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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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Monday, April 23, 2012

Experts and Others--
John Brown and Well-Adjusted Folks

"'Normal people don't produce social change,' said Steven Mintz, a historian at Columbia University and an expert on pre-Civil War reformers. 'Well-adjusted people who see trade-offs in life, they don't make social change happen. It's often people like Brown.'" *
I just came upon this quote in an article from 2009, the year of the Harper's Ferry raid sesquicentennial.  It is a tell-tale remark, especially coming from an academic expert who teaches at one of the foremost universities in the world.   The expert, Steven Mintz, presumes to know something about John Brown, although I doubt he has done any in depth biographical work along the lines of primary research.  Early on in the development of this blog, I recall objecting to something else that Mintz wrote, so this quote does not surprise me.  More to the point, remarks like this one not only betray ignorance of John Brown from a biographical standpoint, but they also suggest a kind of racialist perspective.  

First, John Brown was never considered to be anything less than well-adjusted and normal among his friends, countrymen, and family.  Throughout his life, he lived a very "normal" life.  Except for his passionate hatred of slavery, Brown conducted himself as a good neighbor, community leader, sincere businessman, and humanitarian Christian by all accounts.  He was hard-headed and sometimes imperious, but we all know "normal" people with such traits, and maybe such people ourselves.  It amazes me that Mintz flips this notion in order to insinuate that Brown was mentally or socially unstable.

Secondly, the mentality that Mintz himself betrays is racialist because he is more than insinuating that as a "white" man, John Brown's strong and passionate hatred of slavery meant that he was not well-adjusted or socially (possibly mentally) stable.  Mintz seems to be saying that only an abnormal, unstable, and poorly adjusted man would concern himself with black freedom during the 19th century (or possibly any century)--which means only an unstable "white" man would be so concerned.  Now I doubt that Mintz would say that Frederick Douglass, Martin Delany, or a host of other black abolitionists were similarly afflicted.  But, I suppose, Mintz believes they were normal because, as black people, they were supposed to fight slavery.  On the other hand, "white" people are not supposed to break with the status quo or experience a depth of concern for injustice when it afflicts non-whites.  I doubt that Mintz would say that the so-called Founding Fathers and "Patriots" of 1776 were not well-adjusted, even though they were as consumed for white people's independence as John Brown was for black people's freedom.  Mintz's judgment really does reflect a rationale rooted in racialism, if not in racism.  It reveals more about the historian's world view than it does about Brown the man who lived.

Thirdly, "ivory tower" scholars like Mintz often are not just guilty of reasoning from embedded racialist thinking, but also they may be guilty of a kind of prejudice as far as religion is concerned.  In this age when many academics are quite alien to any kind of traditional orthodoxy--especially evangelical faith, often it is difficult for them to understand the Christian conception and experience of divine Providence and vocation, things that used to be broadly understood and believed when this society was predominately Christian in its cultural moorings.  Not only do many academics stumble over Brown's evangelicalism, they typically misconstrue and distort Calvinism which even the rank-and-file evangelicals today do not understand.  Worse, secular/liberal (for lack of a better term) scholars, writers, journalists, and others simply do not understand how well-adjusted people might feel compelled by a sense of calling or vocation toward a purpose in life vis-a-vis faith.  In the 19th century, this was not unusual: many abolitionists were convinced of a similar divine calling upon their lives--if not to fight slavery or promote justice on other fields, then perhaps toward pastoral ministry or the work of foreign missions.  When Brown shared his belief that God had called him to devote his life to fighting slavery, people in his era were not alienated or mystified by such a belief.  Nor would they conclude automatically that such a man was unstable or poorly adjusted.

The problem is that 150 years later, many academics have become either actual or practical atheists, who think that all of human life and activity can be explained by social science.  They do not understand the ways of the human spirit, let alone the possibility that humans may be guided or compelled by a hand unseen.  Nor can they account for the fact that many people throughout history have felt experiential and existential burdens, and that they have been moved out of their comfort zones into fields of danger and self-sacrifice for the sake of others.  One may admire Angelina Jolie's social consciousness and willingness to move beyond Hollywood to speak for the helpless in other societies.  But celebrities like Jolie are only shadows of a whole century past of Christian advocates, many of whom gave their lives up for the sake of the poor and oppressed.   Anyone who reads John Brown's letters to his family over his adult years knows that he was a well-adjusted, loving, and caring husband and father.  Brown weighed the cost of living and dying for slavery, as did his whole family.  They did so as Christians who believed that the road that leads to destruction often is also full of "normal" people--self-satisfied devotees of the status quo.  

Of course, from John Brown's standpoint, it was the rest of the world that was abnormal.  It was white society that was not well-adjusted before the divine judgment, since they were willing to cling to the "trade-offs" of white supremacy rather than fight injustice for black people.   Such men and women often die alone, and if they are not branded as "abnormal" by professional experts like Steven Mintz, the meaning of their lives is revised and rewritten in a manner to guard the status quo from facing its own guilt.  As for those, like John Brown, whose legacies defy revision, they are simply labeled as having been maladjusted.

* See Dennis B. Roddy, "John Brown's Legacy Divides," Pittsburgh Post Gazette (18 Oct. 2009).  

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Family History--
Brown Family Descendant Leads Osawatomie Tour

The John Brown Museum State Historic Site, 10th and Main streets in Osawatomie, Kansas, will conduct special tours of the site from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday (Apr. 21) during the city's Railroad Day. The special tour guide will be Mary Buster, the great-great-granddaughter of Florella Brown Adair, the half-sister of John Brown. Buster’s tours will include stories about John Brown and his family not found in history books. The John Brown Museum features an original log cabin that belonged to Brown’s half-sister and her husband, the Rev. Samuel L. Adair, including family furnishings and belongings and Civil War weapons. The cabin's association with John Brown is quite a matter of historical record. Besides using the Adair home as his informal headquarters during the border war between Kansas and Missouri, Brown was laid up there for four weeks in August-September 1858, when he fell sick with what biographer Oswald Villard called "obstinate ague or malarial fever."

