"Posterity will owe everlasting thanks to John Brown for lifting up once more to the gaze of a nation grown fat and flabby on the garbage of lust and oppression, a true standard of heroic philanthropy, and each coming generation will pay its installment of the debt. . . . John Brown saw slavery through no mist or cloud, but in a light of infinite brightness, which left no one of its ten thousand horrors concealed." Frederick Douglass

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Saturday, June 03, 2017

Current Themes: FREDERICK DOUGLASS REAPPEARS IN WASHINGTON -- IS OFFERED EXECUTIVE POSITION


“CURRENT THEMES”

FREDERICK DOUGLASS REAPPEARS IN WASHINGTON
IS OFFERED EXECUTIVE POSITION

Reported by

Our Correspondent “In the Field”

“Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice.”

The President, as reported by CNN


At the risk of life, limb and a quarter inch of shoe leather, your humble correspondent was able to obtain, from an unnamed source in the nation’s capital, the following transcription of a presidential phone conversation last February:

*Hello? Is that you Bulldog? How’s it going? Just wanted to say you’re doing a fantastic job over at the Pentagon. Just fantastic! The people love us. 
——- 
*Yeah, I know. The world’s in a helluva mess but I, I mean we, are going to fix it bigly. 
——- 
*Say, I had a meeting at the White House the other day and someone mentioned this Frederick Douglass guy. Sounds like he’s tremendous. Think we could find a place for him over at Defense? 
——- 
*What? He’s what? How dark? Do you have a picture of him? Could he pass? 
——- 
*Hmm, that could be a problem. It wouldn’t go over well with my tremendous constituency of forgotten men and women. 
——- 
*Well, maybe I can give Rex over at State a buzz. He might be able to make him an ambassador to one of those Scandinavian countries, like Uruguay or Togo or something. 
——- 
*What? Another problem? What problem is that? I certainly can fix it. 
——- 
*He did?! When? 
——- 
*1895!! I wasn’t aware of that. 
——- 
*Buried in Rochester, huh? Tremendous city, Rochester. Doing fantastic things there in Rochester. 
——- 
*Well, I guess we should forget the whole thing then - as long as he isn’t around to bother us. 
——- 
*Say, Bulldog, tremendous talking with you. You just let me know if you need something - missiles, tanks, grenades, a couple of blondes from Mar-a-Lago. 
——- 
*OK, great, tremendous, fantastic. Talk to you later. 
——-
*Bye, bye.
==============
--H. Scott Wolfe

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Yet Another Anti-Brown Screed: Setting Greg Hubbard Straight

Not having had the opportunity to attend the John Brown Day events in Lake Placid, NY, this year, I was pleased to find a nice article in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise (8 May).  Unfortunately, at the bottom of the article there is found the venting of yet another John Brown hater named Greg Hubbard, who unleashed a screed of misinformation and error, concluding that Brown was "vile."   Hubbard's remarks suggest the kind of pent-up hatred for Brown that seems to exist in some white folks' hearts.

Most of the time, as I have demonstrated by numerous rejoinders on this blog for over a decade now, this kind of anti-Brown screed is largely based on half-truths, misinformation, and more substantially upon bias.  Hubbard's remarks are no different.  In just a few short paragraphs, he is able to cram in lots of errors, showing that his "opinion" is in fact nothing more than an airing out of his own hatred for a man about whom he knows very little.

As Hubbard's remark reminds us, there is an abundant well-spring of contempt and hatred for John Brown in this nation, and one should not be surprised that someone like Hubbard would troll and snipe at the conclusion of an online article--the past time of ignorant bigotry.

At any rate, I've copied Hubbard's malign screed below, along with my response.   Like an old friend used to say to me, "the more things change, the more they stay the same."

So we go.

======

Greg Hubbard
John Brown, who became a Kansas Jayhawker, was a vicious man who used his opposition to slavery to kill opponents of a ‘Free Soil’ Kansas. Supporters of the ‘Free Soil’ movement often did not intend freedom for African American slaves, or banning slavery from the new state because of moral opposition, but because banning Black slaves from entering Kansas meant no competition from ‘free’ labor.

