Concord Transcendentalists and the Legacy of John Brown


Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) Journal: autograph manuscript, 1859.

Emerson's 1859 journal reveals the origin of what was perhaps the most polarizing statement made about Brown after his raid on Harpers Ferry. He quotes Mattie Griffith's response to Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry: "If Brown is hung the gallows will be as sacred as the cross," a phrase he would slightly adapt and use in his speech "Courage" on November 7, 1859. In "Courage," Emerson stated, "[Brown] will make the gallows glorious like the cross." Though the phrase was omitted from the published version of "Courage," it was quoted in The New York Daily Tribune the following day, and Northern and Southern newspapers quoted it widely, enflaming sectional tensions.

MS Am 1280H (74) – Gift of The Ralph Waldo Emerson Association, 1991.