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"The world needed John Brown and John Brown came, and time will do him justice." Frederick Douglass (1886)

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Jim and Lisa Gilbert, "From Chatham to Harper's Ferry," The Chatham Daily News (Ontario, Canada), April 27, 2008

For the last few weeks, we have been looking at the events that transpired around May of 1858 when the famous abolitionist John Brown came to Chatham. These articles will hopefully serve as a bit of a primer in preparation for the commemoration of the 1858 Chatham Convention to be held locally on May 5 and 6.

Although there were 46 blacks and whites at the Chatham Convention, very few of them were prepared to take the same radical and violent approach that Brown so strongly advocated.

Reverend William King, the founder of the Buxton Settlement, as well as Archibald McKellar, the local Member of Parliament, were two of the local white community that strongly advised all involved to not join in with Brown's fanatical plot.

The most influential members of the black community in Chatham (Alfred M. Ellsworth, J.C. Grant, Alfred Whipple, Dr. Martin Delaney, Thomas Carey, Israel Shadd as well as Mary Ann Shadd) were sympathetic towards Brown's ultimate ends, but were opposed to his radical means.

Brown had originally planned to attack the Government Arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Virginia, immediately after the Chatham Convention ended, in May of 1858. This was necessary, as Brown needed to secure arms for his band of followers that he had planned to lead in a series of raids on slave plantations in the Southern U.S. However, word had leaked out that Brown was planning this raid and he had to delay it until early October 1859.

In Chatham, Brown had spoken to many whites and blacks alike about his plans and according to local legend had even drilled men in Tecumseh Park. The only local black man to take part in the actual raid on Harper's Ferry was the young printer from the black newspaper, The Provincial Freeman.

According to local tradition, the staff of the newspaper were reputed to have drawn lots in order to determine which one would go as Chatham's representative and Osborne Anderson was the man who lost.

On Oct. 16, 1859, Brown and only 18 other followers (four were black) attacked and captured the Government Arsenal at Harper's Ferry; however, they held the Arsenal for only a short period of time.

Ironically, on Oct. 18 Colonel Robert E. Lee (who was to later become leader of the Confederate Army) led a federal force against Brown's "army" and when the smoke cleared 10 of the revolutionaries lay dead and John Brown was seriously wounded.

The Chatham resident, Anderson, was one of the few to escape unharmed. Eventually, he arrived back in Chatham and along with the help of The Provincial Freeman staff, wrote an account of the venture entitled A Voice From Harper's Ferry.

John Brown was tried, found guilty of treason, conspiracy with slaves to rebel and of first-degree murder. He was hanged on Dec. 2, 1859. A rather gruesome affair, Brown was forced to ride on top of his own coffin on the way to the gallows.

Brown's death accomplished more than anything Brown ever did in life. In the one hour that Brown's body was left hanging from the gallows in Charles Town, Virginia, he became a martyr for the cause of abolition and even those who thought he was a homicidal maniac in life began to praise him as an evangelical crusader for the good of mankind.*

In Chatham, 13 days after Brown's death, a "John Brown Meeting" was held in the Town Hall as they were all over the northern part of the United States.

With the death of Brown came the focus of anti-slavery activities. Many attribute the death of John Brown with not only having an impact upon the election of Abraham Lincoln and his anti-slavery platform in 1860 but also the beginning of the American Civil War (1861), which ultimately resulted in the freeing of all slaves.

If these arguments have any validity at all, and we believe they do, then the sad lament of the song "John Brown's Body" must have had special meaning for many residents of Chatham as they heard it through the bloody days of the U.S. Civil War.

The relevance of John Brown to history, as well as to Chatham, will be the highlight of a commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the John Brown Convention to be held in Chatham on May 3 and 4.

Experts on John Brown will provide a much more detailed, insightful and well-rounded analysis of this fascinating man than I was able to provide in these past few weeks, so make sure that you plan to attend at least some of these celebrations.

For more information on times and places, phone 519-352-3565.

Lisa and Jim Gilbert are local historians.