John Brown is documented as brutally killing anyone he suspected of harboring pro-slavery sympathies. Not even family members of were spared. Today he would justifiably be called a mass murderer. His reputation is now based solely on 'The Raid,' but that is not in any way a complete portrait of the man.

The widow of one of his viciously murdered victims sent him a letter just before his execution, gloating about his upcoming death.

Slavery was vile, but in my opinion, so was John Brown.
Greg Hubbard




Louis DeCaro Jr. · 

Hi Greg Hubbard, the problem with your assessment is that much of what you say is just factually incorrect. As a biographer of the man, I offer these words only as a corrective, not to be polemical, although it is unfortunate that a lot of time is spent refuting baseless and erroneous charges like what you've offered, and which deserve a public correction. 1. JB was not properly speaking a Jayhawker. Jayhawkers emulated him, but he was his own man and not a joiner. He lent his support to the antislavery cause but much of his actions were also premised on protecting his family from local threats from proslavery enemies. 2. JB was not in agreement with Free Soil people who, as you say, were racists. JB was an absolute egalitarian and antislavery man. He disdained free soil racism, whether from northern or southern men. 3. JB was amazingly peaceful in dealing with proslavery people. He was in Kansas from the fall of 1855 and never raised a hand until May 1856, when a cadre of proslavery conspirators were exposed as plotting against his family with violent intent. With no recourse to law (there was no justice operating, esp. for antislavery people in 1856), he and a group of his sons and associated took out 5 proslavery conspirators. This was a preemptive strike and falls within the guerilla war context. What is clear, however, is how specific and limited his actions were in comparison to the violent terrorism of the proslavery presence. You cannot prove that Brown killed be simply for political differences; the evidence shows otherwise. If Brown killed a man, it is because that man intended to kill his family and this is quite arguable from the facts. Your claim is unwarranted and I challenge you to prove it, including the notion that he would be labeled a "mass murderer" today. Five men, in a war time context without recourse to law, and fully aware of a lethal conspiracy and imminent invasion by a horde of proslavery thugs, which put the invasion in check. That's not the basis of "mass murder." Finally, it is not true that JB's reputation is now solely based on the raid; many people dealing in half truths and bias continue to throw up the Pottawatomie episode, and this is a constant chore for the historian since there is so much bias without fact. Yes, Mahala Doyle wrote to Jb in jail in Virginia; the letter was probably coached by proslavery people; and let me tell you that she was no innocent. Her husband and two grown sons were plotting to kill Brown and she knew it. She knew what they were up to and didn't try to stop them. When the Browns were taking the Doyles out to execute them, she told her husband basically, "I told you what was going to happen with your devilment." Greg Hubbard, read the books and the history. You're contempt for Brown comes from a place that is not historical, actually far more bias. The question is why you despise a good man who stood for freedom. The problem is more with your perceptions or the people who have poisoned your thinking.

Monday, May 08, 2017

John Brown at 217 (Born May 9, 1800)


Had he been made of such poor clay as we,
Who, when we feel a little fire aglow
'Gainst wrong within us, dare not let it grow,
But crouch and hide it, lest the scorner see
And sneer, yet bask our self‑‑complacency
In that faint warmth‑‑had he been fashioned so,
The nation n'er had come to that birth‑throe
That gave the world a new humanity.
He was no vain professor of the word‑‑
His life a mockery of the creed;‑‑he made
No discount on the Golden Rule, but heard
Above the Senate's brawls and din of trade
Ever the clank of chains, until he stirred
The nation's heart on that immortal raid.

William Herbert Carruth (1916)


Source: Sunflowers, A Book of Kansas Poems.  Edited by Willard Wattles.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

"We As a Family Have Sacrificed Enough": The Browns' Civil War Disappointment (1862)

In composing our narratives, it is tempting to jump from John Brown's death in 1859 to dramatic 
martial scenes of men in blue--white and black--marching into battle against rebel forces in the Civil War. While the ultimate outcome of the war was the defeat of southern rebels and the end of slavery, the two outcomes were not held as equal objectives by the federal government when the war began in 1861. A realistic historical sketch of the Civil War must include the fact that despite his alleged life-long hatred of slavery, Abraham Lincoln was willing to avoid war at the onset, even at the cost of allowing slavery to be contained in the slave states.  It was Southern greed, prejudice, and hubris that caused the rebels to mistake Lincoln for John Brown and reject his compromise.

