The Enigma Of John Brown

The Enigma Of John Brown

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John Brown was an American abolitionist, born in Connecticut and raised in Ohio. He felt passionately and violently that he must personally fight to end slavery. This greatly increased tension between North and South. Northern mourned him as a martyr and southern believed he got what he deserved and they were appalled by the north's support of Brown. In 1856, in retaliation for the sack of Lawrence, he led the murder of five proslavery men on the banks of the Pottawatomie River. He stated that he was an instrument in the hand of God. On October 16, 1859, he led 21 men on a raid of the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. His plan to arm slaves with the weapons he and his men seized from the arsenal was thwarted, however, by local farmers, militiamen, and Marines led by Robert E. Lee. Within 36 hours of the attack, most of Brown's men had been killed or captured. Brown was hanged on Dec. 2, 1859. He became a martyr for many because of the dignity and sincerity that he displayed during his popular trial. Before he was hanged he gave a speech which was his final address to the court that convicted him. And he was thankful to Bob Butler for letting him send that text in electronic form. "This court acknowledges, too, as I suppose, the validity of the law of God. I see a book kissed, which I suppose to be the Bible, or at least the New Testament, which teaches me that all things whatsoever I would that men should do to me, I should do even so to them. It teaches me, further, to remember them that are in bonds as bound with them. I endeavored to act up to the instruction. I say I am yet too young to understand that God is any respecter of persons. I believe that to have interfered as I have done, as I have always freely admitted I have done, in behalf of his despised poor, I did not wrong but right. Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingles my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I say let it be done." (http://members.

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aol.com/jfepperson/brown.html ) On that day he also said "I John Brown am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty, land: will never be purged away; but with Blood. I had as I now think: vainly flattered myself that withought very much bloodshed; it might be done." (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/brown/filmmore/reference/primary/ )
Brown received little formal education and followed in his father's occupation as a tanner of leather. Like so many New Englanders of that time Lured westward, pursued the tanning business first in western Pennsylvania and then in Ohio. But unsuccessfully land speculations and the hard times following the Panic of 1837 drove him into bankruptcy in 1842. He then became a wool dealer but faced ruin again in 1849 when his attempt to cut out the usual middlemen and make a direct sale of 200,000 pounds of American wool to buyers in England resulted in a huge loss. This kind of risk taking was normal for a business man. Brown may be unluckier than some others, but the notion that his antislavery zeal was somehow a compensation for business failure makes little sense. John Brown is a lightning rod of history. Yet he is poorly understood and most commonly described in stereotypes - as enigma. During his childhood years he moved to Hudson with his parents. Over there his abhorrence of slavery became even stronger. Personally witnessing the abuse of a young black slave, he said to have pledged "to wage an eternal war against slavery." He took his pledge seriously, very seriously, and actively fought for this cause throughout his entire life. While living in Hudson, John Brown married his first wife, and began raising a family. He was married again later in life, and in all he fathered twenty children, twelve surviving past childhood. He ingrained all his children with his fierce anti-slavery passion. There was never much money in the Brown households. He and his family raised some of their food, and they kept sheep. John provided meager incomes by dressing out leather and land surveying. But his focus was always on the abolition of slavery.
As early as 1834, when his tannery was doing well, Brown proposed to raise a black boy in his own family as an experiment to show slaveholders that race was no obstacle to the building of character. He also considered opening a school for black children. In 1835 he was organizing similar groups back in Ohio. Later on, he did the same in Massachusetts. His belief was that the more groups like this he could organize, the sooner the slave states would have to recognize the trend and adopt emancipation. He traveled to Virginia, and planned colonies for black people there on tracts of land owned by Oberlin College. Then in 1848, he headed to North Elba in New York, where Gerrit Smith had set aside 100,000 acres of northern land to be used by black people who wanted to clear the land and set up small farms. Brown actually purchased some of this land himself so that he could be there to work with the homesteaders. All during these years, John Brown relied heavily on the backing of his own large family, who tended the farm and provided financial and physical assistance to him. But soon John Brown had become widely known in abolitionist circles, and he began receiving contributions from his supporters. This support enabled John Brown to travel more frequently organizing resistance to slavery. A person who didn't agree with him is Mahala Doyle, who sends a letter to him at jail saying. It also freed some of his family members to spend more time on their mission to end slavery. In the 1850's, as states were lining up as "free" states vs. "slave" states, the territory of Kansas was ripe for admission to the Union. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 stipulated that Kansas could vote to declare itself a free state or not. Of course, there were those who wanted Kansas to join as "free" and those who wanted to see the territory declare itself a "slave" state. Many people saw Kansas as a pivotal battleground on the issue. So, people from both persuasions began moving into the territory to bolster the numbers on their preferred side. Five of John Brown's sons moved to Kansas to swell the anti-slavery ranks. John Brown soon followed. The issue was so divisive that militants on both sides began campaigns of violence and retaliation. Bloody battles followed, and John Brown continued to rise in national prominence even as his own views became increasingly militant.
Brown began thinking seriously of a plan to create a fugitive slave colony, perhaps somewhere in the mountains of Virginia or Maryland. He envisioned a colony that was well-armed, able to defend itself in the event of an attack. He also thought that if he could establish such a base, then more and more fugitive slaves would join, and further weaken the slaveholders' positions. There were many abolitionists who disagreed with Brown's rising militancy, and there were those who began to question his grip on rational thinking. But John Brown persevered. He began accumulating arms, and assembling recruits. The United States had a military arsenal at Harper's Ferry, West Virginia. John Brown developed a plan to capture the arsenal, and late on October 16, 1859, he and his band of recruits, including two of his sons, put their plan into action. They assaulted the arsenal, but were never able to go any further. Local citizens of Harper's Ferry were also armed, and they attacked Brown's army, killing several of his men and surrounding the rest. By the next evening, Colonel Robert E. Lee led an army from Washington to Harper's Ferry, and ended the ordeal. John Brown was wounded, and both his sons were killed. John Brown went to trial, and was sentenced to die. He was hanged at Charleston, West Virginia on December 2, 1859.
During John Brown's life he had supporters and distracters, and the same is true of authors who have tried to portray his life. He has people who were against him like the Southern Democrat (John Breckenridge). "There was also Mahala Doyle and Frances Ellen Watkins who didn't agree with him" (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/brown/filmmore/reference/primary/). Some vilify the man as a raving mad man; others cast him in a golden glow. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.
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