* Editor's note: This line is hyperbolic at best. The only people who thought Brown was a "homicidal maniac" prior to his hanging were southerners. They hardly changed their assessment so favorably after his death. Many northerners became admirers of Brown after his hanging, but the prominent opinion about them was that he was a well-intended fanatic, not a murderous maniac. Furthermore, those who praised him the most were already sympathetic to him prior to his hanging.--LD

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Daguerreotype of John Brown in the News

The first daguerreotype photograph of John Brown the militant abolitionist recently resurfaced among descendants in Ohio who placed it for auction for medical expenses. It sold at auction for $97,750, purchased by the Hall Foundation for the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. Public viewing began in March 2008. The image auctioned on December 7, 2007, was originally owned by Annie Brown Adams, the daughter of John Brown who spent the summer of 1859 at a Maryland farmhouse while her father gathered weapons and men to raid the government arsenal at Harpers Ferry.

This compares with the auction price of $115,000 in 1996 when the second daguerreotype, which shows Brown with his hand upraised taking an oath on an abolitionist banner, was found mislabeled in Pennsylvania. Both were photographed by Augustus Washington, an African American daguerreotypist in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1846 or 1847.

The second daguerreotype (photographed within in a short period of time, but not on the same day), was purchased by the National Portrait Gallery with funds donated from descendants of Free-State militia who fought alongside John Brown in Kansas in 1856.

The writer of this article is the private historian who undertook gathering and digitizing the John Brown portraits from many archives and personal collections over a period of years. They were examined by N. Eileen Barrow of the FACES Laboratory (Forensics Anthropology and Computer Enhancement Services) at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge in June 2003. Dr. Barrow makes age-advanced models of missing children. Dr. Barrow performed the analysis of eighteen images of John Brown without fee to further academic inquiry. The eighteen images narrowed to thirteen different portraits because of art derivations in the original group.

At the time of the forensic study Eileen Barrow made the startling opinion that the two portraits which are now extant in public in original daguerreotype form were made very close in time, “days, or at most a week from each other.” The year was 1846 or 1847, soon after John Brown had moved to Springfield Massachusetts to expand the wool business of [Simon] Perkins & [John] Brown in Akron. According to biographer Louis A. DeCaro Jr., ("Fire from the Midst of You"; a Religious Life of John Brown, NYU Press 2002) Brown was much more interested in aiding the African American community in Springfield and organizing a militant defense organization against the Fugitive Slave Law called the “League of Gileadites” than he was as the junior marketing partner. This assistance was in obtaining property for free African Americans that would be registered in their own names. Property ownership had racial restrictions even in northern states until after the Civil War and even well into the 20th century.

Brown and his family lived in the working-class neighborhood among mechanics and workers at the nearby Springfield armory, which was nearly identical to the armory in Harpers Ferry that he would seize with 17 men and hold for 18 hours in October 1859. Frederick Douglass met John Brown in Springfield in 1848 and wrote in The North Star that “though a white gentleman, is in sympathy a black man, and is as deeply interested in our cause, as though his own soul had been pierced with the iron of slavery.” John Brown was in the company of Augustus Washington, the Hartford daguerreotypist, at the meeting with Douglass.

Augustus Washington was an African/Asian American. His mother was East Indian, his father a freed slave of African ancestry. Augustus was born in New Jersey in 1820. After the daguerreotype that is paired with this image was acquired by the National Portrait Gallery in 1996, the Smithsonian Institution mounted an exhibition of the Augustus Washington daguerreotypes that could be traced and published A Durable Memento; Portraits by Augustus Washington African American Daguerreotypist by Ann Shumard (2000). This created a resurgence of interest in daguerreotypes and in African American photographers. Deborah Willis of the Smithsonian Institution (and recipient of a MacArthur genius award) curated and wrote Reflections in Black; a history of black photographers 1840 to the present, published by W.W. Norton in 2000. Augustus Washington emigrated to the American Colonization Society colony of Liberia in 1853. He continued daguerreotype photography to earn a living, including many portraits of early leaders of the colony, freedmen and their families from America.