For more information about the tour, call (913) 755-4384.

Based upon "John Brown descendant to give tour," CJ online [Topeka Capitol-Journal], 16 April, 2012.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

The Fool as Biographer

(John Hendrix illustration)
John Brown was hated in his life time, especially by pro-slavery southerners and others who resented him for trying to uproot and destroy the status quo of black servitude and exploitation.  While widespread prejudice against Brown is familiar in U.S. culture today, I've become convinced that many of Brown’s critics actually “love” to hate him, which is to say that there is some kind of fascination with him that adheres to popular discourse.  Typically this fascination with Brown is negative—quite the opposite of the Jesse James legend, which is quite unworthily positive.   Meanwhile, the internet is full of random knuckleheads self-assuredly opining about John Brown despite knowing little or nothing about him.  This common contempt for Brown is shallow and reactionary, evidence that many people have been propagandized more than educated.

In contrast, a smaller number of people actually hate John Brown for reasons consciously grounded in an ideological, experiential, and existential commitment to the “values” that typified the advocates of slavery in the antebellum era.  In other words, these critics truly manifest the enmity of the historical white supremacist that John Brown faced in his own lifetime—the same mentality that ultimately required his death.  Such was his most vitriolic enemy of the late 20th century, whose contempt drove him to write a hostile biography.

Otto Scott was born Otto Joseph Scott-Estrella in 1919 and died in 2006, but his writings and videos are still quite influential.  He is widely known and loved by neo-Confederates and ultra right-wing Christians.  Although he is a hero of contemporary Confederate loyalists, Scott also labored greatly on behalf of the interests of the wealthy and powerful in the western world.  It was no exaggeration for the Southern Partisan, the premiere neo-Confederate magazine, to eulogize him as “one of the greatest” conservative writers and thinkers of the Cold War era.1  This was not a man who cared for the plight of the poor and the oppressed, especially in the non-white world, nor could he have cared for those who were their sworn allies like John Brown.


Scott in younger days
Scott served in the United States Merchant Marines during World War II, afterward working in advertising and journalism, although a Wikipedia entry says he worked in journalism in Virginia and California prior to entering the Merchant Marines. Regardless, this path led him to embark on a long career as a published author of various themes as diverse as the histories of the Ashland Oil and Black & Decker Companies, and the stories of Robespierre, James I, and John Brown the abolitionist.  All told, Scott published ten books along with numerous articles in many publications including the Los Angeles Times, San Diego Union, San Diego Tribune, Salisbury Review (London), Conservative Digest, and Human Events.  However, among conservatives, Scott was known for his own monthly publication, Otto Scott’s Compass, a “journal of contemporary culture.”  The latter had a considerable run of fifteen years, ending the year before his death.  One of Scott’s relatives aptly observed that he was “one of a great many Americans who are well-known to a special audience, but unknown to the nation at large.”2  In Scott’s case, his “special audience” was predominantly one of ultra conservative “Caucasians” with interests in the maintenance of the present order of the western world.

Capitalist Ideologue

Throughout his professional life, Scott made a living as both a businessman and as the chronicler of big business.  The anonymous author of the article Wikipedia about Scott notes that between 1954 and 1963, he held three vice-president posts in Globaltronix de Venezuala, Mohr Associates, and Becker, Scott & Associates.  He was also “assistant to the chair” at Ashland Oil Incorporated in the year 1968-69.  Even Scott’s family member acknowledges that he largely made a living “from his corporate biographies.”3  As a bona fide gatekeeper of the status quo, Scott was extremely critical of any real or perceived radicalism and liberal or left-oriented ideas, and was also opposed to any liberation movement that challenged what he upheld as the supremacy of the Christian west.  He was highly critical of the anti-Apartheid movement in the 20th century and bitterly attacked the abolitionist movement of the 19th century in historical terms.

Although Scott became a major didactic figure for ultra-conservatives in later decades, he had already influenced the conservative movement as an ideologue by the later 1960s.  Most notably, he is credited for inventing the phrase, “The Silent Majority,” a term made popular by Republican President Richard Nixon.  According to Wikipedia, Nixon apparently appropriated this phrase from a speech that Scott wrote for the CEO of Ashland Oil entitled, "The Silent Majority" (which was delivered to the Chicago Men's Club on May 23, 1968). 

Alliance with Rousas J. Rushdoony

J. R. Rushdoony
No doubt, Scott’s cachet was further enhanced when he allied himself with the ultra conservative Reformed theologian, Rousas J. Rushdoony, a marginal Calvinist intellectual who similarly influenced President Ronald Reagan’s political ideology.  The two ultra conservative thinkers chaired a radio program and Scott published regularly in Rushdoony’s magazine, The Chalcedon Report.4  Scott’s alliance with Rushdoony was significant for his future lionization among extreme Southern conservative Protestants, some of them neo-secessionists.  Scott, Rushdoony and their type despised the secular North as the vector of liberal abolitionist ideology, the forerunner—in their thinking—of present day liberalism and Left oriented politics and religion.  Scott is said to have had some kind of conversion experience after reading the four New Testament gospels in one night.  However, it is not clear if Scott ever had church affiliation until his final role as “scholar in residence" at the Tri-City Covenant Church in Somersworth, New Hampshire (1998-2004), “where he provided historical insight to the school and church staff and assisted in Sunday School instruction, high-school history, and Bible and economics courses.”5 