Consequently, when the South seceded, Lincoln sent federal troops to save the Union, not free the slaves.  Indeed, it took much of the war for Lincoln's social and political sensibilities to catch up with those of the abolitionists, since his sine qua non was the preservation of the Union until late in the war.   Of course, this was not an exceptional position.  Lincoln's agenda was typical of many whites in the North who didn't want to overturn slavery, but felt compelled to support a military prevention of Southern secession.

To no surprise, the abolitionists were not enthusiastic about Lincoln's election and were disappointed with the way the newly elected Republican administration put black liberation on the back burner in order to prioritize saving the Union.   It is also no surprise that many whites disdained John Brown and expressed antipathy toward his surviving widow and children.   Even though a segment of the antislavery population sympathized with Brown, many of them considered him a kind of Don Quixote figure, who meant well despite his erroneous effort to free the slaves.   Many others simply disdained Brown, like proslavery Democrats who would even show political contempt toward his family.   A good example of this is found in the case of Salmon Brown's effort to join the Union army.  

Salmon Brown--as he would
have looked around 1862
(West Virginia State Collection)
Salmon Brown

In 1862, twenty-six-year-old Salmon Brown, was still in North Elba with his family, which by now included his own wife and young daughter.*  His older half-brothers, John Jr., Jason, and Owen had long left the fold, and his two full brothers, Watson and Oliver, had died at Harper's Ferry.  Salmon was "the man in the family" at North Elba when the war started, and at first he felt duty-bound to support the cause, lending his hand in starting the 96th New York Regiment. 

But no sooner had Salmon donned his uniform that a protest began to arise against his promotion on the grounds that he was the son of John Brown.  Protests were varied: some stated simply that they were opposed to Brown's legacy; others did not want him ascending to a command position in the event that his superior officers were struck down or fell to sickness in the war.  Finally, others complained that they feared the hostile retaliation of the Confederates if they fell into rebel hands under Salmon's command.   Complaints became so great that he not only lost his lieutenancy, but felt it necessary to resign from the army, stating that his continued presence in the 96th would only impair its usefulness.1

Jason Writes

On April 22, 1862, Jason Brown, who was nearly forty years old, penned a fascinating letter to his younger half-brother.  Initially, Jason apologized, apparently for having been such a poor correspondent and for having neglected him.   Jason appealed that he was not showing favoritism by not having written--that is, apparently he worried that Salmon would think that his neglect was based on the fact of their different mothers (Jason's mother was Dianthe Lusk, John Brown's first wife, who died in 1832; Brown married Mary Day, Salmon's mother, the following year).   

In his letter, Jason knows of Salmon's recent disappointment, although he adds in a postscript that he had just found out that he had been offered the rank of lieutenant. Evidently, the reason for Jason's letter was that Annie, Salmon's younger sister, had sent him a copy of Salmon's resignation letter to the army.  "I am very glad that you did not go with a regiment of men who are ashamed of the son of a man who dared to do right! Ashamed of a man who dares to think an speak for Justice and truth," Jason wrote.2
 
Jason Brown, in later life
(Kansas State Historical
Society
)
He continues the letter by affirming Salmon's decision and expressing his gladness that he had "escaped from a regiment of men who I believe would be willing to die to save the infernal cause of this war"--in other words, Jason believed that many Northern men were yet willing that slavery continue, and were fighting only for the preservation of the status quo.  He then mentions that he too had considered enlisting, but had not done so because his wife Ellen was in poor health.  Nor had his older bachelor brother, Owen, enlisted. However, John Brown Junior had already enlisted, and Jason writes that he hopes that he too would "resign and come home," and that no other family member would serve in the army until "the Government is willing to do right."3

The Browns had consistently taken an abolitionist and egalitarian stance and found the circumstances quite dissatisfying, and Jason's sentiments reflected those of John Junior's as well.  Junior had been the first to become involved in the army in late 1861, when he assisted in raising a company of sharpshooters from Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. After his company was mustered into the 7th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry, Junior complained.4  "We are all feeling very sore about serving under Proslavery Gen. Halleck," he wrote to Jason that previous month.5

