History, Research, and Current Themes

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

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Saturday, May 16, 2015

More from the North Country--
PBS Report by Derek Muirden--Your Editor Interviewed; the Bogus Claim of HF's Seized Weapons

Derek Muirden of the Mountain Lake (NY) affiliate of PBS was on the ground at the John Brown Farm on John Brown Day last week, and kindly included an interview with me in his report.  The video is posted below--just look for the guy referred to as "Louie."  I should add, for the sake of clarity, that while I appreciate Mr. Muirden's fine report, I do not agree that Brown intended to seize the guns from the Harper's Ferry armory.  I cannot blame him, because this is one of those hackneyed claims that has adhered to the raid narrative since 1859. I take up this false claim in my forthcoming Freedom's Dawn.  

To the contrary, guns were not taken from the arsenal, but it seems rather that they were guarded to prevent others from getting to them.  Brown afterward clearly stated that he did not want the arsenal weapons because he brought superior firearms with him to Harper's Ferry, the Sharp's repeating rifles were five-times as effective.  The seizing of the armory was purely a political demonstration (he said so) and the reason for it is likewise provided in my forthcoming book.  
If Brown were trying to seize the arsenal weapons, where were the wagons to load them?  Where is the evidence that he took these rifles when he had ample opportunity to do so? The answer is no evidence exists of the kind.
In reality, the notion that the arms were to be seized for the slaves comes from sensationalist, propagandistic claims made by proslavery reporters.  These false claims bolstered Sen. James Mason's mission to use his 1860 senatorial committee investigation to impugn Brown and exploit the raid in order to interrogate and ensnare antislavery leaders in the North.   It is a point of history that besides Brown's sheer denial that he was interested in the arsenal stores, none of the Harper's Ferry weapons were removed and loaded throughout the entire, extended occupation of the Ferry by Brown and his men.  One wagon was brought into the Ferry by Brown, but it was already loaded with Brown's supplies.  If he were trying to seize the arsenal weapons, where were the wagons to load them?  Where is the evidence that he took these rifles when he had ample opportunity to do so?  The answer is no evidence exists of the kind.  Indeed, the only valid testimony to be believed is that a couple of Brown's men opened a couple of cases and looked at the rifles--so did Brown invade Harper's Ferry to seize two cases of rifles?   The facts are plain enough if you can get beyond the hackneyed press reports from the proslavery side, which unfortunately many historians have not discerned.

You can also read more about the John Brown Lives! event in a report by my friend, Naj Wikoff, in Thursday's (14 May) Lake Placid News.   Naj also provides an excerpt from my succinct presentation, as follows:
Certainly John Brown, as the single-minded man on the right side of history, who has been dismissed time and time again, keeps coming back. Why? Because you can't bury the truth, because his life was not a life of reinvention, because if you study his life you see that he is really the same man throughout. He did not believe slavery would be uprooted simply by moral suasion. John Brown saw that every road to ending slavery was blocked by power. He felt it had become something that had to be resisted. 
The government was on the side of the slaveholder. There was no hope for peaceful emancipation. There was only one man in 1859 who took action, and that was John Brown. He is significant to us because he really represents the ideas and principles that we say we believe in, but often times we as a nation to this day continue to have a double standard and a mythology about what our country is. John Brown does not allow that mythology to exist. He demands that we revisit the history of our country and tell the truth.
Lastly, for the record, Mr. Muirden's closing quote of Bruce Olds fairly well illustrates the most extreme anti-Brown view in contemporary culture.   However, Olds is not to be taken seriously in and of himself as a narrator of Brown's life, not even in fictional terms. Like many novelists who tamper with historical figures, he screws up royally.  But unlike novelists such as Russell Banks, Olds lacks even a basic sense of fairness, rationalizes his putrid narrative in the name of postmodernism, and is really a character assassin.  Only the malignant fringe of Brown haters would take the work of Bruce Olds seriously, and despite its association with postmodernity, Olds' novel represents one of the last cries of the defeated view of Brown that reigned throughout most of the 20th century.


1 comment:

Unknown said...

I'm afraid as I listened to Mr. Muirden's fractured opening bio sketch of the old man it was clear he got a lot of other stuff wrong besides the "arming the slaves" myth. One example is the idea that Timbuctoo was a "secret" project for "runaway slaves." It seems as if he is as misinformed on Brown as most people, and that his "knowledge" of the rest of the story is almost as screwed up as Olds's. Glad to see you there, speaking some sense, though.