Wednesday, March 2, 2011

James Redpath's Dedication to John Brown

I am currently reading a reprint and edited version of James Redpath's, The Roving Editor, or Talks with Slaves in the Southern States. It is a fascinating read to say the least, and while decidedly biased due Redpath's vehement abolitionist beliefs, it still provides a good source of information on how slaves felt about their condition. To gather the material for his book Redpath, who emigrated from England in 1849, took three trips to the South in the 1850s. On one of his trips he even worked for a few months at a Savannah, Georgia newspaper. Later, in 1855, Redpath moved to Kansas and joined in the fight to make it a free state. While in Kansas Redpath met John Brown and became an avid admirer.

When The Roving Editor was published in 1859 John Brown had not raided Harpers Ferry, but from the comments that Redpath makes in the book, that act would only have cemented Brown more firmly as hero to the writer. In fact Redpath published a biography on Brown, The Public Life of Capt. John Brown, in 1860.

In the Roving Editor Redpath calls for slave insurrections as the only sure way to end the institution. And, to be done properly, he believed they should be led by white men. He wrote, "But is insurrection possible? I believe that it is. The only thing that has hitherto prevented a universal revolt, is the impossibility of forming extended combinations. This the slave code effectually prevents. To attain this end, therefore, the agency of white men is needed. Are there [white] men ready for this holy work? I thank God that there are. There are men who are tired of praising the French patriots - who are ready to be Lafayettes and Koscuiskos to to the slaves."

It is not surprising then to see that Redpath dedicated The Roving Editor to John Brown; even before Harpers Ferry. The dedication is not too lengthy so I will reproduce it here in full:


To Captain John Brown, Senior, of Kansas:
To you, Old Hero, I dedicate this record of my Talks with the Slaves in the Southern States.
To you is due our homage for first showing how, and how alone, the gigantic crime of our age and nation can be effectually blotted out from our soil forever. You have proven that the slaver has a soul as cowardly as his own "domestic institution ;" you have shown how contemptible he is as a foe before the rifle of the earnest freeman. With your sword of the Lord and of Gideon you met him face to face; with a few ill-clad and ill-armed footmen, you routed his well-mounted and well-armed hosts.
I admire you for your dauntless bravery on the field; but more for your religious integrity of character and resolute energy of anti-slavery zeal. Rifle in hand, you put the brave young men of Kansas to shame; truth in heart, you rendered insignificant the puerile programmes of anti-slavery politicians.
You have no confidence in any man, plan or party that ignores moral principle as the soul of its action. You well know that an Organized Iniquity can never be destroyed by any programme of action which overlooks the fact that it is a crime, and is therefore to be eradicated without compromise, commiseration or delay. This, also, is my belief. Hence do I doubt the ultimate efficacy of any political anti-slavery action which is founded on Expediency— the morals of the counting-room—and hence, also, I do not hesitate to urge the friends of the slave to incite insurrections, and encourage, in the North, a spirit which shall ultimate in civil and servile wars. I think it unfair that the American bondman should have no generous Lafayette. What France was to us in our hour of trial, let the North be to the slave to-day. The oppressions of which the men of '76 complained through the muzzles of their guns and with the points of their bayonets, were trifling—unworthy of a moment's discussion—as compared with the cruel and innumerable wrongs which the negroes of the South now endure. If the fathers were justified in their rebellion, how much more will the slaves be justifiable in their insurrection? You, Old Hero! believe that the slave should be aided and urged to insurrection, and hence do I lay this tribute at your feet.

You are unwilling to ignore the rights of the slave for any reason—any "constitutional guarantees "—any plea of vested rights—any argument of inferiority of race—any sophistry of Providential overrulings, or pitiable appeals for party success. You are willing to recognize the negro as a brother, however inferior in intellectual endowments; as having rights, which, to take away, or withhold, is a crime that should be punished without mercy—surely—promptly —by law, if we can do it; over it, if more speedily by such action; peacefully if we can, but forcibly and by bloodshed if we must! So am I.
You went to Kansas, when the troubles broke out there —not to "settle" or "speculate"—or from idle curiosity: but for one stern, solitary purpose—to have a shot at the South. So did I.
To you, therefore, my senior in years as in services to the slave, I dedicate this work.
James Redpath
Malden, Massachusetts.

Image courtesy of the Kansas Historical Society.


  1. Hi,

    I just discovered your blog today, purely by chance. I was really trying to type in the name of my own blog, which has a similar name (not about history, though), and I typed in the address of yours;

    It kind of made my day - it's a delightful read with lots of interesting topics.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it. Please, come back often.

  3. Probably not an accident that Redpath poses with an issue of Horace Greeley's New York Tribune,, the leading abolitionist newspaper of its day.

  4. Nope, not an accident at all; Redpath was a writer for Greeley's sheet.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Boy, Redpath could dedicate a book! I love his dedication for The Public Life of Capt. John Brown:

    Wendell Phillips, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry D. Thoreau,
    Who, When the mob shouted, "Madman!" said, "Saint!"
    I humbly and gratefully
    Dedicate this work.

    James Redpath