Henry Halleck, a Northern Democrat, was given command of the western theater by Lincoln in 1862. He was eventually transferred to the east by the President, but he was disliked by antislavery people in the west because of his Democratic sympathies, which Junior thus rightly characterized as "proslavery." Junior sought and obtained a medical discharge in May 1862, although there were some, like Charles Auiger, an Ohio neighbor, who believed he had faked his health problems (claiming rheumatism) in order to get out of the army.  Auiger thought John Junior fearful of war, which may be the case.6  Despite being his father's namesake (and the chief pensioner of his father's legacy), John Junior was never distinguished as a fighting man.5  Even so, it is reasonable to assume that he likewise had political reasons for backing out of military service.

This certainly was Jason's sentiment:
It seems to me that the mass of the white people of this wicked nation would rather that millions of its best men should die in this war than to do the least act of justice to the 4 million slaves or in any way interfere with the accursed thing (Slavery).  I have lost all desire to have anything to do in that war till the nation is ready to do right. . . . As long as slavery is to be protected let proslavery men fight.  I shall stay at home for the present.7
In the meantime, Jason concluded, he was still struggling with debt and poverty--the unfortunate "estate" that John Brown left his family after giving everything, including his life, for the cause of freedom.  "I think we as a family have sacrificed enough for the present," Jason wrote. "At least till the people are willing to stop fighting to protect slavery."8  L. DeCaro, Jr.


* Editorial Note, 13 May 2016

I am grateful to my friend, Alice Keesey Mecoy, for alerting me to the error I made in the original version of this post.  In that error I represented Salmon Brown as being single in 1862, which is incorrect.  Alice thus writes: "But Salmon was not single in 1862.  He married Abigail Clarissa Hinckley on 15 Oct 1857 in North Elba.  They had an infant boy born and die in 1858, and Cora, who is buried with Annie Brown Adams in California, was born in 1860."  Of course, Alice, who is a meticulous student of the Brown family genealogy, is absolutely correct and I am grateful for her correction.  I should add, of course, that Alice Keesey Mecoy is a direct descendant of John Brown--the great great great granddaughter of John Brown through his daughter, Anne Brown Adams.

===================

Notes 

     1 See G.W. Palmley, "A visit with a son of John Brown," Montgomery News, 20 August 1915, in Boyd B. Stutler Collection.
     2 Jason Brown, Akron, Ohio, to Salmon Brown, North Elba, N.Y., 22 April 1862, in Brown Family Collection, Henry Huntington Library.
     3 Ibid.
     4 John Brown Jr., Humboldt, Kan., to Jason Brown, Akron, Ohio, 25 March 1862, in Brown Family Collection, Henry Huntington Library.
     5"Biographical Resume" under Inventory and Calendar of John Brown, Jr. (Columbus: Ohio State Historical Society).
     6 See Katherine Mayo's interview with Charles D. Auiger, 4 Jan. 1909, in JB in Cleveland, March 1859, and in Ohio folder, Box 4, John Brown - Oswald G. Villard Papers, Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Collection. 
     7 Jason to Salmon 22 April 1862. 
     8 Ibid.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

In the News. . .

Swann's Africana American Auction Featured Rare Image of Harriet Tubman

The Swann Auction Galleries of New York conducted an auction of printed and manuscript African American documents on March 30.  The auction featured a wide range of materials covering three centuries, from 18th century abolitionist documents to images of boxer Muhammad Ali.  Most notable was the sale of an amazing 19th century photo album that was gifted to Emily Howland (1827-1929), the daughter of Quaker abolitionists from Sherwood, New York.  Howland had embraced  antislavery as a student, and after studying in Philadelphia she became a teacher in a school for black females in Washington, D.C.   After the start of the Civil War, Howland began working with recently liberated blacks in a "contraband camp," distributing food and clothing.  The term signified the legal status of enslaved people who came into the hands of Union forces, in recognition of their legal status as property of the slaveholders according to the Constitution.  (Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation targeted this particular status, declaring all enslaved people in rebel states as free--thus beyond the legal claims of slaveholders.)   Howland worked at Camp Todd, which was situated at Robert E. Lee's estate in Arlington, Va.

