Boston, Mass., March 7, 1858.
My Dear Sir, — Since you know I have an almost countless brood of poor hungry chickens to “scratch for,” you will not reproach me for scratching even on the Sabbath. At any rate, I trust God will not. I want you to undertake to provide a substitute for an address you saw last season, directed to the officers and soldiers of the United States Army. The ideas contained in that address I of course like, for I furnished the skeleton. I never had the ability to clothe those ideas in language at all to satisfy myself; and I was by no means satisfied with the style of that address, and do not know as I can give any correct idea of what I want. I will, however, try.
In the first place it must be short, or it will not be generally read. It must be in the simplest or plainest language, without the least affectation of the scholar about it, and yet be worded with great clearness and power. The anonymous writer must (in the language of the Paddy) be “afther others,” and not “afther himself at all, at all.” If the spirit that communicated Franklin's Poor Richard (or some other good spirit) would dictate, I think it would be quite as well employed as the “dear sister spirits” have been for some years past. The address should be appropriate, and particularly adapted to the peculiar circumstances we anticipate, and should look to the actual change of service from that of Satan to the service of God. It should be, in short, a most earnest and powerful appeal to men's sense of right and to their feelings of humanity. Soldiers are men. and no man can certainly calculate the value and importance of getting a single “nail into old Captain Kidd's chest.” It should be provided beforehand, and be ready in advance to distribute by all persons, male and female, who may be disposed to favor the right.
I also want a similar short address, appropriate to the peculiar circumstances, intended for all persons, old and young, male, and female, slaveholding and non-slaveholding, to be sent out broadcast over the entire nation. So by every male and female prisoner on being set at liberty, and to be read by them during confinement. I know that men will listen, and reflect too, under such circumstances. Persons will hear your antislavery lectures and abolition lectures when they have become virtually slaves themselves. The impressions made on prisoners by kindness and plain dealing, instead of barbarous and cruel treatment, such as they might give, and instead of being slaughtered like wild reptiles, as they might very naturally expect, are not only powerful but lasting. Females are susceptible of being carried away entirely by the kindness of an intrepid and magnanimous soldier, even when his bare name was but a terror the day previous.1 Now, dear sir, I have told you about as well as I know how, what I am anxious at once to secure. Will you write the tracts, or get them written, so that I may commence colporteur?
Very respectfully your friend,
P. S. If I should never see you again, please drop me a line (enclosed to Stephen Smith, Esq., Lombard Street, Philadelphia), at once, saying what you will encourage me to expect. You are at liberty to make any prudent use of this to stir up any friend.
Yours for the right,
1 A Kansas newspaper said in 1859: “At the sacking of Osawatomie one of the most bitter proslavery men in Lykins County was killed. His name was Ed. Timmons. Sometime afterward Brown stopped at the loghouse where Timmons had lived. His widow and children were there, and in great destitution. He inquired into their wants, relieved their distresses, and supported them until their friends in Missouri, informed through Brown of the condition of Mrs. Timmons, had time to come to her and carry her to her former home. Mrs. Timmons fully appreciated the great kindness thus shown her, but never learned that John Brown was her benefactor.”
SOURCE: Franklin B. Sanborn, The Life and Letters of John Brown, p. 448-9