The Secret Six, or the Secret Committee of Six, were six wealthy and influential men who secretly funded the American abolitionist John Brown. They were Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Samuel Gridley Howe, Theodore Parker, Franklin Benjamin Sanborn, Gerrit Smith, and George Luther Stearns. All Six had been involved in the abolitionist cause prior to their meeting John Brown, and had gradually become convinced that slavery would not die a peaceful death.
Brown was planning to capture weapons from a federal armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia), and lead a slave rebellion in the South. However, while it is unclear whether these men knew of Brown's ultimate plan, the Six did not necessarily support the use of violence as a way to bring about the destruction of slavery. Many were ambivalent. Brown met with them several times over the course of 1858 and 1859 to discuss how he would attack the slave system.
In October 1859, Brown's plan failed. During and after his trial, the New York Times and the New York Herald began to link the names of the Six with Brown's. On November 7, Smith had himself confined to an insane asylum, denying that he had been involved in supporting Brown. Howe, Sanborn and Stearns fled to Canada temporarily to avoid arrest. Parker, dying of tuberculosis, remained in Europe until his death in 1860. Higginson was the sole member to remain in America and to publicly proclaim his support for Brown. He even developed a plan to have Brown rescued from his jail cell, but Brown did not want any part of it.
In 1867, Gerrit Smith helped post bail to release the imprisoned former Confederate President, Jefferson Davis.
- Jason Emerson "The Secret Six," American Heritage, Fall 2009.
- The Secret Six: The True Tale of the Men Who Conspired With John Brown, by Edward Renehan. (1997) (ISBN 1-57003-181-9)
- Ambivalent Conspirators: John Brown, the Secret Six, and a Theory of Slave Violence, by Jeffery Rossbach. (1982)
- The Significance of Being Frank, by Tom Foran Clark. http://www.bungalowshop.com/sanborn/index.html
- The Secret Six: John Brown and the Abolitionist Movement, by Otto J. Scott. (1979) (ISBN 0-8129-0777-9)
- Trent, James W., Jr. The Manliest Man: Samuel G. Howe and the Contours of Nineteenth-Century American Reform. University of Massachusetts Press, 2012.
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