Scott and Reconstructionism

Tri-City Covenant Church is a congregation that follows the so-called Reconstructionist (also known as Theonomy or Dominionism) teachings of Rushdoony, Gary North, and others.6  Reconstructionists are like Libertarians with a Calvinistic theological and philosophical orientation, and are hostile toward liberal and Leftist politics.  Reconstructionists are generally distinguished by their belief that the Mosaic Law should be enforced as the law of the land.  For this reason, even conservative evangelicals find Reconstructionists problematic.  In 1996, the conservative Christian activist Ralph Reed wrote, "Reconstructionism is an authoritarian ideology that threatens the most basic civil liberties of a free and democratic society.”7  Richard J. Neuhaus thus appropriately describes Reconstructionism as a “bastard form of Calvinism contending that the American constitutional order must be replaced by a new order based on ‘Bible Law.’” Church historian Carl Trueman concludes that Rushdoony “was historically incompetent, probably racist” and—based upon his use of questionable sources, “probably unhinged” too.8
. . .one can understand why Scott was so embraced by Reconstructionists, especially since he shared their core white supremacist values.
In this light, one can understand why Scott was so embraced by Reconstructionists, especially since he shared their core white supremacist values.  Like Scott, Rushdoony and his colleagues have proven extremely sympathetic to the Confederacy in historical retrospect, just as they defended racist South Africa at the peak of the anti-Apartheid movement.  Anything that smacks of egalitarian or liberationist ideas is understood as rooted in godless ideology to Reconstructionists, and this was well suited to Otto Scott.  Rushdoony and his Chalcedon Foundation proved to be extremely supportive of white Southern nationalism, especially showing proud devotion to antebellum pro-slavery theology.  The Chalcedon Foundation allied with the Alabama-based League of the South in the 1990s, and Scott himself was the featured speaker at the League’s 1995 convention.  He even produced videos for the League dealing with their historical and political reinterpretations of the Civil War and slavery.9 According to the insightful Christian blog, Racist Churches, Scott allegedly pronounced regret over the increasing number of non-whites in congress and also supported racial profiling by authorities.  He uplifted the so-called Caucasian race as the most “essential to the continued progress of world humanity,” and disdained the removal of an interracial marriage ban in post-Apartheid South Africa.  It is also reported that Scott once stood at the grave of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson in Virginia and declared that it marked “the end of southern civilization.”10 This depraved orientation clearly provides the basis for Scott’s malignant interpretation of John Brown.

A Word About Conservatives and John Brown

Whatever one’s political orientation, it is not a “given” of history that conservatives have categorically despised John Brown.  In fact, he has always had admirers along a range of conservative views.  Certainly John Brown studies was largely carried in the 20th century by two conservative researchers, Boyd Stutler and the Rev. Clarence Gee.  While Gee was probably the more socially thoughtful of the two, Stutler was a hard-nosed right-winger who disparaged the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s as being too extreme.   Notwithstanding this backwards view, Stutler recognized the essential rightness of Brown’s antislavery effort and admired his willingness to die to end human bondage in the United States.  Even “tricky” Richard Nixon, coming from a Quaker background, apparently held a soft spot in his heart for Old Brown. At the time of the United States Bicentennial in 1976, Nixon even made reference to Brown’s words.11  My point is not that the politics of men like Stutler were correct, or that their brand of conservatism was identical to Brown’s political outlook.  However, when it comes to John Brown, conservatism has never been represented by one opinion, and certainly not the opinion of right-wing neo-Confederates.  Furthermore, Stutler would hardly have approved of Scott’s narrative, so replete with political contempt and mean-spirited accusations of Brown and the abolitionist movement.

Scott, Malin, and John Brown

James C. Malin
(Kansas State Historical
Scott’s primary source in his own writing is the work of James C. Malin, a Kansas scholar whose book, John Brown and the Legend of ’56, was probably the last significant scholarly effort to flagrantly discredit Brown. Louis Ruchames, editor of the quintessential collection, A John Brown Reader, called Malin “the foremost anti-Brown historian, who seems unable to forgive the North for having used force against Southern secession, or the Abolitionists for having taught that the abolition of slavery would be a step forward for American society, or the Negro for having believed that his welfare would be furthered by the forceful elimination of slavery.”12  Ruchames’ evaluation of Malin sounds quite similar to Otto Scott:

To Malin, minor errors of date or place committed by writers who have a high regard for Brown are frequently labeled deliberate falsehoods, while the errors of Brown-haters are simply unintentional blunders.  Very few anti-slavery leaders and writers emerge unscathed under Malin’s furious onslaught.  Typical of his method are his comments on Emerson, Thoreau, Parker and the other leaders of New England opinion, whom he contemptuously refers to as the “New England Transcendental Hierarchy, the self-appointed keepers not only of New England culture, but, according to their own estimates, of national civilization.”13

In retrospect, Scott not only appropriated Malin’s prejudiced hypothesis, but sought to extend it beyond Brown’s story in antebellum Kansas.  Meanwhile, serious scholars across the board, from conservative Stutler to left-leaning Louis Ruchames, had exposed Malin’s book as flawed and untrustworthy. While Malin’s effort had general value in presenting the hellish mayhem of the Kansas territory, his one-sided, ham-handed treatment of Brown and the anti-slavery side was warped and untrustworthy.14   Yet Scott saw Malin only as “a truly great American historian” and uncritically accepted his problematic book—which he lauded as “a classic of historic investigation and analysis”—because it suited his base politics.  Retrospectively, Scott continued to praised Malin for portraying Brown simply as a “multiple murderer and robber in the Kansas Territory,” even though these allegations were intentionally based upon a selective reading of pro-slavery sources.  In the short term, Malin’s John Brown and the Legend of ’56 gave ammunition to anti-Brown scholars, but soon the author was exposed, his work was discredited, and his scholarly reputation was duly diminished. Scott whined about this too, claiming that Malin’s only crime was that he had “outraged the Academy”—a ridiculous assertion, particularly because prominent historians in the mid-20th century were hardly warm toward abolitionism and John Brown.  To Otto Scott, Malin and his fetid book were the victims of academic “obloquy.”15  In reality, Malin’s work simply was too tainted and biased to be trustworthy.   To this day, no credible historian would use it without exercising extreme care—something that Scott definitely did not do.  In fact, he went on quite uncritically to make the greatest use of Malin’s propaganda for his own anti-Brown screed, The Secret Six: The Fool as Martyr.16  The identity of the “fool,” in Scott’s mind, is easy to surmise.

