution where it already existed. That fact did not matter to the Democrats; they were more or less for popular allow the people the opportunity to decide if slavery should exist in a territory or not. To the Democrats, North and South, anything that hinted of anti-slavery or abolition was ties to the Republican party. In addition, John Brown never claimed to be a Republican, he and those of his temperament, such as Frederick Douglass, considered the Republican party in 1859 as to passive on the slavery issue.

The image above was printed in the Pennsylvania Statesman newspaper, a sheet that was supportive of Kentuckian, and then current Vice President John Breckinridge, for the Democratic nomination in 1860. The image is titled "Black Republican Argument," and the outline is the actual-size shape of the blades on the pikes that Brown had made to issue to the slaves he hoped would flock to his cause during the Harpers Ferry raid.

Propaganda pieces were not then, and are still not, new today. You have to admit though, this image effectively conveys the message that the Democrat party wanted to express with very few words; regardless of how incorrect it truly was.

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