FREDERICK DOUGLASS could not allow himself to think he was taking flight, but he had every reason to be frightened. Governor Henry Wise was determined to hang John Brown and would have liked nothing better than to have the most arrogant black man in America swinging beside him. And probably most of white America agreed.
Fear of the nonexistent slave revolt seized the South; white men rushed to arms at every accidental burning of a barn, but could "find the enemy only with a magnifying glass," wrote Ottilia Assing for her German readers. Particularly in Texas, rumors of slave uprisings were rampant, and to this imagined "horror" was added the real knowledge that abolitionists were saying "there were men in the North who were not content with fighting slavery with words and ... a country which could produce twenty-two such heroes, could easily produce thousands more and would." A "kind of insane anxiety gripped the whole population"; a "lightning bolt had awakened Virginia and the whole South," Assing claimed.
In truth, she overestimated the support for Brown in the North, but emotions did ride high there too. While those determined to put down, with finality, any insurrectionary action, were aroused, the abolitionists, for their part, were now more devoted to the antislavery cause than ever. They saw in Brown's brave effort, and in his trial at the end of October, the makings of a martyr. (At moments, some of them seemed almost as eager as Wise that the occasion for achieving that goal take place.) One of America's more pacific thinkers, heretofore a nonviolent subversive, was so moved by Brown's cause that with a forceful address, he aligned