Scott’s “Sacred Fool Quartet”

Scott’s own treatment of John Brown the “fool as martyr” actually was third in his series known as “The Sacred Fool Quartet”—critical biographies about “extraordinary fools whose follies influenced the course of all our lives,” goes Scott’s claim.  “Without them, history would have been different, and our lives would today be lived along patterns beyond our powers to imagine.”17    Besides John Brown, Scott’s historical fool hunt targeted King James I of England, Maximilien Robespierre and the French Revolution, and President Woodrow Wilson.  Scott thought these historical figures were “sacred” in that society had supposedly conferred a “form of immortality” upon them “irrespective of character.”18  Having fed from Malin’s poisoned plate, Scott’s anti-Brown work thus extended the theme in blanket condemnation of the abolitionist movement, with the particular intention of blaming them for the ruin that befell the South in the Civil War.  Scott thus opined: “The costs of Abolitionist virtue ran high.  Officially the record is 621,000 dead,” he concluded of the Civil War death toll.19 It is difficult to imagine anyone attributing the expansive deaths resulting from the Civil War to the abolition movement without thinking the writer must be a revivified slave master.  But this represents the kind of mind and spirit that animated Otto Scott.

A Publishing Disappointment

Interestingly, the first edition of Scott’s anti-Brown book was published by Times Books, the publishing arm of the New York Times, in 1979.  Although the book was smuggled to press, Scott’s Secret Six nearly proved a Trojan horse to the “Old Gray Lady.”  Certainly, Times Books was an unlikely home for Otto Scott’s anti-liberal screed, except that he had an inside connection with Tom Lipscomb, a business associate who had become the head of the press.  The book was hesitantly published, but it grated upon the legendary Times executive, Sidney Gruson, who rightly observed that it “lowered the tone” of the company.  Fearing that his opus would get buried, Scott pulled the rights of his book, bought back the remaining copies, and donated them to his friend Rushdoony.  Fortunately for Scott, there was sufficient interest and money in the South, and the book was republished eight years later by the Foundation for American Education in South Carolina, possibly a Klan-related organization.  Although Scott lamented that his book had nearly been “murdered” by the “Establishment,” The Secret Six was much more viable than he portrayed.20  Scott may not have had liberal money behind him, but he had right-wing support, especially in a willing audience among neo-Confederates and Reconstructionists.  The book was finally published under another label in 1993, which seems to have been Scott’s own imprint.21

The Legacy of Scott’s Secret Six

Otto Scott died in 2006, but his book continues to feed the same counter-establishment of radical right-wingers, neo-Confederates, and Reconstructionists.  For this audience, The Secret Six is taken as definitive and quoted by unknowing bigots as if it were the last word in historical terms.  Scott undoubtedly knew that he had made a niche for himself with his anti-Brown book; his other “fool” books are extant but rarely mentioned.  In The Secret Six, Scott took the Southern screed to a sophisticated and polished level of argument.  By cynically portraying Brown as a deluded killer in collaboration with liberal New England elites and other subversive figures, Scott affirms the foundational sentiments of neo-Confederates and ultra-conservatives who deeply despise liberalism in government and society, and who resent the national and global changes that are challenging traditional white supremacy in state and church.

It is not my intention to do a book review and in this piece I have preferred to use Scott’s subsequent reflections as published in Southern Partisan, which present his essential argument about Brown and abolitionism as well as background to his research and the publication of the book.  However, there are a couple of points that need to be made in highlighting the fundamental errors of his interpretation. 
Scott demonizes Brown over against the opinion of every credible biographer over the past century.
First, Scott’s bibliography belies the lack of fairness that defines his work, particularly regarding Brown.  Scott demonizes Brown over against the opinion of every credible biographer over the past century.  His narrative not only impugns Brown, but inherently accuses every scholar (including myself) of being a liar and false propagandist by our presentations vis a vis the historical record.  If Scott is correct in his profile of Brown, then Villard, Oates, Stavis, Boyer, Yours Truly, Reynolds, Carton, McGlone, and Horwitz have misread the facts to a significant degree.  Not that all of us agree on every point, and some of us have considerable differences about the Old Man.  Yet none of us have presented Brown and the abolitionist movement in the manner insisted upon by Otto Scott. 

Equally important if not more so, Scott’s work is both selective and derivative.  Like Robert Penn Warren before him, Scott only mined the most negative assertions of Oswald Villard, and otherwise ignored the more positive and balanced aspects of biographers like Villard, Boyer, and Oates.  Otherwise, his work offers nothing new, original, or based on primary research.  From Stutler, Gee, Edwin Cotter, and Tom Vince to Jean Libby, Scott Wolfe, and others (including me), those who have studied Brown extensively over time and in great depth simply do not recognize the John Brown of Scott’s rendering.   Far from being a historical portrayal, Scott’s “fool” is a straw man, a self-serving caricature that suits his prejudices and privileges his political agenda.

