New-York, December 6, 1858.
My dear Dr. Bellows: As I have not for some time had an opportunity to speak with you, I must take the opportunity to write. I confess that my instincts of humanity are outraged at the idea of exciting among the negroes of the South a servile insurrection, which it was the avowed intention of John Brown to do, and which Dr. Cheever and others seem to regard as the highest manifestation of nobleness, patriotism, and Christianity. On Sunday last, Dr. Cheever invoked God to preserve us from mob violence, in view of his own church being attacked, and is quite ready to fall back for protection upon the laws of the land in such an extremity, while he despises them so much in other cases. If the violence of a mob in a Christian community is to be deprecated, with how much more abhorrence should it be regarded among such an ignorant, half-barbarous population as the slaves of the South, when the victims are to be the wives, sisters, and children of our friends and brothers!
To me the terror manifested through the South at the bare idea of such an uprising is not ridiculous, as it seems to be to most of our Northern journals and some of the people. I deeply sympathize with it, and unhesitatingly condemn John Brown for his reckless disregard for human life, and his one-sided philanthropy that would secure a real or imagined good to the slave, no matter at what cost to humanity or to civilization.
I admire courage; but without wisdom it is a dangerous gift. If John Brown has manifested the highest Christian principle, as his admirers claim, then for me the lessons of Christ must be learned anew; for I do not think his course sanctioned by our Saviour's example or precepts, any more than the burning of heretics by the Inquisition, or of Quakers by the Puritans, though both were done in his name.
John Brown was simply, in my view, a brave and worthy man who had dwelt on the subject until he became a monomaniac. It seems to me that many people of intellect and discretion in our community are losing their mental balance, and allowing their instincts and passions to guide them in this great crisis, rather than their higher judgment, which the state of things so imperiously demands the exercise of. We all know that slavery is a great evil, and the blot on our national escutcheon; and we have a right to say so, and to express our abhorrence of it. But that we have the right to murder the slaveholder in order to free the slave, or to incite the slave to do so, or even to glorify him who does, I do not believe, though he may do it in the name of God. Slavery is the inherited curse of the South. She came into the Union with this mark upon her, and was accepted with it by our fathers, whose patriotism and wisdom we never tire of praising. In the struggle that achieved our independence, the South bore her part bravely; and Virginia gave us Washington, through whom we established our nationality and formed a republic which is even now the forlorn hope of humanity throughout the world.
Suppose we dissolve the Union by withdrawing ourselves, or by driving the South out of it. Do we thereby extinguish the evil of slavery? I do not see that we do, but we certainly do extinguish the hopes that humanity has risked upon our experiment of self-government. Slavery is the growth of more than two centuries. It cannot be destroyed in a day, nor in a longer time, without producing a moral shock that would be, perhaps, a still greater evil. I would watch, and pray, and wait. This is not the doctrine of the fanatics on either side of Mason and Dixon's line, whose limited and distorted vision is confined to the narrow limit of the present, and whose mutual bitterness and hate are sowing a wind which, apparently, will rise a whirlwind upon us all. In this emergency it seems to me that all who have a calm word to utter should speak out, and at once.
I am most respectfully and sincerely yours,
A. C. L. Botta.