Bear in mind that in order to get a good daguerreotype portrait the subject had to remain motionless and unblinking for at least 30 seconds. John Brown was very much a “new technology” man in the pursuit of abolition. Witness his ordering of the fastest weapon available, the Sharps Rifle, in Kansas in 1856 and at Harpers Ferry in 1859. The Sharps’ gave his militia a four-to-one advantage over those with standard rifles. Therefore, the posed image of the second daguerreotype, with a furled banner and John Brown actually extending his left hand in an oath so that it would appear to be his right hand in the mirror image, is done for the purpose of using his likeness for recruitment.

The forensic comparison of the two portraits, now both known and extant as the original daguerreotypes, showed that they were taken no more than “days apart,” but not in the same sitting. I believe that the newly auctioned image was first. It is a standard portrait—a very good one showing the rapport of the photographer and subject, “a favorite of the family” according to Annie Brown, who loaned it to Thomas Featherstonhaugh for reproduction in 1909. Annie Brown Adams lived until 1926, spending most of her adult life in northern California’s rugged coastal area and raising a family of eight children. The daguerreotype passed from her oldest daughter, Bertha. The image was given as a wedding present to her grandson in 1949; it was auctioned to provide funds for medical assistance to the family.

A direct descendant of John Brown, Annie Brown Adams, and Bertha Adams Cook will be in Kansas City for the May 3, 2008 premiere of the opera John Brown by Kirke Mechem. Alice Keesey Mecoy (fifth generation), who grew up in Palo Alto, California, is interviewed in the Arts Section of the Kansas City Star in the weekend edition of April 26. (link here) Mechem, known as “the dean of American choral music,” grew up in Kansas in the company of John Brown. His father, also Kirke Mechem, was the Secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society in Topeka. His “John Brown, a Play in Three Acts” published in 1939 by Kansas State College, forms the base for the operatic framework of the musical son.

There was a third daguerreotype made by Augustus Washington that included John Brown and Thomas Thomas, an African American in Springfield who worked for the Perkins & Brown Wool Company and came in two hours early each day for his shift (5:30 a.m.) so that he and Brown could make abolition plans. That image, a print of which is in the Boyd Stutler Collection at the West Virginia State Archives, shows both men holding a banner that says “S.P.W.” (Subterranean Pass Way). That may be the banner that Brown is holding in the daguerreotype now at the National Portrait Gallery. The location of the third is still unknown, which was the status of the newly-auctioned first daguerreotype until it was brought forward by descendants of John Brown in Ohio in November 2007.

*Jean Libby is the author of “The John Brown daguerreotypes; a leader uses his likeness for remembrance and promotion” in The Daguerreian Annual 2002-2003 and “John Brown, Bearded Patriarch,” photo portrait essay in The Afterlife of John Brown (Palgrave 2005). Jean edited a collection of essays and photographs, John Brown’s Family in California; a journey by funeral train, covered wagon, through archives, to the Valley of Heart’s Delight, including the years 1833-1926, and honoring descendants of the Woman Abolitionists of Santa Clara County, now known as Silicon Valley (Allies for Freedom, 2006). Currently she is contributing editor of a documents publication by the Harpers Ferry Historical Association scheduled for the 150th anniversary of the John Brown raid on October 14 – 17 2009, and preparing a visual chronology of the photo portraits for the conference. She is a retired community college history instructor in Palo Alto, California.

Contact information: Jean Libby, 1222 Fulton Street, Palo Alto, CA 94301, editor@alliesforfreedom.org

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Jim and Lisa Gilbert, "John Brown Had Goals in Mind," The Chatham Daily News (April 19, 2008)

In May of 1858 the abolitionary [sic] advocate John Brown came to Chatham to meet with 46 blacks and whites from as far away as Ohio and Pennsylvania. The meetings held at various spots in the King Street East district of town were designed to establish a constitution that would oversee the freeing of all black slaves in southern U.S. plantations and the end of slavery in the United States forever.

Although the intention of Brown's scheme was immensely admirable, the sad reality of his dream was that it was hopelessly wrong-headed and doomed. The unreality of Brown's reality was obvious, right from the onset of the meetings convened on May 8 in Chatham's First Baptist Church.