Third, Scott diminishes people of integrity who were Brown’s allies and supporters during and after his death.  Besides his obvious criticisms of the “Secret Six” and other “liberal” abolitionist clergymen, Scott essentially calls Frederick Douglass a liar—“disingenuous”—in his testimony about Brown.22

Fourth, Scott’s argument paints the crisis between abolitionists and the South with such broad brushstrokes that he obscures the fact that Christians across the theological spectrum were opposed to chattel slavery and saw it as a great sin.  While it is true that many leading abolitionists were “liberal” clergymen, there was no lack of stridently evangelical and even Calvinistic anti-slavery people in the North too.  The abolition movement may have had a preponderance of “liberals” in Scott’s terms, but the anti-slavery and abolitionist premises were not essentially based upon heterodoxy.  For instance, the counterparts of Reformed Presbyterian slaveholders in the South were the Covenanted Reformed Presbyterians, a movement descended from the Scottish Protestant Reformation.  The “Covenanters” were fervent antislavery people and argued against slavery explicitly from the Bible and the Calvinist tradition.  John Brown himself was a traditional Calvinist, a point that Scott never properly or fairly assessed because his only interest was in presenting him as a murderous “fool” in cahoots with Northern liberal heretics. Brown was “religious,” Scott says, but certainly not Christian.  Even in his death, Brown died like every dark pagan “selected for holy execution” in places like the “Orient, Pacific, Africa, India and other parts, because the gods demanded sacrifices—for the good of the majority.”23

Finally, Scott’s viewpoint necessarily plays down and denies the evil of chattel slavery and makes the slaveholding South a victim of Northern aggression.  In his understanding, it was antislavery people who were acting out “with raging demonstrations against the Fugitive Slave Act” in the North, just as it was the “initial exertions of old John Brown” that caused Kansas rhetoric to shift into violence.  The Northern heresy “led to the Civil War” while noble Christian Southerners “watched the Northern paroxysms with fear and horror,” increasingly convinced they were to be massacred.24  There is no sense of the aggression and determination of the South to expand slavery by any means necessary.  There is no admission that Southern terrorism was already underway in Kansas before John Brown came in answer to a distress call from his family in the territory.  There is no acknowledgment that black people in the North, free and fugitive, were outraged and terrorized by the Fugitive Slave Law, and that many patient Northerners felt violated and abused by its requirements.  Nor is there any sense of the guilt and hypocrisy of the Christian South, feeding off the sweat and blood of their hapless black chattel.  All Scott understood of the antebellum drama of abolition was that it was a grand liberal heresy foisted upon the South that “resulted in a long, terrible [and avoidable] war and punitive peace.”  All that mattered to him was that abolitionists had so skewed the world by their doctrines that even future whites, such as white Afrikaners during South African Apartheid, would suffer as a result, just as anti-white terrorism was descending upon the world because of the “boomeranging back” of the abolitionist heresy.25

Epilogue: “Eternal Reality”?

After Scott’s death, one of his family members recalled that although “his work has proceeded without fanfare, it had not gone unnoticed.” This is true enough.  His influence remains real in the marginal subcultures of neo-Confederacy and reactionary right-wing Christianity.  His work on John Brown has not gone unnoticed either, since it remains authoritative and usable for these audiences.  However, Scott’s work lacks the substance of truth and integrity.  He not only writes from a standpoint of error, but also from one of tragic self-deception.  Scott was a man who gave the whole of his life to twisting history to benefit corporations, slaveholders, and alleged white racial superiority.  Gifted with doubtless ability and intelligence, yet his intelligence was wasted on the pride of a fallen slave empire, and every gesture of accusation he pointed at others will come back to rest upon his legacy. 
Otto Scott lived on the wrong side of history and left a legacy of white racist pride and denial.
Otto Scott lived on the wrong side of history and left a legacy of white racist pride and denial. As a historian, he had real ability and sensibility, even a sense of obligation to time and eternity.  Yet often these make the worst kinds of people when they align themselves to the side of oppression.  Were he merely a stupid reactionary or a paid literary assassin, Scott would have been easy to ignore.  He once remarked, “I do not regard the past as dead. On the contrary, I regard the past and the present and even the future as part of an eternal reality.”  He concluded that his generation faced the same tests encountered by former generations.  “All I do is remind my contemporaries that Eternity watches us forever,” Scott concluded.26  It is unfortunate that a man with such a broad scope did not learn from the failure of preceding generations.  John Brown was himself quite aware of that “eternal reality,” and could have taught Otto Scott a few lessons had he been willing to learn from history.  But instead of deploring those sins, he personified them as an apologist, and even magnified them by making wrong into right, and right into wrong.  Like Haman of old, the fool who erects a gallows for the just may find himself hanged on a scaffold of his own error. 

So hangs Otto Scott, the fool as biographer.

* I would like to thank the scholar Edward H. Sebesta, who provided me with some copies of Scott’s contributions to neo-Confederate publications, especially the Southern Partisan.  Sebesta’s blog, Anti-Neo-Confederate is found on the web at: http://newtknight.blogspot.com/.  He is also the co-editor of Neo-Confederacy: A Critical Introduction (University of Texas Press, 2008) http://www.utexas.edu/utpress/excerpts/exhagneo.html and co-editor of The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader (University of Mississippi Press) http://www.upress.state.ms.us/books/1338.


