PBS concluded its three part series, "The Abolitionists" last night. John Brown raided Harper's Ferry, Frederick Douglass fled to Canada and Lincoln freed the slaves.
When Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860, Frederick Douglass, and William Lloyd Garrison had grown weary of the anti-slavery struggle in the United States. Douglass had watched John Brown raid Harper's Ferry unsuccessfully. Douglass, a not so innocent bystander in John Brown's plot to kill American slavers, had refused to take up arms with Brown.
On October 16, 1859, Brown and 22 men raided the armory at Harper's Ferry. They were met by slavery supporters who flocked to the Ferry with weapons and fired on Brown and his men. Brown's crusades against slavery are described by some historians as terrorism. Brown believed the murders he committed were done in the name of God to punish slavers. Brown and his sons had, years earlier, hacked slavers to death in the streets of Lawrence, Kansas and hid in the hills until they plotted their next violent rebellion against slavers.
The end result of Brown's uprising at Harper's Ferry was a trial and sentencing. During his trial, Brown insisted his death would not be in vain. He also told the court that had he been on the side of the wealthy, his actions would not have been an issue. He bravely faced death by hanging and supported his anti-slavery cause to the end. Frederick Douglass read of Browns' raid, trial and death in the papers. Douglass had predicted Brown's efforts would result in a blood bath and left Brown to his own devices.
Nevertheless, federal marshals wanted Douglass. They believed Douglass and Brown were connected. Douglass fled to Rochester, NY where he boarded a boat to Canada. Once Congress decided not to pursue Brown's accomplices, Douglass returned to the US in the spring of 1860. By then, a presidential campaign was underway and Abraham Lincoln's Republican party was a party committed to not extending slavery in the U.S.
Once Lincoln was elected, Southern states ceded. Douglass was ready to flee the United States because Lincoln, although Douglass had endorsed him, didn't appear to be the anti-slavery president that the abolitionists needed and hoped for. In an effort to appease southern states, Lincoln offered to extend slavery. 13 days before Douglass was set to leave with his daughter Rosetta for Haiti, war commenced. Douglass cancelled his plans to flee.
In 1862, Lincoln promised to sign the Emancipation Proclamation on New Year's Day. The document would free the slaves, but before Lincoln signed the document, he made several controversial and disappointing decisions, mostly to appease southern slave holders. Lincoln even offered the slavers an opportunity to keep their slaves until 1900, if they'd surrender.
In the end, Lincoln signed and slaves were set free, but the document didn't end slavery in the United States. Slavery didn't end until the war ended and 13th amendment was passed. The 13th amendment ended slavery in the United States permanently.
After 40 years of work, (Garrison began his crusades in 1829), the abolitionists were regarded as prophets of a sort. They'd envisioned an American country without slavery and their visions were manifesting. There were several more bouts between Lincoln and the abolitionists. Lincoln believed that black people should leave the United States because the country was, in Lincoln's words, "a single race" nation.
Garrison lambasted Lincoln and decried Lincoln's ideologies as the corrupt morality of a "white trash Kentucky" education. Eventually, the abolitionists Angelina Grimke, Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison would all meet Lincoln in the White House.
And while the nation celebrates Lincoln in movie theaters today, PBS's docudrama paints Lincoln as a man interested solely in the welfare of white people in the United States and in appeasing slavers, even at the cost of black lives.
photo credit Wikipedia.