“A Caution.” Editorial.


This editorial from the New Orleans Times-Picayune criticizes a widely-spread tract called “A Key to the Harper’s ferry Outbreak,” published originally by the New York Herald, as propaganda designed to poison the minds of citizens of the South and exemplifies the war of rhetoric engaged in by newspapers of both the North and South.


[1] The New York Herald some time since published, as “A Key to the Harper’s ferry Outbreak” — a plan for the abolition of slavery, which has been in circulation at the North [2]. It is an incendiary paper of the most inflammatory kind, proposing a league or association to be formed throughout the country, for the raising of means and levying of troops to make private war on slavery within the States. The plan is minutely full, with all the details by which the slave population is to be visited be emissaries, prepared for sedition and aided to revolt. It is accompanied by an address to the non-slaveholders of the South, calculating upon coöperation from them, and setting forth the various ways by which the slaves could be reached, the masters harassed and threatened, and the security of slave property disturbed. It is an atrocious paper, such as would come under the legal description of seditious and incendiary publications in any Southern State. The frantic folly of its anticipations, its utter ignorance of the state of opinion and the condition and disposition of the slaves, are no extenuation for the horrible wickedness of the temper in which it is conceived, or the malignant uses to which it might be put. Still, in all its details, its diabolical plans, and the wild rhetoric with which it recommends them, it is spread out in the columns of newspapers which profess to be zealous defenders of the South, and is made to circulate wherever they go among the Southern population.

These journals thus make themselves the agents, which abolitionism desires, for sending its tracts into the midst of the South, and, under professions of friendship, do the work of our deadliest foes. It is not a little remarkable, too, that some Southern papers, in their hot haste to expose the enormity to which Northern fanaticism in willing to push its hatred to the South, fall into the same error of conduct, and actually help the circulation throughout the South of the worst publications of the worst abolitionism. In fact, since the outbreak at Harper’s Ferry, there has been a flood of those documents published in the most headless manner, and circulated with a strange want of reflection upon their character. Abolitionism has succeeded in these few weeks in penetrating into all parts of the South, with papers that never reached us before, and in quantities unheard of, until they were dispensed under such patronage.

We have endeavored to keep clear of as much of this irruption of seditious matter as was consistent with a fair history of current events, which the Southern people ought to be acquainted with. We have as much confidence as anybody in the contented temper of our slave population, and the hopelessness of any attempt to excite them into disorder, but we cannot agree that it is prudent to put them thus, within such easy reach of the tempter, or to invite Abolitionism to try its diabolical inventions directly upon them.

This “plan,” which is now spread out, in this open manner, to the gaze to the South, is no new thing to us. It was sent to this office anonymously, in the form of a circular, some time last summer. We read it with the conviction that it was the production of some dreamy enthusiast, who had become heated by fanatical teachings into a frenzy of hatred against the South, and believed himself called, by a divine inspiration, to administer on earth a higher law than that of the constitution and the Bible: “to steal,” to “bear false witness against his neighbor,” and to do murder, and call it duty. We had no disposition to assist in giving currency to ideas so frantic, so sectional, so diabolical, uttered in language disgustingly brutal. We put it into the waste basket, never expecting to hear of it again, and nothing has surprised us more than to find it, floating around in the South, spread out in full, for the edification of every one that can read and find listeners.




New Orleans Times-Picayune


[1] Times-Picayune. New Orleans, LA. 29 October 1859. 

[2] Abolitionist John Brown led a raid on an armory at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia) on October 16, 1859 in an attempt to abolish the institution of slavery.  Ed.note: The New York Herald frequently used the word “outbreak” to describe this event, implying that this type of unrest was destined to spread. As of this writing, the editor has been unable to locate the referenced article but has counted over two-dozen examples of a similar rhetorical structure. See https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov for further information. 

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