     1 “A Giant is Gone,” Southern Partisan xxv:i (May 2006): 11.
     2 “Otto Joseph Scott,” Wikipedia.  Retrieved on 12 Mar. 2012 from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otto_Scott#cite_note-1; Phillipa Scott-Girardi, “Otto Scott,1919–2006,” Sobran’s Forum on line [originally published in Sobran’s, Apr.-May 2012, p. 12].  Retrieved on 12 Mar. 2012 from: http://www.sobran.com/articles/forum/otto_scott.shtml.  Also see “Otto Joseph Scott, May 26, 1918 – May 5, 2006” (Obituary).  Bonney-Watson (Seattle, Wash.).  Retrieved on 12 Mar. 2012 from: http://bonneywatson.com/obituaries/detail.html?id=1857.
     3 Ibid.
     4 “Otto Joseph Scott”; “A Giant is Gone.” Also see, Scott-Girardi, “Otto Scott, 1919-2006.”
     5 Scott-Girardi, “Otto Scott,1919–2006.”
     6 See Tri-City Covenant Church website (Somersworth, NH) at: http://www.tccc-tcca.org/.  Note that the sources of the church’s position paper on “Dominion & Work” are all renowned Reconstructionist scholars.
     7 Richard John Neuhaus, “Ralph Reed’s Real Agenda,” First Things (Oct. 1996).  Retrieved on 12 Mar. 2012 from: http://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/11/006-ralph-reeds-real-agenda-5.
     8 Neuhaus, “Ralph Reed’s Real Agenda”; Carl Trueman, “Rushdoony once again—for the last time,” Reformation 21 blog [Alliance for Confessing Evangelicals], 31 Dec. 2006.  Retrieved on 15 Mar. 2012 from: http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2006/12/rushdoony-once-again-for-the-l.php.
     9 Edward H. Sebesta and Euan Hague, “The U.S. Civil War as a Theological War: Confederate Christian Nationalism and the League of the South,” Canadian Review of American Studies 32:3 (2002).
     10 “Otto Scott,” Racist Churches blog.  Retrieved on 12 Mar. 2012 from: http://racistchurches.wordpress.com/2007/06/13/otto-scott/.
     11  See Louis A. DeCaro, Jr., John Brown: The Man Who Lived; Essays in Honor of the Harper’s Ferry Raid Sesquicentennial 1859-2009 (New York: Lulu, 2009), pp. 15-16.
     12  Louis Ruchames, ed.  A John Brown Reader (New York: Abelard-Schuman, 1959), pp. 14-15.
     13  Ibid.
     14 “Malin took much of his source material from the anti-Brown papers and records.”  Boyd B. Stutler to Clarence S. Gee, 10 July 1953, p. 2, in Stutler-Gee correspondence, Hudson Library and Historical Society, Hudson, Ohio; “The book contains a lot of good material—but it also contains too much of biased opinion. . . .  I think [Malin] violated every rule of historical method in his zeal to establish his legend, and that there are strained interpretations of some of the material he used.” Stutler to Gee, 25 Aug. 1951, p. 1, idem. 
     15 Otto Scott, “The Return of John Brown and the Secret Six,” Southern Partisan (Spring 1988), pp. 21 and 23.
     16 The final version of the book is published under the title, The Secret Six: John Brown and the Abolitionist Movement. See note 20 below.
     17 Per the book’s description on Amazon.com.  Retrieved on 16 Mar. 2012 from: http://www.amazon.com/James-I-Fool-as-King/dp/0884051234.
     18 Scott, “The Return of John Brown and the Secret Six,” p. 23.
     19 Ibid., 22.
     20 Ibid., 23-24.
     21 A routine search on the internet for Uncommon Books shows no other author or book published by Uncommon Books, except for another essay by Scott called “The Church and Modern Culture” (1992).
     22 Scott, The Secret Six, n. 10, p. 345.
     23 Otto J. Scott, “Transcendentalism: The New England Heresy,” Southern Partisan (Spring 1982), p. 20.
     24 Ibid., 19 and 20.
     25 Ibid., 21.
     26 Scott-Girardi, “Otto Scott, 1919-2006.”

Monday, April 02, 2012

From the Field:
“I Consecrate My Life…"

by H. Scott Wolfe  
“This monument commemorates the valor, devotion and sacrifice of the noble Defenders of the Press, who, in this city, on Nov. 7, 1837, made the first armed resistance to the aggressions of the slave power in America.”  Inscription, Lovejoy Monument, Alton, Illinois  
“Lovejoy’s tragic death for freedom in every sense marked his sad ending as the most important single event that ever happened in the new world.” Abraham Lincoln, 1857

Elijah Lovejoy Monument, Alton, Ill. Cemetery
Photo by H. Scott Wolfe
            During my ascent of the Mississippi River last November, I paused in Alton, Illinois to once again view the Elijah Lovejoy Monument. Perched upon a blufftop at the margin of the Alton Cemetery, this imposing memorial to the antislavery struggle never fails to spur me toward the contemplation of the sacrifices made by those engaged in that noble cause.
            In its center is a towering 93-foot granite shaft, topped by a 17-foot bronze statue of “Winged Victory.” The square pedestal at its base displays tablets bearing apt quotations of the martyred Lovejoy. This central shaft is flanked by a pair of “sentinel columns,” crowned by bronze eagles representing “the idea of a triumphant goal or consummation,” along with a pair of “chalices,” in the form of sculpted lions.
            The grave of Lovejoy is to be found about 100 yards within the cemetery proper. Surrounded by an iron fence, its marker consists of a substantial block of New England granite beneath a marble scroll…whose Latin inscription translates to: “Here lies Lovejoy—Spare him now the grave.”
            On the plaza of the Lovejoy Monument is a simple granite stone, inscribed with the names of the men who defended his printing press on that momentous November night in 1837. Among those names can be found that of Enoch Long.