Howland received the album as a gift from her friend and mentor, Carrie Nichols, on January 1, 1864, while still working at Camp Todd.  She evidently added images to it in later years, although it is not clear which images were part of the original album gift.  As the Swann site observes, this album is "truly impressive," since it contains an array of images, including two carte-de-visite images of Harriet Tubman.  While one of the Tubman images is familiar, the other is new to us--taken of Harriet by Benjamin F. Powelson sometime between 1868-69, when the photographer resided on Genesee Street in Auburn, N.Y.   This would show Tubman as being somewhere between 48-  and 49-years-old.  Other images in the album are of John Willis Menard, the first black man elected to the U.S. Congress (and the first black politician to address Congress); antislavery figures like Charles Sumner, Lydia Maria Child, Samuel Ely, William Ellery Channing, Colonel C.W. Folsom, and also images of Charles Dickens and Maximilian of Mexico. There are also a couple of images of young black women that were either students or associates.

The album was successfully auctioned and the price realized at $161, 000.

*    *    *

The Adirondack's Black Timbuctoo Community Remembered in Global Timbuktu Conference at Rutgers

On March 24-25, a symposium at Rutgers University symposium examined the legacies of three communities, considering their connections to the freedom struggles of African Americans. Global Timbuktu: Meanings and Narratives of Resistance in Africa and the Americas involved an gathering of international scholars, including archaeologists, historians, and curators from Timbuktu, Mali.
The symposium was organized by Rutgers University's Center for African Studies in the School of Arts and Sciences.  The archetype for this conference was Timbuktu, the city in the West African nation of Mali, a cultural, commercial, and intellectual center in the 14-16th centuries, particularly remembered  for its ancient library on art, medicine, philosophy, and science.  The symposium included a tour of an excavation site in Westampton Township, New Jersey, where an African American settlement existed with the name of Timbuctoo.

More familiar to John Brown students is the Timbuctoo settlement in Essex County, N.Y.  This Adirondack settlement was established in the 1840s as a response to a state law requiring blacks to own $250 in property to vote, and was heartily and advanced and supported by John Brown, who was then emerging as a familiar face to many black abolitionists.  Brown was operating a wool commission business in Springfield, Mass., and formed a friendship with Willis Hodges, who headed the black settlements in the Adirondacks (there was another settlement in Franklin County).

John Brown helped to promote the project, which was the brainchild of abolitionist tycoon Gerrit Smith, who donated huge tracts of land to black residents of New York State.  Contrary to popular opinion, Timbuctoo in Essex County, N.Y., was no haven for fugitive slaves, but predominately an effort to promote an agrarian economic program, which Hodges believed offered a better future to the free black community.  Brown naturally supported this effort, not only as a friend of black self-determinism but also as an expert in most agrarian matters.  To no surprise, he went so far as to relocate to North Elba, nearby Timbuctoo, where he could mentor and coach the urban settlers.  Unfortunately, Timbuctoo was no great success, and from the onset black settlers either found themselves being taken advantage of by local white hustlers, or discovered that settling on the cold Adirondack tracts was simply too difficult and frankly undesirable.  Ultimately, only a small number of black families persevered, although Brown was happy to build himself a home there, which is also the site of his grave.

The Adirondack Timbuctoo was featured at the symposium,  especially featuring the “Dreaming of Timbuctoo” Exhibition, which was introduced by John Brown Lives! founder and director, Martha Swan.  In conjunction with the symposium, Swan hosted Madame Hawoye Fassoukoye of Timbuktu, Mali,  a visiting teacher.  Here, Timbuktu met Timbuctoo, as the African teacher did a whirlwind day tour across the Tri-Lakes area, and Fassoukoye spoke to students in both a local college and high school.  As the Lake Placid News reported (30 Mar.), Fassoukoye also toured the John Brown farm.  "Through what I have seen right now, I've learned a lot of things, like the history of the Browns," Fassoukoye said afterward "Now I know where this name Timbuctoo comes from, where the settlers were. This is kind of an eyewitness (experience). I've seen it with my own eyes and will report it (back home)."



