Treatment of John Brown as a martyr represented one more shock to Southern citizens. Plans found with Brown's possessions outlined a far-reaching plan to overthrow U.S. control within the Southern states and establish a new government. Despite that, people in the North recognized his primary goal of ending slavery and forgave his unabashed rebellion and treason. Emerson proclaimed John Brown a new Christ, a sentiment evidently shared by many people.
Should something like this happen today, where one section of the country appeared to sanction violence against people of another section on moral or political grounds, people would certainly become perplexed and anxious.
A careful reading of contemporary literature (1858-59) should demonstrate that the so-called fire-eaters were in a definite minority within the South, moderate Unionists being in control of most Southern states. At this time violent elements in the Kansas Territory had been subdued, and tensions over slavery less than they had been in some time. The reappearance of John Brown in this new attack against Southern citizens created the impression that Harpers Ferry was simply the next stage of a coordinated campaign against slavery. The only question was where and when the next attack would take place.
I hope someone will provide the answer as to the major topic of discussion in the 1860 campaign. It should not be a mystery, as division on this issue led to two different Democratic Party tickets.