            Thirty miles south of where I now tap the keys, reposes the tiny community of Sabula, Iowa. The promotional signboards call it Iowa’s only “Island City,” for the creation of the lock and dam system has surrounded the town with Mississippi River backwaters…thereby allowing vehicle access only by bridge and causeway.
Gravestone of Enoch Long
Photo by H. Scott Wolfe
            Meandering north of Sabula along the incongruously named 607th Avenue, one reaches a remote cemetery named “Evergreen”…tightly squeezed between the murky waters of Joe Day Lake and the tracks of the Iowa, Chicago & Eastern Railroad. Within its coniferous bounds is a plain grave marker…a flat slab of marble blackened by the elements and beset with a coating of bright orange lichens. This stone marks the final resting place of Deacon Enoch Long, who died in Sabula on July 19, 1881 at the ripe old age of 91 years.
            Few people have heard of Enoch Long. The fame of his family is commonly reserved for his older brother, Major Stephen Harriman Long…the U.S. Army officer and explorer…whose expeditions through the Great Plains and upper Mississippi valley were crucial to American expansionism. Longs Peak, the 14,000 foot Colorado landmark, is named for him. But no lofty mountain bears the name of Enoch Long…just a simple stone set amidst the Iowa marshes.

            My first encounter with Enoch Long came while researching the pioneers of my own community: Galena, Illinois. Though a native New Hampshireman, Long had come early to frontier Illinois. During the late 1820s, he had spent several summers in this vicinity…mining lead. (“Galena” is the Latin word for lead sulfide, the principal ore of that heavy metal.) Miners of those bygone times would ascend the Mississippi in the spring and depart in the fall…this annual migration corresponding to that of the spawning sucker fish. (Thus the origin of the once prevalent nickname for Illinois: “The Sucker State.”) So many Missourians made this yearly trip that it was said that that State had taken an emetic…and these miners became known as “Pukes.” They were later to carry that appellation to the plains of “Bleeding” Kansas.
            Enoch Long became a permanent resident of Galena in the 1840s. City directories show him engaged in the lumber trade, both as a hired clerk and the owner of his own firm. Local sources also list him as a pillar of the Presbyterian Church, an Elder described as an honest and upright citizen who “never wronged any man out of a cent.”
            During the Civil War, Long moved his business across the big river to Sabula. And there, in my own mind anyway, the story ended. But then I encountered a local obituary for this esteemed citizen…and found the following, previously unsuspected, aspect of his colorful biography:
“Deacon Long was a very ardent antislavery man, and when Illinois was admitted into the Union as a State, he exerted all the influence he could command to make it a Free State. At the time of the great riot in Alton, in 1837, when Elijah P. Lovejoy was murdered on account of his antislavery proclivities, Deacon Long was one of the parties who defended Lovejoy’s printing office… .
            My immediate reaction to this bit of intelligence can be summed up, simply, as: “shock and awe.”  It was time to hit the old historical trail for the full story of this “ardent antislavery man.”

            Upon his arrival in the infant State of Illinois, Enoch Long had settled in the community of Upper Alton, where he soon established himself in the grocery and coopering trades. Considered by his neighbors as “a man of considerable culture, a member of the Presbyterian church, (and) a Christian gentleman,” he quickly began to labor “on the side of morality and religion.” In May of 1820 he organized the second Sunday School ever to be established in Illinois, conducting it “almost alone” as both its superintendent and principal teacher. He also established Alton’s first temperance society, his support of such institutions always “constant and zealous.”
            But the“magnum opus” was his role in the construction of Upper Alton’s Presbyterian church. As a generous subscriber, trustee and member of the building committee, Deacon Long accomplished much “by direct labors and godly influence.” When the substantial stone edifice was completed, he donated “one of the finest bells ever made,” much remembered for its “remarkably pure tone and sweetness.” And, though deeply affected himself by the financial panic of 1837, Long assumed the payments for those church subscribers who could not meet their obligations. The grateful parishioners considered him “the one Christian who gave all that his Master called for.”
            Long also became a close friend of a young preacher who often led services in this Upper Alton church…and was a frequent guest in the Deacon’s home. His name was the Reverend Elijah Parish Lovejoy.

Elijah P. Lovejoy in
Appleton's Cyclopaedia of
American Biography
            A native of Maine, Elijah P. Lovejoy had graduated from Waterville (now Colby) College and removed to St. Louis, where he taught school and edited an anti-Jacksonian newspaper. Following a religious conversion, he returned to the East and enrolled in the Princeton Theological Seminary. Once licensed to preach, he returned to Missouri and was placed in charge of the St. Louis Observer, a reform organ of the Presbyterian church. He began to produce antislavery articles which elicited “great excitement and bitter feelings,” despite the fact that they were moderate in tone…calling for gradual emancipation and the colonization of the freed blacks.
            Reverend Lovejoy also antagonized Catholic St. Louis with angry tirades against “papists,” whose church he called the “Mother of Abominations.” He wrote that the Catholic church “was approaching the Fountain of Protestant Liberty” with “stealthy cat-like step” and “hyena grin,” seeking to “cast into it the poison of her incantations.”
            Under great public pressure to cease the publication of his antislavery beliefs (particularly after he protested the public immolation of a mulatto resident of St. Louis), Lovejoy prophetically declared: “I am ready, not to fight, but to suffer, and, if need be, to die for them.”  He chose to stand upon the platform of freedom of speech and the press, writing:
“I deem it, therefore, my duty to take my stand upon the Constitution…We have slaves it is true, but I am not one…I do, therefore, as an American citizen and Christian patriot, and in the name of Liberty and law and religion, solemnly protest against all of these attempts to frown down the liberty of the press and forbid the free expression of public opinions. Under a deep sense of my obligations to my country, the church, and my God, I declare it to be my fixed purpose to submit to no such dictation. And I am prepared to abide the consequences.”
The “consequences” were the destruction of his Observer office and its printing press. Soon thereafter, the Reverend Lovejoy removed across the river to “free state” Illinois and, in September of 1836, the first issue of the Alton Observer was printed. But his experiences in St. Louis had altered his philosophy to a more “ultra” position. Lovejoy now advocated the Garrisonian view of immediate, unconditional emancipation of the slaves.
            In July of 1837 he issued a public call for the creation of an Illinois Antislavery Society. His old adversaries in St. Louis declared: “Something must be done, and speedily.” In August, a mob attempted to assault Lovejoy…and again destroyed his press. In September, a replacement press was also cast into the Mississippi River.  “Frown down the liberty of the press,” indeed.