At 10 a.m., on this Saturday morning in May, 34 blacks and 12 whites sat down as the first official delegates to the convention that Brown hoped would be the initial step in establishing a revolutionary government for the black state he hoped to establish in the southern Appalachians. The first action taken that morning was a motion made by Dr. Martin Delany, an influential black physician living in Chatham, to have Brown address the convention.

Brown took the podium and with eyes flashing and evoking the inspired tone of a religious zealot, he outlined his plans for removing the shackles from all black slaves in the southern U.S. Assuring the delegates that he had "devoted his whole being, mental, moral and physical to the extinction of slavery" he outlined, in minute detail, his plan of attack.

Brown said that he planned to invade Virginia, in the area of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and march into Tennessee and northern Alabama. Here Brown felt confident that the majority of slaves would cast off their chains of slavery and become active warriors in a concerted war upon the plantations on the plains east and west of the Appalachians Mountains.

Once this area had been established as a free area, the army of ex-slaves would be free to expand their base of operations southward.

If these plans were not outrageous enough, Brown further stated that he felt his plan of action would result in very little bloodshed as any slaveholders who resisted would be taken back to their mountain stronghold as hostages. Brown also went on to say that this new state of liberated slaves would be organized under a Provisional Constitution and that blacks would labour on farms and workshops, build churches, and organize schools.

Brown was confident that his state could support and govern itself and be capable of defying any enemy. Ultimately Brown felt that all slave states would be forced to emancipate their blacks, and human slavery would at last be destroyed. When this occurred, Brown vowed to reorganize his mountain commonwealth on a permanent basis and new elections would be held.

It is likely that Brown was attempting to conjure up, in the minds of the delegates, a southern version of the successful Buxton settlement created by Reverend King in nearby Raleigh Township.

By the time the morning session ended, all 48 articles of Brown's constitutional document had been read aloud and delegates sworn to secrecy. In the afternoon, delegates unanimously approved and signed the constitution. By evening, the delegates were ready to elect the president and cabinet of this new government.

John Brown was chosen as Commander-In-Chief while black delegates filled the positions of Secretary of War, Treasury and State.

Two black men were offered the presidency but both refused. As a result, it was decided that a committee of 15, headed by Brown, would temporarily fill this position until a later date.

It was this reluctance, on the part of most of the blacks that attended the Chatham Convention, to take an active and visible part in Brown's plans that should have been his cue to seriously rethink his plans. However, a man who firmly believed that he was an agent of God put on this earth to punish evil and right wrongs, was neither ready nor willing to listen to the subtle hints of mere mortals.

On May 3 and 4 the 150th Anniversary of John Brown's Chatham Convention will be commemorated. Speakers at that seminar will include David Reynolds who is author of the fascinating book on Brown entitled "John Brown: Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery" (Knopf, 2005), and John Brown researcher Edna Medford from Howard University.

In addition, there will be numerous other activities to celebrate this important time in not only North American and world history but local history as well. For further information on this exciting weekend, phone 519-352-3565.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Lisa & Jim Gilbert. "The May that John Brown Came." Chatham Daily News [Chatham, Ontario], April 12, 2008.

"It is infinitely better that this generation should be swept away from the face of the earth, than that slavery shall continue to exist."

The man who boldly uttered the preceding statement stepped down, just as boldly, from the train as it steamed to a stop in Chatham on April 30, 1858, and purposely strode towards the offices of the influential black newspaper known as The Provincial Freeman.

Clad in a long black coat and flashing the wild eyes of a Puritan warrior, he drew the slightly furtive sideways glances of many Chatham residents who happened to meet the stranger on his trek downtown. In a small town of 6,000, with at least a third of that population being fugitive slaves, the identity of the mysterious 58-year-old visitor was soon on the lips of most residents.

And the phrase that was soon whispered about town was "It's John Brown . . . you know . . . the abolitionist!" Some residents may have also had the word "murderer" play about their lips as well. Even in this small Canadian town, it was a well-known fact that Brown and his followers had been responsible for the ruthless slaughter, with symbolic broadswords, of five pro-slavery advocates in the Kansas territory.

After visiting with Israel Shadd who was editor of the Provincial Freeman, at the southeast corner of King and Adelaide Street, Brown proceeded on to the home of his good friend James M. Bell at 153 King St. E. where he was to reside during his stay in Chatham.

