America in the 1850s

The Emergence of John Brown

How soon did the nation—and people like John Brown—learn of Preston Brooks’ attack on Charles Sumner?

Just a decade earlier, it would have taken a week, perhaps even ten days, for the news to reach people in the Kansas Territory. That timetable had changed, dramatically, as the result of the overland telegraph.

Samuel F. B. Morse had perfected the telegraph, and the first message had flashed across the wires in 1844. Since then, the telegraph companies had spread their poles across much of the nation, and even people as “removed” or distant as John Brown learned the most important news in a matter of hours. Therefore, on May 23, 1856, Brown knew what had happened in Washington, D.C. He quickly made up his mind to have revenge.


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