The Atlantic

The South Only Embraced States' Rights as It Lost Control of the Federal Government

For decades, slaveholders like Robert E. Lee were powerfully committed to the Union. That changed when Washington stopped protecting their interests.
Source: Mandel Ngan / Getty Images

One hundred and fifty-eight years ago, on the morning of October 18, 1859, the radical abolitionist John Brown found himself surrounded in Harpers Ferry, Virginia, by an armed force much larger than his. Two days before, Brown had led a daring raid on a federal armory, hoping that its capture would catalyze the rapid abolition of slavery in the United States. But a local militia quickly cornered Brown’s small band of 19 men, five of whom were black. Soon, a group of U.S. Marines arrived with orders to retake the armory.

As dawn broke, Brown received a written demand that he surrender. The Marines had was delivered by the future Confederate general J.E.B. Stuart, one of the officers present. And it was signed by the colonel in charge of the “U. S. Troops” surrounding Brown and his men.

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic25 min readPolitics
An Abandoned Weapon in the Fight Against Hate Speech
A 1952 Supreme Court ruling gave civil-rights groups a way to combat anti-Semitism and other prejudices—but in the years since, it’s largely gone unused.
The Atlantic5 min read
The Joy of Writing a Book With My Dad
For much of my life, he has told me we should work on a book together. When we finally did, it was more rewarding than I could have imagined.
The Atlantic6 min readPolitics
Tyranny Of The 70-Somethings
The Democratic Party’s gerontocracy is holding back the political causes it claims to want to advance.