Ostensibly, Brown was in town to aid in the formation of a Masonic lodge for Chatham blacks. However, the influential blacks in town like Isaac Holden (politician), Alfred Whipper (teacher), Martin Delany (physician) and Israel Shadd knew that Brown had much bigger plans in mind.

The meetings Brown planned over the next week were designed to create a constitution that would in his words "seek to abolish by sword and fire the terrible sin of slavery." In pursuit of this radical action, Brown hoped to assemble in Chatham the groundwork for a fanatical, wild scheme that would see war waged upon southern U.S. plantations, with troops consisting of an ever-growing number of freed slaves that Brown planned to continually increase in his war of liberation.

Chatham was a natural place to hold these meetings of revolution, as there were more blacks within 50 miles of Chatham than any other place in Canada. Many of them were influential leaders in the black community and several of them, 33 to be exact, were on their way to Chatham to hear what the well-intentioned but obsessed abolitionist had to say.

The major characters had been cast, the scene was set and the drama of what was to be known as the Chatham Convention was set to begin on Saturday morning May 8 at First Baptist Church on King Street East.

On Saturday, May 3 and Sunday, May 4, 2008, the 150th Anniversary of John Brown's Chatham Convention will be celebrated. Speakers at that seminar will include David Reynolds who is the author of the fascinating book on Brown entitled John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery (Knopf, 2005); Brown expert Edna Medford from Howard University as well as a number of other activities. For more information, phone 519-352-3565.

Lisa and Jim Gilbert are local historians.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Local author, professor delves into the psyche of one of Kansas’ most iconic historical figures

Lawrence [Kansas] Journal & World News (Feb. 18, 2008)

John Brown had all of his marbles. He had a wife and many children, too. A strict belief in his faith. Many failures in his personal and professional life. And a single-minded belief in the equality of man, black or white. The famed abolitionist was more than just the crazy-eyed man with a flowing beard brandishing a Bible and a shotgun in John Steuart Curry’s famous painting at the Capitol in Topeka.

Jonathan Earle wants you to know the man behind the historical caricature. Earle, the interim director of the Dole Institute of Politics and an associate professor of history at Kansas University, spent five years sorting through documents — including letters, newspaper articles and legislative acts — to paint a concise, unique picture of Brown. The result is Earle’s new book, “John Brown’s Raid on Harpers Ferry,” which he will discuss at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt.

“So many historical biographies now have to be a thousand pages and $50. That wasn’t the idea of this,” says Earle of his book, which barely breaks 150 pages and lists around $16. “It was a short, biographical sketch that explains John Brown’s raid and John Brown’s career and then shows (it) in documents, primary historical documents.”

Compelled, not crazy

The first thing Earle wants readers to understand about one of the most controversial figures in pre-Civil War history? He had those aforementioned marbles. “I honestly don’t feel that he was crazy,” Earle says. “I think that’s part of what his image is, and that’s just something I found not to be true during my research.” What he did find was a man who was compelled from a young age to stand up and fight for racial equality. As a 12-year-old driving cattle into western Michigan during the War of 1812, Brown stayed at an inn where the innkeeper owned a slave about Brown’s age. That night in that inn, everything changed for Brown. “During the night the innkeeper whacked on the slave with a big fireplace shovel,” Earle says. “He writes about it later in life and never forgot being horrified by this and even as a kid saying, ‘That is not right.’

“A lot of us when we’re 12 see terrible injustice, but we don’t end up dedicating our lives and end up giving our lives to finishing it off. That’s not normal.”

Earle says his need for action was compounded by chaos in his life — between his business failures and fathering 20 children. Earle believes that had Brown’s life been more stable, he wouldn’t have become as single-minded in his need to rid his country of slavery. “I think had he been more successful in his business ventures, I don’t think he would have been the abolitionist figure that he was,” Earle says. “He might have given money, he might have signed petitions. But he wouldn’t have moved to Kansas and planned an insurrection and trained an army and come up with this scheme to get rid of slavery — which, by the way, didn’t work at all.”

