Higginson on rescue of Burns

August 24. 1855

Higginson writes to Garrison, commenting on a report by Edmund Quincy, which indicates that the rescue was “ill-advised and injudicious”.  His response includes:

“If it is ever known, I think it will be admitted that the attempt, however injudicious it may have seemed, came within an inch of success; that the almost-success was not an accident, either, but the result of deliberate calculation; that the final failure, moreover, was the result of circumstances which could not have been foreseen; that if that attempt failed, any other would have failed more surely; that, if that attempt had not been made, none would have been made; that, if no attempt had been made, we would have had the ineffable disgrace of seeing  Burns marched down State Street under a corporal’s guard only, amidst a crowd of irresolute semi-abolitionists, hooting, groaning, and never striking a blow.  …. What paralyzes us in a slave case (it may as well be told) is the timidity of the majority, the irresolution of the rest, and the want of organization of all.

We have not learned to trust each other and ourselves; to organize and unite on something.  Each has a different plan; and each thinks the others plan ill-advised and injudicious.  But men must risk something; not only risk danger, but even failure and disapprobation of critics.  The great merit of the Court House attempt, is that it was an attempt….a few more defeats as that before the Court House, and we shall have a victory.”