Restricted Debate John Brown, hero.

matthew mckeon

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#1
I visited John Brown's house in the beautiful Adirondacks a couple of days ago. There's a very small house, a barn and some monuments.
So how is he remembered? Pretty heroically. He's got a big statue done in the 1930s. He's got a grave site that was established by his widow. It got bigger as other members of his raiding party were reburied on the site. There's a modern, rather noncommittal interpretative panel done by the state of New York(its a NY state park) and a more glowing tribute in granite done in the late 1800s, with his work on the Underground RR, the harper's ferry raid, and the gunfight in Kansas, but with the massacre of five proslavery people omitted.

The guide knew a lot about Brown's very large family and speculated that the murders didnt' sit well with the neighbors, but she was speculating based on the fact that the surviving family members moved to California.
 

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matthew mckeon

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#3
I'm not sure how I feel about Brown. On one hand, his unequivocal opposition to slavery is admirable. However, his methods (let's not forget the Pottwatomie Creek Massacre) tended to be barbaric. At the end of the day, Brown was essentially what we today would call a terrorist.
He fits the very definition of a terrorist. Of course he killed whites to help blacks, instead of killing blacks to help whites, which makes he extra bad.
 

JPK Huson 1863

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#5
People at the time responded variously to Brown's actions. It's so all-over-the place I can't really make sense of it trying to find anything succinct in an era paper. " Brown was there " " Brown was 60 miles away " " They were inciting revolution, Brown was saving the Union " " Brown was there, he told me " " No one is allowed to mention who was there " " Brown saved the Union " . I have to say there's no real sympathy for the victims although there is condemnation for the acts themselves.

Once again; am not defending Brown personally. This country was experiencing a moral crisis. Seems to me no one wanted to look an inevitability in the eye. There was outrage over what was occurring in Kansas " thousands of non-resident pro-slavery Missourians entered Kansas with the goal of winning elections. They captured territorial elections, sometimes by fraud and intimidation. " "Among the first emigrants to Kansas Territory were citizens of slave states, notably neighboring Missouri, who came to secure the expansion of slavery. Pro-slavery forces settled towns including Leavenworth and Atchison. "

" It was rumored in the south that thousands of northerners were arriving in Kansas. Believing these rumors, in November 1854, thousands of armed pro-slavery men known as "Border Ruffians", mostly from Missouri, poured into the Kansas Territory and swayed the vote in the election for a non-voting delegate to Congress in favor of pro-slavery candidate John Whitfield The following year a Congressional committee investigating the election reported that 1729 fraudulent votes were cast compared to 1114 legal votes. In one location only 20 of the 604 voters were residents of the Kansas Territory. In another 35 were residents and 226 non-residents. "
https://wikipedia.org/wiki/Bleeding_Kansas


It was against this backdrop, against Border Ruffians the acts of violence were committed. It never makes taking human life ok- it does provide a back story generally lacking when this topic surfaces. Violence was common, a war undeclared by military forces; quite as real as any over which a proclamation was read." On November 21, 1855 the so-called "Wakarusa War" began when a Free-Stater named Charles Dow was shot by a pro-slavery settler. " " On May 21, 1856, Missourians ( pro-slavery forces ) invaded Lawrence and burned the Free State Hotel, destroyed two newspaper offices, and ransacked homes and stores. " https://wikipedia.org/wiki/Bleeding_Kansas

Here's where it really gets crazy;

The pro-slavery Territorial government, serving under President Pierce, had been relocated to Lecompton. In April 1856, a Congressional committee arrived there to investigate voting fraud. The committee found the elections improperly elected by non-residents. President Pierce refused recognition of its findings and continued to authorize the pro-slavery legislature, which the Free State people called the "Bogus Legislature."

On the Fourth of July in 1856, proclamations of President Pierce led to nearly 500 U.S. Army troops arriving in Topeka from Ft. Leavenworth and Ft. Riley. With their cannons pointed at Constitution Hall, and the long fuses lit, Colonel E.V. Sumner, cousin to the senator of the same name beaten on the Senate floor, ordered the dispersal of the Free State ( anti-slavery! )Legislature. "

" Ohioan abolitionist Brown led his sons and other followers to plan the murder of settlers who spoke in favor of slavery. At a proslavery settlement at Pottawatomie Creek on the night of May 24, the group seized five pro-slavery men from their homes and hacked them to death with broadswords "


So iew and appalling and ruthless. Previous to this had been a raging battle, a real one. Brown's forces were at war. These 5 men were considered by Brown and his men to be as ruthless as the tactics employed against them at their deaths. I am not defending anyone- these are sequences of events, interpretations of actions by men involved, consequences set in motion centuries before any of us began passing judgement on Brown- certainly after the Single Judge of the Universe had His conversation with the man.

Having said all that as a disclaimer sure as heck someone is certain to climb straight up a wall and down the other side.
 

Dave Wilma

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#6
A hero perhaps, but self destructive. He let down his men and the cause he purported to advance. I think he wanted to fail and to become a martyr. Martyrdom is his business, but he dragged along his men to their doom. And his actions were one more drumbeat toward civil war. Did he make the war inevitable? Impossible to say, but he didn't help.