Friday, March 10, 2017

"Mr. Bias" and His John Birch Screed Against John Brown

An article has been called to my attention written by a history teacher from Oklahoma named Steve Byas, entitled, “John Brown’s Lethal Legacy,” which was published on February 7 on the website, The New American.  The New American is published by a subsidiary of the rightwing John Birch Society, an extremist, reactionary, and right-wing organization whose message is a default expression of white nationalism. 

Is it any surprise, then, that the JBS would hate John Brown?   How could it be otherwise, that a white nationalist, right-wing, and “pro-Constitution” organization upholding “patriotism” would not also despise the most radical and authentic “white” freedom fighter in US history? The author, Mr. Byas is “Mr. Bias,” and his bias is definitely from the rightwing—from the same side that hates abolitionism and any criticism of the status quo of white supremacy.

Byas’ article is long and tedious and I do not want to lend any more energy than necessary in highlighting this malignant piece of propaganda.  A series of bullet points should suffice:

·      Byas premises his screed on an erroneous and one-sided reference to the Pottawatomie killings of 1856, in which Brown and his men killed five proslavery conspirators and thugs.  Byas presents them as “innocents,” skewing context and information.  But like most anti-Brown screeds, a selective use of Pottawatomie is their mainstay.

·       Perhaps the real motivation behind the article is Byas’ contempt for film director, Paul Schrader, who evidently invoked John Brown in some anti-Republican, anti-Trump tirade.  Byas finds it “interesting” that Schrader “knew enough about Brown to include the historical point that Brown and his sons participated in the Kansas murders.”  I don’t know why this is so “interesting” given that John Brown haters are always talking about the Kansas killings as sheer murders.   Frankly, whatever Schrader’s politics cannot be automatically attributed to Brown.  People on the right and left have invoked Brown; the only question that matters is what Brown believed in the context of his own political life and times.

·       Like the late, malignant Otto Scott, “Mr. Bias” desperately wants to make much out of the fact that Brown got support from the “Secret Six,” which he characterizes thinly and inaccurately. Byas says that the wealthy members of the Six (that would be Gerrit Smith and George L. Stearns) “were prepared to support him with dollars as much as they could.”  This is not true.  They did support him consistently, but they hardly gave him as much money as they could have given.  Brown got by, and while he ended up with the Sharps rifles that Stearns bought for a Kansas committee (only after the latter defaulted on payment), he was not financially floated in the way that conservative monies have poured out in support of rightwing reactionary forces in Africa and other parts of the world.

·      Byas mistakes the writing of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” as having a veiled double entendre for Brown. “For abolitionists,” Byas writes, “the words had a ‘double meaning,’ referring more to Brown and abolitionist activities than to God.”  To the contrary, Byas missed the point of the writing of the Battle Hymn.  In fact, the pacifist abolitionists (claiming “divine inspiration”) rewrote the “John Brown Song” to remove him from their antislavery mathematics because he used force.  Instead, they substituted a Unitarian reading of the Bible and appealed to God’s judgment in the Civil War, but definitely took Brown out of the spotlight and reconfigured the song to suit their theology and their politics.   Byas is just wrong.

·      He insinuates that Brown was bad because his “Secret Six” were Unitarians.  But Brown disagreed with them on points of theology, being a strident evangelical and biblical conservative.  This is a non sequitur. 

·      Likewise, Byas wants to diminish Brown because one of his supporters, Theodore Parker, referred to the South as “the enemy.”  First, Brown never used inimical language in speaking of southerners.  He made it clear that he was against slavery, not against southerners.  He would have invaded Connecticut if it were a bastion of slavery.  His sons later made it clear that Brown did not rear his family to hate Southerners, but he did rear them to hate human bondage and the stealing of labor and human bodies—something that is written into the Constitution and had to be amended.

·      It’s hilarious that Byas finds it negative that another one of Brown’s supporters befriended republican Italian independence leaders like Mazzini and Garibaldi.  So what?

·      Byas takes a statement Brown made completely out of context to prove Brown believed in “genocide.”  Brown reportedly said: “Better that a whole generation of men, women and children should be swept away than that this crime of slavery should exist one day longer.”  It was a statement in principle about the costs of losing many lives over against allowing slavery to triumph over freedom permanently.  But Byas turns this into Brown’s call for genocide.  This is either irresponsible or idiocy on Byas’ part.

