Many historians agree that the Harpers Ferry raid was to the Civil War what the Boston Massacre had been to the American Revolution. They were both incendiary events. Defenders of the union generally condemned Brown and called the raid “the work of a madman.” Everywhere the threat of slave insurrections fed fears, and the uproar strengthened the hand of secessionists who argued that the South needed to rid itself of northern influence. The eventual view in the ” living” North that John Brown was a martyr, combined with the abhorrence of Brown by the masses in the South showed that a Civil War was imminent.
The North and the South had an ideological difference about the practice of slavery.
What the North considered incorrigibly evil, the South considered a positive good. The conflict between the North and the South sprung from the slavery issue and men like John Brown were part of the causes of the war.
To his men and to Frederick Douglass, Brown made clear that he intended nothing less than to provoke a slave insurrection. All evidence points to that motive. Brown constantly warned his conspirators that such a raid might fail; yet even in failure he hoped a sectional crisis would unfold leading to the destruction of slavery.
Brown’s contradicting statements has provoked speculation over the man and his hidden motives. Some saw Brown as an insurrectionist, others as a self-deluded martyr, and still others as insane. (Document A) The way Brown conducted the raid was disappointing to many intellectuals in the North, as they saw that violence was not the answer to the slavery question.
However, men like the transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau, (Document B)s saw Brown’s raid as a confirmation of the “living” North’s commitment to the egalitarian roots of the new nation.
On paper the North was far stronger than the South.It had two and a half times as many people, and it possessed far more ships, miles of railroad, and manufacturing enterprises. Southerners, however, had the advantage of fighting on home ground with better military leadership.But Union superiority in manpower was not so great as the gross figures suggest.Half a million people scattered from Dakota to California, could make no substantial contribution to Union strength.And every year Union regiments were sent to the West to fight Indians.Hundreds of thousands of Americans in loyal border states and in southern Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois worked or fought for southern independence. Though, every state furnished men for the other side, there was little doubt that more Federals than ConfederatesThe South had superior officer personnel.For twenty years before Lincoln’s inauguration, southern officers had dominated the U.S. Army. Another source of southern confidence was cotton.
Secession leaders expected to exchange that staple for the foreign manufactured goods theyThe South’s most important advantage was that it had only to defend relatively short interior lines against invaders who had to deal with long lines of communication and to attack a broad front. The Confederacy also had no need to divert fighting men to tasks such as garrisoning captured cities and holding conquered territory.In a short war, numerical superiority would not have made much of a difference.As the war continued, however, numerical strength became a psychological as well as a physical weapon. During the closing years of the conflict, Union armies, massed at last against critical strongholds, suffered terrible casualties but seemed to grow stronger with every defeat. Any staggering Confederate losses sapped the southern will to fight.