On the Death of John Brown, William Lloyd Garrison, 1859
William Lloyd Garrison gave this tribute in 1859 to John Brown of Kansas, a militant abolitionist who attempted to use force to free the slaves in the South. Brown was captured after he and a group of men seized the Federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, was tried and executed for treason, murder, and inciting slaves to rebellion.
God forbid that we should any longer continue
the accomplices of thieves and robbers, of men-
stealers and women-whippers! We must join
together in the name of freedom.
As for the Union--where is it and what is it?
In one-half of it no man can exercise freedom of
speech or the press--no man can utter the words
of Washington, of Jefferson, of Patrick Henry –
except at the peril of his life; and Northern men
are everywhere hunted and driven from the
South if they are supposed to cherish the
sentiment of freedom in their bosoms.
We are living under an awful despotism--that of a
brutal slave oligarchy. And they threaten to leave
us if we do not continue to do their evil work, as
we have hitherto done it, and go down in the dust
Would to heaven they would go! It would only be
the paupers clearing out from the town, would it
not? But, no, they do not mean to go; they mean to
cling to you, and they mean to subdue you. But
will you be subdued?
I tell you our work is the dissolution of this
slavery-cursed Union, if we would have a
fragment of our liberties left to us! Surely
between freemen, who believe in exact justice
and impartial liberty, and slaveholders, who are
for cleaning down all human rights at a blow, it is
not possible there should be any Union whatever.
"How can two walk together except they be
The slaveholder with his hands dripping in blood--
will I make a compact with him? The man who
plunders cradles--will I say to him, "Brother, let
us walk together in unity?" The man who, to
gratify his lust or his anger, scourges woman with
the lash till the soil is red with her blood--will I
say to him: "Give me your hand; let us form a
glorious Union?" No, never--never! There can be
no union between us: "What concord hath Christ
with Belial?" What union has freedom with
slavery? Let us tell the inexorable and
remorseless tyrants of the South that their
conditions hitherto imposed upon us, whereby
we are morally responsible for the existence of
slavery, are horribly inhuman and wicked, and we
cannot carry them out for the sake of their evil
By the dissolution of the Union we shall give the
finishing blow to the slave system; and then God
will make it possible for us to form a true, vital,
enduring, all-embracing Union, from the Atlantic
to the Pacific--one God to be worshipped, one
Saviour to be revered, one policy to be carried
out--freedom everywhere to all the people,
without regard to complexion or race--and the
blessing of God resting upon us all! I want to see
that glorious day!
Now the South is full of tribulation and terror and
despair, going down to irretrievable bankruptcy,
and fearing each bush an officer! Would to God it
might all pass away like a hideous dream! And
how easily it might be!
What is it that God requires of the South to
remove every root of bitterness, to allay every
fear, to fill her borders with prosperity? But one
simple act of justice, without violence and
convulsion, without danger and hazard. It is this:
"Undo the heavy burdens, break every yoke, and
let the oppressed go free!" Then shall thy light
break forth as the morning, and thy darkness
shall be as the noonday. Then shalt thou call and
the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall
say: "Here I am."
"And they that shall be of thee shall build the old
waste places; thou shalt raise up the foundations
of many generations; and thou shalt be called the
repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to
How simple and how glorious! It is the complete
solution of all the difficulties in the case. Oh, that
the South may be wise before it is too late, and
give heed to the word of the Lord! But, whether
she will hear or forbear, let us renew our pledges
to the cause of bleeding humanity, and spare no
effort to make this truly the land of the free and
the refuge of the oppressed!
"Onward, then, ye fearless band,
Heart to heart, and hand to hand;
Yours shall be the Christian's stand,
Or the martyr's grave."
Garrison, William Lloyd. "On the Death of John Brown." Boston. 2 Dec. 1859. Historyplace.com. Web. 26 Apr. 2016.
In the context of the passage as a whole, the author describes those who tried and convicted John Brown as "paupers" in line 19 because