·      Amazingly, Byas even turns on Brown’s father, Owen Brown, because he was a trustee of Oberlin College.  “Owen had a low view of Southerners, a feeling he passed on to his son,” writes Byas.  But this is flatly false.  One of Brown's sons lived, worked, and died as a newspaper man in New Orleans. The Browns always hoped that southern people first might be persuaded for moral reasons to give up their slaves, but slaveholders wanted the world to bend to their ways and profits.  At any rate, there is not one bit of evidence to support that the pious Owen Brown either hated Southerners or passed hatred down to his children.   Brown in Kansas was always respectful of his proslavery neighbors, as he was also in Missouri.  He didn’t lift the sword until they threatened his life and the lives of his family.

·      Byas misrepresents Brown’s victory over that slaveholding schmuck and brat, Henry C. Pate as because the former “surprised” Pate at breakfast and this made Brown a “war hero.”  Actually, Brown beat Pate at his own game in the field and it did make him a hero to the antislavery cause.  Nothing wrong there.

·      Byas conveys the same old mistaken notions about Harper’s Ferry, including the notion that he was going to “arm the slaves” with the Harper’s Ferry weapons, and then overthrow the government.  We know Brown had no such plan and made no effort to take the arsenal weapons.  He merely had them guarded during his occupation so that Virginians could not get to them.  Brown denied having any designs on the weapons and superior guns.  I discuss this in Freedom’s Dawn, along with the reason why Brown chose to seize the armory as a “demonstration.”

·      Byas says that despite the warm support that Brown received from the North after his capture, “such opinions were not those of the majority of Northerners, but they were certainly read with a growing animosity in the South toward their Northern countrymen.”  He's probably correct here, although he understands this incorrectly.   Most Northerners were not immediately converted to Brown admiration; most Northerners were racial bigots who did not want to go to war over black freedom.  What Brown did do for many Northerners was to give them the clarity they needed to see how badly and excessively the government had been used against them by the South. 

·       Byas says that “John Brown was an ‘instrument’ to be used by radicals on either side of the Mason-Dixon Line.”  This is nonsense.  Brown was an independent force and no one manipulated him.  If others “used” him after the fact, that is again no reflection upon him or his role in history. 

·      Byas shows his motivation in his summing up of the story of John Brown “in light of modern violent protesters who invoke his name.”  Since so much of his narrative is really just a screed against people supporting people who oppose his conservative views, it is clear this is just a propaganda piece that is really aimed at the current liberal establishment, especially the radical left that is calling for revolutionary action. If the shoe was on the other foot, Byas would probably call them patriots and invoke the “Founding Fathers.”

·      Byas says that “violence committed in the name of a cause, backed by powerful people, can cause a reaction that will further advance that cause. This was true in Brown’s day and is true in our own.”  This is a stupid conclusion that would be self-evident for a sixth-grader.  We all know that when causes are backed by powerful people they can cause a reaction.  I doubt the JBS is opposed to using money and power to support their cause.  So the issue is not violence, or powerful people, or a reaction.  The issue with Byas and the JBS is political. 

Steve Byas and the John Birchers are hypocrites because they say they believe in freedom but they clearly mean only white nationalist freedom.  If John Brown had done what he did to free a population of enslaved whites the Birchers would consider him their patron saint.  The rightwing has always been a movement that operates according to white racial priorities.  If Byas and the JBS are really concerned about a “violent legacy, why didn’t they criticize slavery and slaveholders, who used violence, terror, and murder every day to keep millions of black people enslaved for generations, and to take steal “slave crop” land from the Native Americans?  Why attack a Christian man whose whole life was devoted to ending slavery?


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Let the John Birchers come to their senses and change their name to the John Brown Society.  Therein they would find a true sense of freedom and liberty.   John Birch was a Christian soldier who, having been caught breaking the laws of another land as a spy, died as an instrument of US political interests. John Brown was a Christian liberator who, having been caught violating the laws of tyranny, died for humanity.  

We have no use for a John Birch when we have a John Brown.