"Every Man Meets His Waterloo At Last"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Wendell Phillips was a confirmed abolitionist and an orator of wide renown. A Harvard graduate and a lawyer, he abandoned the legal profession to identify himself with William Lloyd Garrison's fight against slavery. Forceful, dynamic, pleasant, he abandoned the high-flown oratory of other great speakers and cultivated a natural, familiar style. He soon became one of the country's leading voices in the abolitionist movement. When, in 1859, John Brown and his followers captured the arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Virginia, in an effort to spark a general slave uprising throughout the South, all abolitionists applauded. But Brown's raid was a failure; he and his men were taken after a brief siege, and the revolt failed to materialize. On the evening of November 1, Phillips spoke on "the lesson of the hour" in Henry Ward Beecher's church. "The lesson of the hour," says Phillips, "is insurrection. . . . Insurrection of thought always precedes insurrection of arms. The last twenty years have been an insurrection of thought. We seem to be entering on a new phase of the great American struggle. . . ." He contrasts Europe with America: "The Old World . . . has always distrusted the average conscience–the common sense of the millions." To Phillips, law is nothing unless public opinion is behind it. And he is not an advocate of passive resistance; "let me say, in passing," he says, "I think you can make a better use of iron than forging it into chains. If you must have the metal, put it into Sharpe's rifles." (The gun made famous by John Brown and his men was invented by Christian Sharpe). Adding that the American public must be made to see things as they are, Philipps praises Brown highly and likens him to the patriots of the Revolution. Though he failed, Brown is no less a hero:

. . . Harper's Ferry is the Lexington of to-day. Up to this moment, Brown's life has been one unmixed success. Prudence, skill, courage, thrift, knowledge of his time, knowledge of his opponents, undaunted daring,–he had all these. He was the man who could leave Kansas, and go into Missouri, and take eleven men, give them liberty, and bring them off on the horses which he carried with him, and two which he took as tribute from their masters in order to facilitate escape. Then, when he had passed his human protégés from the vulture of the United States to the safe shelter of the English lion, this is the brave, frank, and sublime truster in God's right and absolute justice, who entered his name in the city of Cleveland, "John Brown, of Kansas," advertised there two horses for sale, and stood in front of the auctioneer's stand, notifying all bidders of–what some would think–the defect in the title. . . . This is the man who, in the face of the nation, avowing his right, and laboring with what strength he had in behalf of the wronged, goes down to Harper's Ferry to follow up his work. Well, men say he failed. Every man has his Moscow. Suppose he did fail, every man meets his Waterloo at last. There are two kinds of defeat. Whether in chains or in laurels, LIBERTY knows nothing but victories. Soldiers call Bunker Hill a defeat; but Liberty dates from it, though Warren lay dead on the field. Men say the attempt did not succeed. No man can command success. . . .