            In response to Lovejoy’s call for a State Antislavery Society, delegates met in Enoch Long’s Upper Alton Presbyterian Church in late October. To prevent the intrusion of proslavery men, forty constables, “good men and true,” were deputized…and among them was Deacon Long. Besides the creation of the Society, the delegates debated the future of Lovejoy’s Observer. They decided to order a new press, to be safely stored in the riverside warehouse of Godfrey, Gilman & Co. They also discussed, with the Mayor of Alton, the organization of a company “to resist by force, if necessary, any further efforts of mobs to destroy property or molest peaceful citizens.” About sixty men were enrolled, including once more, Enoch Long.
On November 6, 1837, the new printing press arrived and was placed on the third floor of the stone warehouse. The following day, twenty men gathered to protect the building. A vote was taken, and Enoch Long was chosen “Captain,” an honor due mainly to his prior military experience. (He had served briefly on the Niagara frontier during the War of 1812.)  The Captain immediately “assumed charge,” the doors of the warehouse were barricaded and defensive measures initiated. (Note: Can we not consider this fortress a harbinger of the armory engine house at Harper’s Ferry?)
Attack upon the Godfrey, Gilman & Co. Warehouse
in which Lovejoy was killed defending his printing press
            At 10 P.M. the mob, “with arms and hootings, with tin horns blowing, and plenty of liquor flowing among them,” had gathered to demand the surrender of the press. When denied, a shower of stones and bullets struck the warehouse…shattering its windows. A request to return fire was denied by Captain Long, who thought the sacrifice of life “unjustifiable and useless.” One of the mob was, indeed, later killed…and this infuriated the attackers all the more.
            They returned with a ladder, which was carried to the river side of the building, and flaming tar balls were prepared to set the roof on fire. Several of the guards, including the Reverend Lovejoy, were compelled to leave the warehouse to prevent men from ascending the ladder. A volley exploded from behind stacks of lumber on the levee, and Lovejoy was mortally wounded (“five balls entered his body”). He managed to make his way back to the warehouse “counting room,” where he soon died…his friend Enoch Long at his side.
            The roof flaming, and the mob threatening to blow up the building with a keg of powder, the defenders were offered safe passage if the press was relinquished. All resistance being useless, the offer was accepted…and another printing press (the fourth) was consigned to the Mississippi River. (Note: Enoch Long and his compatriots were later INDICTED for “unlawfully, riotously, and in a violent and tumultuous manner”…acting “against the peace and dignity of the People of the State of Illinois.” Mercifully, they were found not guilty.)
            Two days later, on what would have been his 35th birthday, the Reverend Elijah Lovejoy was buried in an unmarked grave…after a “sad, almost silent funeral.” It was a simple service, where “no flowers were strewn upon his coffin” and “no remarks were made lest the mob should disturb the last rites.”  It was said “that the silence of death, under such circumstances, well became the burial of liberty.”
Yes, liberty hung in the balance…but there was not to be silence. The events in Alton were to reverberate far and wide…and, across the North, Elijah Lovejoy was mourned as a martyr of the antislavery cause….
Grave of Elijah P. Lovejoy (Photo by H. Scott Wolfe)

            In Boston, citizens gathered at Faneuil Hall to discuss the momentous events at Alton. One of the speakers, Massachusetts attorney general James T. Austin, defended the proslavery mob…comparing their actions to those of the patriots of 1776. A rebuttal was promptly given by Wendell Phillips, a son of privilege, who praised the actions of Lovejoy as a warranted defense of the principles of liberty. His eloquent response shocked his conservative peers…and horrified his relatives, who contemplated sending him to a sanitarium.

            In Springfield, Illinois, a young member of the State Assembly, Abraham Lincoln, spoke before the Young Men’s Lyceum upon the topic of “the perpetuation of our political institutions.” He decried “the ravages of mob law,” as demonstrated by “the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country.” Despite standing before an audience by no means sympathetic to Elijah Lovejoy, Lincoln warned that “whenever the vicious portion of the population shall be permitted to gather in bands of hundreds and thousands, and burn churches, ravage and rob provision-stores, throw printing presses into rivers, shoot editors, and hang and burn obnoxious persons at pleasure and with impunity, depend upon it, THIS GOVERNMENT CANNOT LAST!”
Photo by H. Scott Wolfe

            And in Hudson, Ohio, Laurens P. Hickok, professor of theology at Western Reserve College, excitedly called for a meeting in the “old chapel-room,” where he related an account of the Lovejoy incident to the assembled faculty and students.
            The following day, the professor “rode all over the township,” inviting citizens to another meeting…to be held at Hudson’s Congregational church. There, in an eloquent speech, Hickok declared: “The crisis has come. The question now before the American citizens is no longer alone, ‘Can the slaves be made free?’ but, ‘Are we free or are we slaves under Southern mob law?’”
            Prior to the close of this meeting, a man “who had sat silent in the back part of the room, rose, lifting up his right hand, saying, ‘Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery!’”
            The name of this man was John Brown. And this prophecy was every bit as prescient as that which was handed to the jailer of Charles Town.

H. Scott Wolfe is the Historical Librarian of the Galena, Illinois, Public Library District and now a regular correspondent and contributor to this blog. He has devoted many years of grassroots research on John Brown, the Harper's Ferry raiders, and related themes.