American Mobbing, 1828-1861: Toward Civil War

By David Grimsted | Go to book overview
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Epilogue
Vintage Violence

Man decides and Allah decides, and Allah decides more powerfully.

--Koran

Someone asked: "Then what are they fighting for?" "For Southern rights, whatever that is!"

-- Mary Boykin Chesnut, Civil War Diary

Bystander: I think you are fanatical.

John Brown: And I think you are fanatical. "Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad," and you are mad.

--Interview after the raid at Harpers Ferry, New York Herald, October 21, 1859

Oh God! Again
The pain of the spikes where I had sight,
The flooding pain
Of memory, never to be gouged out.

-- Sophocles, Oedipus Rex

In 1848 a United States senator from New Hampshire, to distract attention from a failed slave rescue, introduced a bill to control riot in the District of Columbia, triggering the most vital and spontaneous debate on slavery in the nation's history. Over a decade later, an aging man, at the end of a shambling, commonplace farmer-merchant career, riveted the union's attention on another failed scheme to rescue slaves, dying in a way that caused people to wonder if self-sacrifice for others' liberty was madness or divinest sense. On the day of this man's execution, a handsome young actor deserted the Richmond theater to watch the rugged character make his final appearance in a way that mesmerized the memory of the actor and the nation. And a bit more than half a decade and some 620,000 lives later, that actor took the stage for the last time in the role that alone kept his memory alive. A few days later he was killed, carrying in his pocket a picture of the daughter of the just-retired senator from New Hampshire, a woman to whom he'd been close--probably engaged-- possibly in order to be close to the man he'd long plotted to capture or kill.

These personal linkages between John Hale, John Brown, and John Wilkes Booth were among history's always intriguing coincidences, but the roles of all three were tellingly linked to evolving patterns of sectionally tinged violence. People were to

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