Resolutions passed by the General Assembly of South Carolina in Response to John Brown's Raid of Harper's Ferry, 1859

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Late on the night of October 16, 1859, John Brown and twenty-one armed abolitionist followers stole into the town of Harper's Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia) as most of its residents slept. The men--among them three free blacks, and two former slaves--hoped to spark a rebellion with an "army of emancipation" to overturn the institution of slavery by force. To these ends the insurgents took some sixty prominent locals including Col. Lewis Washington (great-grand nephew of George Washington) as hostages and seized the town's United States arsenal and its rifle works.

South Carolina’s reaction to John Brown’s raid provides some insight into the sectional tensions between northern and southern states, and South Carolina's growing antipathy toward the Union ("at best of doubtful value to the South").  Edward Hammond (of Barnwell District) introduced the resolutions listed here and condemned John Brown’s raid as an expression of unmitigated hostility by abolitionists and the Republican Party and proof of “the apparent state of public sentiment in the so-called Free States.” The South must anticipate renewed attacks upon the institution of slavery, Hammond insisted. The Senate and the House of Representatives of South Carolina resolved that "the defence and secure maintenance of the system of African Slavery, as existing in the South, is a cause common to all the Southern States." The State of South Carolina pledged "to furnish her full quota of men and her full contribution of money of all the necessary points...of the slaveholding States" in order to protect the institution of slavery from any future attacks.


South Carolina House of Representatives.  Resolutions after John Brown's Raid on Harper's Ferry. General Assembly, 1 December 1859.  House Journal 56-57.  South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia, South Carolina.

Correlating SC Social Studies Academic Standards:

Standard 3-4: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the events that led to the Civil War, the course of the War and Reconstruction, and South Carolina’s role in these events.

Indicator 3.4-3 Explain the reasons for South Carolina’s secession from the Union, including the abolitionist movement, states’ rights, and the desire to defend South Carolina’s way of life.

Standard 4-6: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the Civil War and its impact on America.

Indicator 4-6.2 Summarize the roles and accomplishments of the leaders of the abolitionist movement and the Underground Railroad before and during the Civil War, including those of Harriet Tubman, John Brown, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Sojourner Truth, and William Lloyd Garrison.

Indicator 4-6.3 Explain how specific events and issues led to the Civil War, including the sectionalism fueled by issues of slavery in the territories, state’s rights, the election of 1860, and secession.

Standard 8-3: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the American Civil War—its causes and effects and the major events that occurred during that time.

Indicator 8-3.2 Explain the impact of key events leading to South Carolina’s secession from the Union, including the nullification crisis and John C. Calhoun, the Missouri Compromise, the Tariff of 1832, the Compromise of 1850, the Kansas-Nebraska Act and subsequent armed conflict, the Dred Scott decision, the growth of the abolitionist movement, and the election of 1860.

Standard USHC-4: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the causes and the course of the Civil War and Reconstruction in America.

Indicator USHC-4.2 Explain how the political events and issues that divided the nation led to civil war, including the compromises reached to maintain the balance of free and slave states, the successes and failures of the abolitionist movement, the conflicting views on states’ rights and federal authority, the emergence of the Republican Party and its win in 1860, and the formation of the Confederate States of America.

Additional Flash Versions:

Resolutions responding to John Brown's raid, page 56 Resolutions responding to John Brown's raid, page 57



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