That move to Kansas happened in late 1855, and Brown’s trail of blood in Bleeding Kansas began shortly there after, as Brown and his supporters were suspected to have brutally murdered five pro-slavery settlers in the Pottawatomie Massacre of May 1856. Little more than three years later, on Oct. 16, 1859, Brown and his supporters raided Harpers Ferry, took the federal armory, engine house and hostages before being captured two days later. He was hanged Dec. 2, 1859, a radical among radicals.

“‘Anti-slavery’ is kind of a broad-based word that encompasses everyone who was opposed to slavery, from the mildest ‘maybe we shouldn’t let slavery expand into the West’ to being an out-and-out abolitionist. Abolitionists are at the one radical end of anti-slavery — they are the people who want to immediately end slavery with no compensation for slaveholders, so they’re pretty radical,” Earle says. “Even among those abolitionists, the maybe 1 to 2 percent, John Brown is on the radical end of them. He actually believed in pure racial equality. Even other abolitionists and anti-slavery folks who saw the way that John Brown interacted with black people were shocked.”

John Brown today

Today, Brown’s “shocking” acts of race equality — “He sat with African-Americans in his church pew, he invited them to sit with them at the table, he addressed them as Mr. and Mrs., which is a term of respect,” Earle says — are the norm. And Earle believes Kansans — who have honored Brown in everything from beer (Free State Brewing Co.’s John Brown Ale) to sports-minded T-shirts during the yearly “Border War” between KU and Missouri — have every reason to take pride in John Brown.

“There’s the iconic figure that John Steuart Curry made at the Capitol, and there’s a pride,” Earle says. “Kansans committed acts of viciousness and violence on the other side of the border, too, but I think there’s a pride that Kansans were on the right side of this. I think Kansans are right to be proud that on the great issue of the day they chose the right one.” And though Brown’s ultimate goal of equality wouldn’t shock any American today, his means — the strong arm of violence — sure would. Even by today’s standards, Earl says, Brown was a terrorist.

“Nowadays we hear from the candidates on the campaign trail and the president about terrorism, and John Brown was a terrorist,” Earle says. “Is it OK to commit violence or kill for your political beliefs? I think today we say, ‘Of course not. That’s way over the line.’ In John Brown’s case, the thing is that it turns out he was right. And I don’t think that slaveholders would have let their slaves go without a fight. I honestly don’t.

“For today, there’s all sorts of issues — terrorism, violence, political murder, whether it’s OK to fight for your political ideals using violent means, it’s really a central part of today’s world as well as 150 years ago.”

That may be why crowds show up in droves to hear Earle speak about Brown. Right after the publication of the book, Earle gave a talk at the County Club Plaza branch of the Kansas City, Mo., Public Library on Jan. 20, the day of this year’s highly anticipated AFC and NFC championship games. Despite the perfect day to be a couch potato, more than 150 people picked John Brown and Jonathan Earle over Tom Brady and Brett Favre. Henry Fortunato, director of public affairs at the Kansas City Public Library, believes both speaker and subject contributed to what Fortunato calls a “remarkable turnout.”

“The combination of the enduring fascination of John Brown, and plus Jon Earle has a growing reputation as a leading, young scholar and a lot of people know about that, and so that was a pretty great combination,” says Fortunato, a former KU graduate student in history. “And so they came.”

Earle, though, gives all the credit to Brown. “He’s an exciting figure. It’s a time in history when anything could have happened — it was one of those moments where it was wide open. It didn’t have to come out the way it did,” Earle says. “It’s not that often that you find a person who epitomizes a movement as much as John Brown did.” Sarah Henning

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Blogger's Response, My Apology and Remarks

Thank you for your comment. You are obviously very passionate about John Brown and I can appreciate that. But you have also served to illustrate my comment that Brown is a controversial figure. If he were not, we’d all have said some very different things. As for my sources about Brown, they all came from the internet, Wikipedia mainly but also historical sites about Kansas and some university history lectures that are online. I should elaborate as to why I saw Brown as a hero when I was in grade school. At that time I misunderstood my history and thought Brown was a black man, an escaped slave, and the Raid on Harper’s Ferry and attempt to rescue his family. I do think the US could have ended slavery without a bloody civil war from which we as a nation are still suffering the consequences. You say Brown has been misrepresented by slave masters, pro-slavery people and pacifists. While I am neither a slave master, nor pro-slavery, I am a pacifist. In my opinion violence is rarely the best solution to anything. Part two of your comment doesn’t even merit a counter-argument on my part. You do not know me or my beliefs or my ethnic background and engaging with you and your accusing rhetoric is pointless because you have already passed judgment.
My response:

