How Should John Brown be Remembered?

How Should John Brown be Remembered?


  • Total voters
    66

gem

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Oct 26, 2012
How Should John Brown be Remembered?

Here is a PBS documentary, titled John Brown's Holy War

 

gem

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Oct 26, 2012
The Unquiet Repose of John Brown
by St. John Barned-Smith
DECEMBER 3, 2009 TAGS: HISTORY, CIVIL WAR, SLAVERY, TERRORISM ADD A COMMENT
A hundred and fifty years ago yesterday, John Brown rode to the gibbet. He wore a black hat, coat, and pants, white socks, and red slippers. Unlike the wrathful, wild-eyed intensity for which he had become famous, Brown’s demeanor was the same as it had been during his trial and imprisonment: unflappably calm, courteous, and even courageous. His composure belied the crimes for which he would forfeit his life: treason, insurrection, and first-degree murder.

He walked to the center of the gallows, thanked his jailer for his warmth and hospitality, and waited quietly while his executioners placed a white hood over his head. He stood for 10 minutes while the swarms of soldiers guarding the execution took their places, and then the trap door snapped open beneath his feet, and down he fell. Debate over his fate raged then, and it has yet to stop. John Brown, fearsome scourge of slavery, remains by turns beneficent, cruel, puzzling – and a perfect embodiment of the question “when do the ends justify the means?”

Brown was born in 1800 in Torrington, Conn., but moved to Ohio with his family – devout Puritans – when he was 5. After some brief schooling, he took up tanning, his father’s vocation. A jack-of-all-trades, he also worked as a farmer, cattleman, and surveyor.

From a young age, Brown opposed slavery. According to David S. Reynolds, author of John Brown: Abolitionist, on a trip when he was 12, Brown befriended a slave boy his age. He became enraged to see how the boy’s owner treated him, and later said it was the spark that caused him to declare “Eternal war” on slavery.

However, it wasn’t until the 1850s, and the violent struggles over Kansas’ admittance to the Union as a free or slave state, that Brown gained national notoriety for his fervor. Most abolitionists at the time urged peaceful resistance, but Brown put his views into violent action. With several accomplices, he butchered five slave-state supporters with broadswords in retaliation for the sacking and burning of Lawrence, a free-state town.

After years of planning, Brown emerged again in October 1859 at Harper’s Ferry, Va., with pikes, rifles and pistols he had bought with money from prominent and wealthy Boston foes of slavery. He seized the federal armory, intending to arm and free slaves, for whom he wanted to establish a safe realm in the Appalachian mountains. But his attack failed and seven people were killed, changing completely the terms of battle and helping to bring about the Civil War.

It is not surprising that in our time other extremists, like abortion clinic bomber John Burt, have claimed to act in Brown’s name, saying that their goals justified the violence they wrought. Others have compared Brown to the Unabomber and Osama bin Laden. And in the era of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, soon to be on trial for planning the 9/11 attacks, John Brown’s legacy is as confusing as ever. He does not lie down easily.

His defenders, and they were many, called him a freedom fighter and a saint. Reacting to slavery’s inhumanity, Ralph Waldo Emerson, the “Sage of Concord,” said Brown would make the gallows “glorious like the cross.”

New Hampshire minister Edwin M. Wheelock compared him to great reformers of history. “The annals of our Saxon blood, from William of Normandy to William of Orange, is a record of insurrection, cloaked by history of civil and religious wars,” he said. “All our noble fathers were ‘traitors,’ Cromwell was a ‘fanatic,’ Washington the chief of ‘rebels.’”

Yet Abraham Lincoln denounced his actions. “Old John Brown has just been executed for treason against the state. We cannot object,” said the president, “even though he agreed with us in thinking slavery wrong. That cannot excuse violence, bloodshed, and treason. It could avail him nothing that he might think himself right.”

