Thursday, May 17, 2018

Thomas Wentworth Higginson to Maria Weston Chapman, Thanksgiving Day, April 13, 1854

You are aware that the Burns case, or its consequences, cannot yet be regarded as over. Our trials on the State process have been constantly delayed by the pressure of cases under the liquor law (which by statute takes precedence of all others), and as those cases do not diminish, the District Attorney almost despairs of ever reaching ours, and would gladly throw them up if he with propriety could do so. The United States processes are only just being announced, in fact only two have yet been made public, and I do not yet know whether I shall come in for a share of those or not. We are all glad that Theodore Parker should be indicted; it must result in a triumph for him in any event, but it is absurd to suppose that a Massachusetts jury will find him guilty. I think this is no doubt the understanding of some on the Grand Jury who voted to file a bill against him; they knew that no harm would come to him and were unwilling that the antislavery excitement should be kept up, in this way.

You have seen in the “Liberator” the account of the Butman riot in this city; it was really a very remarkable affair — as genuine a popular exhibition as the mobbing of Haynau1 by the London brewers. Only there was a sort of dramatic perfection about this; the entire disappearance of Butman's own friends leaving him to be literally and absolutely saved by abolitionists; the fortunate presence of just the right persons — Messrs. Hoar, Foster, Stowell, and myself — I mean the right persons dramatically speaking; this joined with the really narrow escape of the man and the thorough frightening of one who had frightened so many; — all these gave a tinge of romance to the whole thing, such as was perhaps never surpassed. It can be worked up better than was ever the Porteous2 mob by some future Scott. You cannot conceive how frightened the poor wretch was.

. . . If Worcester frightens ex-kidnappers thus, you may imagine how it would be with those who shall pursue the profession.

1 Haynau was an Austrian officer who took part in the Napoleonic wars and who was noted for his great severity in putting down an insurrection in Brescia. In 1850 he made a tour of Europe, but his reputation for cruelty had preceded him, and in London he was assaulted and beaten by the employees of a brewery — “for which insult the British Government declined to give any satisfaction.”

2 Readers of Scott's Heart of Midlothian will remember the wild mob which seized and executed Porteous, commander of the City Guard of Edinburgh.

SOURCE: Mary Potter Thacher Higginson, Editor, Letters and Journals of Thomas Wentworth Higginson, 1846-1906, p. 68-9

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