Perhaps I have judged you harshly and wrongly, and I do apologize. The fact that you are a pacifist does put your critique in a different category, one which I nevertheless do not agree with. However you feel no less strongly about your analysis than I do about mine. Pacifists can rightly and easily point out that violence usually leads to more violence, and never has a utopia been born out of a war. On the other hand, pacifists often stand on the sidelines of history and make judgments upon men and women who choose to fight, as if all people who fight believed in violence as THE answer, or that they are essentially defined as violent people. Brown did not see violence as man's hope. He had great apprehension about the use of force insofar as civilians were concerned, which is why he wrote a constitution for his people in which the rights of prisoners were to be protected and war crimes were to be punished. As a Christian, he preferred peace and lived 50 years without ever using violence. But as a Christian he felt the Golden Rule constrained him to do something, and by 1850 it was clear that slavery was not going to go away. In fact, slavery was encroaching upon the North (Dred Scott, Fugitive Slave Law). Brown knew there are times and seasons when men and women must fight, particularly when evil men and institutions become so powerful that nothing but militant power will overturn them. In Kansas Brown would have killed many more people had he loved violence or practiced "terrorism" as he is often accused. I believe he and others killed there for self-preservation, and only a pacifist would indict him for that (smile). He was actually a man who minimized violence and tried (I think to the point of self-defeat) to avoid general bloodletting. He had no intention of a general insurrection (which involves killing slave masters) and the reason he was caught at Harpers Ferry is because he delayed in "parleying" with his captives, for whom he had a kind of paralysis of pity. He was trying to assuage their fears, believe it or not, and show them that his only concern was to release enslaved people, not kill them. This is documented, but too many people have only listened to the slave master record, which was carried into the northern press, upheld by the moderate Republican party, rehearsed by Lost Cause southern romantics, and harped upon time and again by journalists and scholars with little interest or understanding of Brown's life.

You write: "I do think the US could have ended slavery without a bloody civil war from which we as a nation are still suffering the consequences." But this is my point: even if this were possible, slavery would have ended in the 20th century, and only after slave masters had been compensated for their "property." And that's the optimistic viewpoint. There's still plenty of reason to believe that forces in the South were pushing for secession, independence, and a permanent continuation of slavery. Nor do I know what consequences we as a nation are suffering as a result of the Civil War. Where are they? The nation boomed as a result of war time industry; the South was welcomed back and power returned to white southern secessionists within fifteen years. While there may be "nooks and crannies" of the South where people still hate Yankees, the only people who REALLY suffered the consequences of the Union victory were emancipated blacks, who fell back into the hands of their defeated former masters after 1875. Post-reconstruction, segregation, lynching, and economic disenfranchisement from that era still resonate in disparities that exist today. This was also the era when John Brown was increasingly slandered and misrepresented.

I apologize also for nosing in on your blog. As a biographer of Brown, I survey what's being written about him regularly on the internet, and so much of it follows along the lines of the bigotry and malice expressed by Sam Houston the commenter above. Once in a while I throw my two cents in, but I should have refrained and let you have your conversation with your colleagues. So forgive my intrusiveness. I do admire your literary passion and humanitarian perspective even though I still don't agree with your view of Brown, or your perspective on the "could haves" of history. Maybe some day you'll do me the honor of reading my two biographies of the man. You may not change your opinion, but I believe you will see him in a different light in some respects.


All the best to you.--Lou D

PS Brown was not a good orator at all. He found speaking difficult although he tried at points to address audiences, particularly in 1857. If Wendell Phillips, Frederick Douglass, and others had golden tongues, Brown had a copper one at best. Believe me, he was a better guerilla than an orator.--LD