A current exhibition on Brown at the New York Historical Society attempts to place him in the broader context of America’s struggle for civil rights. “No man fails, or can fail, who so grandly gives himself, and all he has, to a righteous cause,” reads an 1881 letter by Frederick Douglass, while another item, a sign taken from the 1960s civil rights marches, proclaims, “I AM A MAN.” The curators highlight Brown’s essential role in bringing the nation from the days of bondage to the present.

But the exhibit does not forgive Brown so easily. It includes a gut-churning letter from Mahala Doyle – a survivor of Brown’s Kansas slaughter – to the abolitionist on the eve of his execution. She writes, “I confess that I do feel gratified to hear that you were stopped in your fiendish career at Harper's Ferry, with the loss of your two sons, you can now appreciate my distress in Kansas, when you then and there entered my house at midnight and arrested my husband and two boys, and took them out of the yard and in cold blood shot them dead in my hearing.”

These are not the actions of a righteous man. Even though devotees flocked for decades to his grave as if it were the shrine of a saint, the dispassionate massacre of people is the work of a bloodthirsty gangster, not a noble redeemer.

In 1959, opinions of Brown in Harper’s Ferry were still unsettled. Ben Bradlee wrote in Newsweek about the divided and acrimonious feelings the Virginia townspeople had for Brown. “It seems, in the years since John Brown’s raid, the bitterness and dissension he left behind have increased, not dimmed,” he wrote.

That same year, an editorial up North in the Philadelphia Inquirer praised Brown’s transformative role. “Brown’s violent life could not end slavery. His death doomed it to extinction.”

Fifty years later, in a more equal, more diverse country, some may see Brown as a necessary, if repugnant, catalyst.

Nevertheless, after 9/11 and the recent killings at Fort Hood, Brown’s rebellion and his ruthlessness disturb us all over again. As historian David S. Reynolds writes in John Brown, Abolitionist, “How can America, which regards terrorism as its greatest threat, admit to the fact that it was shaped by a terrorist?”

“It is misleading to identify Brown with modern terrorists,” Reynolds continues. “Brown would have disapproved of the use of violence by most of those who have proclaimed themselves as his heirs. It is important to recognize that many of the social ills that later bred radical violence plagued the nation in his time, but he went to war only over the issue of slavery.”

According to Reynolds, “Brown had a breadth of vision that modern terrorists lack…. He was every bit as religious as Osama bin Laden – but was the Muslim bin Laden able to enlist Christians, atheists, or Jews among his followers? Bin Laden’s ultimate goal was the creation of a Muslim theocracy in which opposing views, especially Western ones, were banned. Brown’s goal was a democratic society that assigned full rights to all, irrespective of religion, race, or gender.”

Finding comfort with Brown may prove impossible. And despite Reynolds’ defense, modern terrorism may further color our understanding of the man. But he will surely continue to challenge our principles and prod our conscience, a vision powerful, dangerous, and not to be trifled with.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

Barrycdog

Major
Joined
Jan 6, 2013
Location
Buford, Georgia
"He seized the federal armory, intending to arm and free slaves, for whom he wanted to establish a safe realm in the Appalachian mountains. But his attack failed and seven people were killed, changing completely the terms of battle and helping to bring about the Civil War."

This is all you need to define him. The moment he entered a Federal Armory to take weapons was the moment he committed and act of terrorism. There is no way to sugar coat it.

Some people may consider Eric Rudolph a great guy since he was fighting against abortion but blowing up buildings and doctors crossed the line.

Some people may think Jeffrey Dahlmer was a great guy. After all he believed in his right to keep and bear arms. He cut his total food bill in half. Some people complain about the population problem but he actually did something about it. He may have been supporting the culture of cannibalism practiced in Papua, New Guinea. it all leads to the same conclusion.
 

Red Harvest

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Apr 10, 2012
This is all you need to define him. The moment he entered a Federal Armory to take weapons was the moment he committed and act of terrorism. There is no way to sugar coat it.