Villainous hero? Heroic villain? Complicated to be sure.
 

unionblue

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#7
A hero perhaps, but self destructive. He let down his men and the cause he purported to advance. I think he wanted to fail and to become a martyr. Martyrdom is his business, but he dragged along his men to their doom. And his actions were one more drumbeat toward civil war. Did he make the war inevitable? Impossible to say, but he didn't help.

Villainous hero? Heroic villain? Complicated to be sure.
Dave,

Liked your above post. Interesting point of view.

Sincerely,
Unionblue
 

kevikens

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#8
How to react, I suppose, depends on whether or not you countenance the use of lethal force to obtain your goals. I think most of us here understand that, sometimes, the use of armed force is permissible, even laudable, in the defense of the essentials, one's family, one's country. And on the flip side, most of us recognize that the use of lethal force is a two edged sword that cuts both ways and we had better be real careful of taking it out of its scabbard. This response hardly eliminates the ambiguity of how to respond to John Brown, in either Kansas or Maryland, but from my point of view, Brown's use of armed force to attack slavery is similar to the homeowner trying to get rid of a wasp nest on his porch with a 12 gauge. You might get rid of the nest but in the process you might unleash trouble you are in no position to handle. I don't see John Brown as an argument in morality (always a bottomless morass) but rather one of wisdom, prudence, and just plain common sense.
 
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#10
A hero perhaps, but self destructive. He let down his men and the cause he purported to advance. I think he wanted to fail and to become a martyr. Martyrdom is his business, but he dragged along his men to their doom. And his actions were one more drumbeat toward civil war. Did he make the war inevitable? Impossible to say, but he didn't help.

Villainous hero? Heroic villain? Complicated to be sure.
Of course, from the perspective of a slave or abolitionist, the fact that he helped bring on the war is exactly why he would have seemed heroic. Seems worth noting that a few years after calling him "insane" there were a lot of people, and indeed the U.S. government, echoing exactly what he had been saying. That nut may have been one of the most impactful people in our history.

I think we're just always going to be uncomfortable with this hero because he was a terrorist aimed at destroying our own greatest failure.
 
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#11
This has never been complicated for me. If I condone Brown's raid on the Harpers Ferry Federal Arsenal, I have to condone the Confederates firing on Fort Sumter. There is no excuse for the unilateral violence for any reason in a nation of republican laws. Lincoln termed such actions "anarchy" and distanced himself and the Republican Party from Brown. As he almost always was, in Brown's case Lincoln was right.
 

Dave Wilma

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#12
Can someone be a hero if their goals are heroic but the means to the end they wish to use are deplorable?
That's an interesting question. In my opinion, no. It's one thing to be heroic and another to be willfully self destructive. I think Brown gave up any claim to heroism by sacrificing his mission and his people.

Naturally to some Abolitionists this is heroic, but they weren't planning on fighting a war. They would let others do that.
 

Dave Wilma

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#13
This has never been complicated for me. If I condone Brown's raid on the Harpers Ferry Federal Arsenal, I have to condone the Confederates firing on Fort Sumter. There is no excuse for the unilateral violence for any reason in a nation of republican laws. Lincoln termed such actions "anarchy" and distanced himself and the Republican Party from Brown. As he almost always was, in Brown's case Lincoln was right.
That's interesting, comparing Brown to Jefferson Davis, et al. I'd say the Confederates weren't being willfully self destructive, just guilty of terribly faulty judgement.
 
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#14
That's interesting, comparing Brown to Jefferson Davis, et al. I'd say the Confederates weren't being willfully self destructive, just guilty of terribly faulty judgement.
I'm not sure what you mean; Brown didn't try to self-destruct at Harper's Ferry, he planned to move further south and continue trying to instigate more slaves to fight for their freedom. If you mean that Brown was willing to die for his cause and the Confederates weren't, then its hard to explain a few hundred thousand dead Confederates in the Civil War.
 

Dave Wilma

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#16
I'm not sure what you mean; Brown didn't try to self-destruct at Harper's Ferry, he planned to move further south and continue trying to instigate more slaves to fight for their freedom. If you mean that Brown was willing to die for his cause and the Confederates weren't, then its hard to explain a few hundred thousand dead Confederates in the Civil War.
I will disagree. Despite his expressed plans, he made a series of decisions that doomed him and his men. I think he wanted to be caught and martyred.

Gray suicide.
 
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brass napoleon

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#17
I will disagree. Despite his expressed plans, he made a series of decisions that doomed him and his men. I think he wanted to be caught and martyred.
Personally I think he preferred to be the Great Savior. But if he couldn't get that, martyrdom would suffice. Whatever it took to get his name etched in stone. (And in THAT, he did succeed.)
 

matthew mckeon

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#18
I never found Brown to be particularly enigmatic. He was determined to subvert slavery and willing to use violence. It's as American as apple pie, the violence part anyway. Given the violent context of Kansas, he's not much of an outlier. His actions, murdering the five proslavery men, and fighting against the border ruffian militia, were effective. In Kansas, I would define Brown as a classic terrorist: an extra legal actor who used a public act of violence to advance his cause.

The raid on Harper's Ferry wasn't a suicide mission, just a terrible idea. Captured he played the martyr for all it was worth. He was rational to the end, and why not, it best served his purpose.
 

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