“The Cloud in the Distance No Bigger then a Man’s Hand – The First Battle of the ‘Irrepressible Conflict.'” Editorial.


This editorial from the Democratic-leaning Cincinnati Enquirer is recounting John Brown’s abolitionist raid on Harper’s Ferry and criticizing the Republican leadership.


[1] We give full particulars to-day of the late extraordinary proceedings at Harper’s Ferry, Va. [2] They will attract general attention, and create great sensation in all parts of the Union. It will be seen that more detailed and authentic accounts sustain entirely the view we yesterday took in commenting upon it. It was an Abolition plot to free the negroes of Maryland and Virginia at the point of the bayonet. The leader of it was so-called “Ossawatomie Brown,” one of the abolitionists who figured with LANE and MONTGOMERY [3] in the murderous forays in Kansas. Men may well be surprised at the reckless boldness and daring of this operation: He must have taken courage from the late elections in Ohio and Pennsylvania, and supposed that he would have not only the moral, but the physical backing of these two great states in stirring up a servile war in the two states of Maryland and Virginia.

The “irrepressible conflict” of the free and slave states, which is preached by the Republican leaders as an orthodox doctrine, is well calculated to lead to such results. This affair at Harper’s Ferry is but the “cloud in the distance no bigger than a man’s hand,” but it is the presage of the future storm, that shall desolate the whole land, if the people give this Abolition doctrine their approval. It necessarily tends to servile insurrection, civil war and disunion. BROWN and his followers are but the advance column of the partisan disciples of SEWARD and CHASE, [4] who are burning to make a practical application of the “irrepressible conflict doctrine. They stand ready to deluge the land in blood to carry out their fanatical views ; and the momentous question is, do the majority of the people of the free states sympathize with them?

The danger of having a Republican-Abolition President can now be readily appreciated. Such a President, having his sympathies with the insurrectionists, would be slow to move in arresting their outrages. Delay, indecision and coldness would encourage the very parties against whom he should exert promptly the physical and moral power of the government. And the very fact that there was a President with such sympathies would encourage insurrection all through the slave states. It is for the people, North and South, to say if those things shall be.




Cincinnati Enquirer


[1] Enquirer. Cincinnati, OH. 19 October, 1859 

[2] Abolitionist John Brown – here referred to as “Ossawatomie Brown” – led a raid on a federal armory in Harpers Ferry, Virgina (now West Virginia) on October 16, 1859.

[3] James Montgomery, abolitionist, evangelical, and federal army colonel in the 1st Colored Kansas Infantry.  James Henry Lane, abolitionist, Indiana Congressman at this time, and Union General. 

[4] William Henry Seward, then Senator from New York; Salmon P. Chase, then Governor of Ohio. 


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