It is good to note that you feel the same way about all the many Southerners that did the same. According to you, they were terrorists and there is no way to sugar coat it. :biggrin: I agree.
 

lakertaker

First Sergeant
Joined
Oct 14, 2012
I've never believed the artist who created this rendition did him much of a favor.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

Yankeedave

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Dec 3, 2012
Location
Colorado
His escapades seem more like a plan that just wasn't very well thought out. Is "Hair-Brained Scheme" an option?
 

gem

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Oct 26, 2012
His escapades seem more like a plan that just wasn't very well thought out. Is "Hair-Brained Scheme" an option?

Your post highlights the one thing I could say was a fault of John Brown; not that he was a lunatic, not that he was murderer, not that he was terrorist but the fact that he had an inability to take a plan and bring it to fruition.

Much of his life was involved going from one failed business venture to another with the result that he lost a lot of money of creditors and was involved in one bankruptcy litigation after another.

At Harper's Ferry he failed because he was not able to exucute his plan to free slaves.

Nevertheless, if he did not go to Harper's Ferry the history of the US could have been a lot uglier than it was.

Therein, is the enigma of John Brown.
 

Yankeedave

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Dec 3, 2012
Location
Colorado
i am unsure what is bloodier than the war that followed. The war is going to happen with or without him. He caused more hardship amongst the slaves than was already there. Kansas had more to do with the war than he will ever come close to. He is like Edmund Ruffian, a star to be sure, but being little beyond a nut farmer.
 

gem

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Oct 26, 2012
"He seized the federal armory, intending to arm and free slaves, for whom he wanted to establish a safe realm in the Appalachian mountains. But his attack failed and seven people were killed, changing completely the terms of battle and helping to bring about the Civil War."

This is all you need to define him. The moment he entered a Federal Armory to take weapons was the moment he committed and act of terrorism. There is no way to sugar coat it.

Some people may consider Eric Rudolph a great guy since he was fighting against abortion but blowing up buildings and doctors crossed the line.

Some people may think Jeffrey Dahlmer was a great guy. After all he believed in his right to keep and bear arms. He cut his total food bill in half. Some people complain about the population problem but he actually did something about it. He may have been supporting the culture of cannibalism practiced in Papua, New Guinea. it all leads to the same conclusion.

On thing worth remembering is the On April 17, with delegates debating secession, Ex governor Wise declared that he had ordered Virginia militiamen to seize Harpers Ferry Arsenal and Norfolk’s Gosport Naval Yards.

Wise while he was VA governor had Brown executed for his illegal raid of a federal arsenal yet he claimed to do the exact same thing during Va's secession convention. However, rarely do you hear people declare Wise's actions as a terrorist act.
 
On thing worth remembering is the On April 17, with delegates debating secession, Ex governor Wise declared that he had ordered Virginia militiamen to seize Harpers Ferry Arsenal and Norfolk’s Gosport Naval Yards.

Wise while he was VA governor had Brown executed for his illegal raid of a federal arsenal yet he claimed to do the exact same thing during Va's secession convention. However, rarely do you hear people declare Wise's actions as a terrorist act.

Virginia seceded on April 17th therefore the arsenal would have been fair game as far as Wise was concerned. Not an act of terror by definition... an act of war perhaps?
 

gem

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Oct 26, 2012
Virginia seceded on April 17th therefore the arsenal would have been fair game as far as Wise was concerned. Not an act of terror by definition... an act of war perhaps?

He announced that he did this during the debate while they were still debating secession. He ordered a military action on a federal arsenal prior to VA's decision to secede.

We all know VA decided to secede. However, based on the definiton people have posed that does not change what he did as terrorist act any more that the fact that slavery was abolished changed what Brown did as a terrorist act.
 

gem

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Oct 26, 2012
The difference was that Wise was the governor of Virginia. The people had voted to give him responsibility, which included command of the Virginia militia. Now I think what Wise did was probably wrong, but it was in a completely different class than what Brown did at Harper's Ferry. But Wise was still an actual government official, although he may have stepped outside his proper jurisdiction.

not true, he was Ex-Governor of VA. Even if he was still governor there is nothing an authority as governor that gives someone the right to seize a federal arsenal and based on the definition some have posed would certainly qualify it as a terrorist act.
 
Top