Margaraetta Mason and Lydia Maria Child Discuss John Brown, 1860

Margaraetta Mason and Lydia Maria Child Discuss John Brown, 1860

After John Brown was arrested for his raid on Harpers Ferry, Lydia Maria Child wrote to the governor of Virginia requesting to visit Brown. Margaretta Mason of Virginia wrote a searing letter to Child attacking her for supporting a murder. Child responded, and the exchange of letters was published by the American Antislavery Society.


Letter from Margaretta Mason to Lydia Maria Child

Do you read your Bible, Mrs. Child? If you do, read there “Wo unto you, hypocrites,” and take to yourself with twofold damnation that terrible sentence; for rest assured, in the day of judgment it shall be more tolerable for those thus scathed by the awful denunciation of the Son of God than for you. You would sooth with sisterly and motherly care the hoary-headed murder of Harpers Ferry! A man whose aim and intention was to incite the horrors of a servile war—to condemn women of your own race, ere death closed there eyes on their sufferings from violence and outrage, to see their husbands and fathers murdered, their children butchered, the ground strewed with the brains of their babes. The antecedents of Brown’s band prove them to have been the offspring of the earth; and what would have been our fate had they found as many sympathizers in Virginia as they seem to have in Massachusetts…

Reply from Lydia Maria Child

Prolonged absence from home has prevented my answering your letter so soon as I intended. I have no disposition to retort upon you the “twofold damnation” to which you consign me. On the contrary, I sincerely wish you well, both in this world and the next. If the anathema proved a safety valve to your own boiling spirit, it did some good to you, while it fell harmless upon me. Fortunately for all of us, the Heavenly Father rules His universe by laws, which the passions or the prejudices of mortals have no power to change.

As for John Brown, his reputation may be safely trusted to the impartial pen of History; and his motives will be righteously judged by Him who knoweth the secrets of all hearts. Men, however great they may be, are of small consequence in comparison with principles; and the principle for which John Brown died is the question at issue between us.

You refer me to the Bible, from which you quote the favorite text of slaveholders: “Servants be subject to your mastsers with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the forward.” 1 Peter 2:18.

Abolitionists also have favorite texts, to some of which I would call your attention. “Remember those that are in bonds, as bound with them.” Hebrews 13:3….

If the appropriateness of these texts is not apparent, I will try to make it so, by evidence drawn entirely from Southern sources. The Abolitionists are not such an ignorant set of fanatics as you suppose. They know whereof they affirm. They are familiar with the laws of the slave states, which are along sufficient to inspire abhorrence in any humane heart or reflecting mind not perverted by the prejudices of education and custom. I might fill many letters with significant extracts from your statute books; but I have space only to glance at a few, which indicate the leading features of this system you cherish so tenaciously.

The universal rule of the slave states is that “the child follows the condition of its mother.” This is an index to many things. Marriages between white and colored people are forbidden by law; yet a very large number of the slaves are brown or yellow…

Throughout the slave states, the testimony of no colored person, bond or free, can be received against a white man. You have some laws which, on the face of them, would seem to restrain inhuman men from murdering or mutilating slaves; by they are rendered nearly null by the law I have cited. Any drunken master, overseer, or patrol, may go into the negro cabin and commit whatever outrage he pleases with perfect impunity, if no white person is present who chooses to witness against him….


Correspondence between Lydia Maria Child and Gov. Wise and Mrs. Mason, of Virginia (Boston: 1860), 16, 18-20.

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