Who Is To Blame? A Violent Act Becomes Political Narrative

In Albany, meanwhile, the editor of the Atlas and Argus considered William Seward’s famous 1858 invocation of an “irrepressible conflict” between North and South to be the ideological underpinning of John Brown’s behavior, asking whether Brown did “anything more than act out Mr. Seward’s theory, and carry his principles into practical operation.”

For their part, Republicans were on the defensive in the immediate aftermath of John Brown’s raid. They first responded to Democratic attacks in the press by brushing off Brown as a lunatic who had no affiliation with their party, insisting that they repudiated violence as an acceptable tool for ending slavery, and blasting Democrats for exploiting a tragedy for their own political gain. The New York Tribune, for example, wrote that “the attempt to connect the Republican Party with Old Brown’s mad outbreak is a necessity of the Sham Democracy. This is a keen hunt for political capital, and will ultimately recoil on the hunters.”
— Joshua D. Rothman