THE SENTENCE OF JOHN L. BROWN.
John L. Brown, a young white man of South Carolina, was in 1844 sentenced to death for aiding a young slave woman, whom he loved and had married, to escape from slavery. In pronouncing the sentence Judge O'Neale addressed to the prisoner these words of appalling blasphemy:
You are to die! To die an ignominious death — the death on the gallows! This announcement is, to you, I know, most appalling. Little did you dream of it when you stepped into the bar with an air as if you thought it was a fine frolic. But the consequences of crime are just such as you are realizing. Punishment often comes when it is least expected. Let me entreat you to take the present opportunity to commence the work of reformation. Time will be furnished you to prepare for the great change just before you. Of your past life I know nothing, except what your trial furnished. That told me that the crime for which you are to suffer was the consequence of a want of attention on your part to the duties of life. The strange woman snared you. She flattered you with her words, and you became her victim. The consequence was, that, led on by a desire to serve her, you committed the offence of aiding a slave to run away and depart from her master's service; and now for it you are to die!
You are a young man, and I fear you have been dissolute; and Page 90if so, these kindred vices have contributed a full measure to your ruin. Reflect on your past life, and make the only useful devotion of the remnant of your days in preparing for death.
Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth is the language of inspired wisdom. This comes home appropriately to you in this trying moment.
You are young; quite too young to be where you are. If you had remembered your Creator in your past days, you would not now be in a felon's place, to receive a felon's judgment. Still, it is not too late to remember your Creator. He calls early, and He calls late. He stretches out the arms of a Father's love to you — to the vilest sinner — and says: "Come unto me and be saved." You can perhaps read. If so, read the Scriptures; read them without note, and without comment; and pray to God for His assistance; and you will be able to say when you pass from prison to execution, as a poor slave said under similar circumstances: "I am glad my Friday has come." If you cannot read the Scriptures, the ministers of our holy religion will be ready to aid you. They will read and explain to you until you will be able to understand; and understanding, to call upon the only One who can help you and save you — Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world. To Him I commend you. And through Him may you have that opening of the Day-Spring of mercy from on high, which shall bless you here, and crown you as a saint in an everlasting world, forever and ever.
The sentence of the law is that you be taken hence to the place from whence you came last; thence to the jail of Fairfield District; and that there you be closely and securely confined until Friday, the 26th day of April next; on which day, between the hours of hours ten in the forenoon and two in the afternoon, you will be taken to the place of public execution, and there be hanged by the neck till your body be dead. And may God have mercy on your soul!
No event in the history of the anti-slavery struggle so stirred the two hemispheres as did this dreadful sentence. A cry of horror was heard from Europe. In the British House of Lords Brougham and Denman spoke of it with mingled pathos and indignation. Thirteen hundred clergymen and church officers in Great Britain addressed a memorial to the churches of South Carolina against the atrocity. Indeed, so strong was the pressurePage 91of the sentiment of abhorrence and disgust that South Carolina yielded to it, and the sentence was commuted to scourging and banishment.