"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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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Letter to the Herald-Mail (Hagerstown, Maryland):
A Response to Some anti-Brown Snobs

Snob No. 1 Writes

"I came across a letter to the editor in Sunday's paper. The letter states that John Brown was not a hero - he was a terrorist. Hurray to the person who wrote this, because he or she is 100 percent right. I took some time a few years ago to study the life of John Brown. What I read of him disturbed me. I came to my own conclusion that John Brown was indeed a murderer, a traitor, and in today's terms, a terrorist."

Snob No. 2 Writes

"This letter in Sunday's paper about John Brown being a terrorist is exactly correct. He was nothing but a murderer of any race who got in his way. Question: Why is it there's no monument for Pvt. Luke Quinn, the only Marine killed by John Brown's crew during the storming of the firehouse? Oh well, he was just another soldier doing his duty."
- Jefferson County, W.Va.

To Whom it May Concern:
Some of your readers confidently assert that abolitionist John Brown was a criminal and terrorist. As a biographer of the man, I get weary of people making these kinds of pontifications based on evidently little knowledge of the man's life and times. Nor do these people know the history of John Brown's biographers and the currents and prejudices that shaped the "mainstream" view of him in the 20th century. My reading of the man is that he killed when he felt there were no alternatives within a society overrun by pro-slavery terrorists, overseen by a pro-slavery government that turned a blind eye to injustice. My belief is that if John Brown were really a terrorist, the outcome in Harper's Ferry would have been significantly different and more terrible as well. In fact, Brown failed because he was too concerned for slaveholders as human beings. Perhaps he should have been less so. The 21st century is John Brown's come back time. More people are gaining an appreciation for the man who lived, and I am proud to be part of that movement of education and understanding. Warts and all, John Brown was a good man, a humanitarian, and a greater hero than many of the killers and truce-breakers sanctified in conventional history texts.

Rev. Louis A. DeCaro Jr., Ph.D.New York, NY

Blog Postscript:

Interesting that one of the anti-Brown snobs writes from Jefferson County, the site of the Harper's Ferry raid. As the old biblical saying goes, "the fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children's teeth are set on edge." In other words, some people's ancestors took the side of injustice and supported the theft of other people's labor, and their descendants still spew out the same bitter prejudice of the slave master. As far as Pvt. Luke Quinn (the marine that died in the final rush on the engine house in Harper's Ferry) is concerned, he died "serving his country" having signed on with the understanding that his death in time of war was a distinct possibility. But the nobility of soldiering is not a given. A soldier is noble when the cause he fights is noble. A soldier's death is worth a monument when the cause for which he lays down his life is monumental. Luke Quinn was "doing his duty," but so was John Brown. Yet on the scales of history, Quinn's sacrifice weighs exceedingly lighter than that of Brown and his men. The former was merely following orders as good soldiers do. The latter were marching to the divine drumbeat of a higher and more principled cause--the liberation of humanity.--LD

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