John Brown And Controversial Views On His Actions

John Brown is well remembered as an American abolitionist who strongly advocated for the use of armed revolt to eliminate slavery in the United States. He came to the limelight after he organized a section of rebellious slaves in the Bleeding Kansas dilemma of 1856 because he was unsatisfied with the convection in the abolitionist wave that was initiated. “These men are all words without action; what we need is action,” Brown is quoted addressing his supporters. Later in 1856, he led his supporters to kill five people who were encouraging slavery in the Pottawatomie killings that saw the dismissal of Lawrence by the slavery lords. After that, Brown initiated the antislavery groups at the Battle of Black Jack.

To start a slave liberation movement, John Brown organized another attack on the federal arsenal at the Harpers Ferry, Virginia that also spread south through the mountainous regions of North Carolina. During this struggle, he managed to seize the armory but lost his seven teammates, with more than ten others injured. He wanted to strengthen slaves with the armaments from the arsenal, unfortunately only, but a small number of slaves dared to join his revolt.

Within a short time, some of Brown’s militants who had failed to escape the base were captured and maimed by the authorities and the U.S. marines that were planned by Robert E. Lee. John Brown was ruthlessly tried for betrayal by the Commonwealth of Virginia. He was charged with the death of five people, incitation of a slave rebellion. He became the first person to be convicted of treason in the history of the United States.

Brown’s efforts as emancipationist and the methods he applied during the revolution have made him a disputed person until today. He is known as a volunteer and a visionary leader. Some historians have also denoted him as a mad man and a terrorist. They believed Brown perfectly sober until 1890 but generally considered him as very insane till 1970 when new slavery revolt enhancement started to ensue.

In 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act law was proposed by the federal government. This was a regulation that aimed at giving power to the forces in the free states to help in the capture and retaining of rebellious slaves and foist penalties on the people who had supported their escape. In reaction, John Brown formed a militant group, “the League of Gileadites,” to counter the slave’s capture authorization. He instructed his league to act promptly to protect the bondmen that had run to Springfield. When he learned that his brothers in Kansas were not ready to counter the proslavery attacks, he made efforts to collect funds and weapons and left for Kansas.

During the journey, he made several stops on his way to take part in antislavery convection, which was happening in June of 1855 in Albany, New York. Confusion ensued at the convection as some people believed that Brown was a terrorist. Despite the controversy, many people who were against slavery gave him financial support. As he proceeded with his journey, he grasped significant militant support in his hometown of Ohio. Brown and his colleagues were optimistic that they would make Kansas a slavery-free state. He was also frustrated by the defiant violence of the proslavery actions and the weak and coward antislavery troops he had led. The Pottawatomie massacre saw Brown killing five professional slave hunters and proslavery militants using swords they had taken from the residences of the free-state settlers. According to the southerners, this act portrayed Brown as a terrorist whose intention was a murder of innocent blood and destruction of property.

In his advantage, Brown and Simon Perkins, his business partner went to the city of Springfield, Massachusetts in which they met a group of white leadership from prominent churches, wealthy business people and politicians, local jurists who were deeply involved in the fight against slavery and had invested so much in antislavery movements. Before this, the city’s African American revolutionists had built the Stanford Street Free Church that later became the platform for abolitionist convections in the United States. During his era in Springfield, Brown was seriously engrossed in turning the city to be an epic of abolitionism.

In 1856, the proslavery militants shot and killed Brown’s son. In his reaction to this, he arranged his men, more than 38 men along the road. They managed to kill more than 20 militants and wounded more than 40. However, one of his men was dead, and the other four captured; regardless of these tribulations, Brown’s bravery and military shrewdness rendered him a national hero and gained national attention. John Brown was, therefore, not considered a terrorist.

The planned attack on Harpers Ferry in 1859 was planned by John Brown, who initiated an armed slave rebellion in the Southern region by attempting to take charge of the United States Arsenal at Harpers Ferry in Virginia. This was a replicate preparation for the civil war. Brown’s army of 22 people was outcompeted by the U.S. marine, which was led by Lieutenant Israel Greene. In his preparation for the slavery revolt, he had rented the Kennedy Farmhouse, which was some 4 miles north of Harpers Ferry; he, however, used a small number of minimally trained men. The northern abolitionist also sent him 198 breech-loading, 52 caliber sharps, and 950 pikes in preparation for the raid.

Brown tried to recruit more black Americans, like Fredrick Douglas who declined saying that the raid was a coup attempt, “this is a plan to attack the federal government, and this will array the country against us, you will never get out alive.” The Farmhouse was used as the barracks, arsenal, supply depot, and a very crowded home, and life seemed tedious. The raiders were forced to stay daytime indoors while studying, discussing religious and political issues. At night they went outside for drills and got fresh air. A sudden attack and escape into the mountains was not Brown’s intention. Instead, he had planned to use the riffles he had captured to arm the revolt slaves to initiate terror to the slave lords in Virginia.

During the raid, Brown had expected to hold hostage Harpers Ferry for a little while, as this would allow more people to join him, he would then proceed fast to the south and send armed militants along the way, they would then free many more slaves, obtain food and damage the morale of the slaveholders. In advance knowledge of the attack, Brown hired and paid Hugh Forbes to be his drillmaster; the latter, however, denounced Brown and stated that he was a vicious man who needed to be retrained. Other people believed that Brown was planning an attack against the government, and even his brother David Gue went further to inform the government with an intention to protect Brown for the consequences of his rashness.

The military leaders embarked on a thorough search for the fugitives who had taken part in the raids on the authority of the then-president Buchanan. Brown was arrested and taken to the courthouse for trial, where he was found guilty. During the end route to the hanging, security officers prevented supporters from getting any closer to Brown. Still, he managed to slip his written speech to a jailer saying, “I John Brown is now very satisfied that the offense of this guilt, the state will not be eliminated but with Blood. I had as I now know: vainly encouraged myself with less bloodshed; it will be done.”

During my study of the book, I have realized that the southerners had a different attitude concerning their slaves; they had an internal worry of another slave revolt. They paradoxically believed that the slaves were very comfortable in the bondage. They were also relieved that no slave had come out to support Brown voluntarily. Another observation is that the northerners had a great admiration for Brown intentions and motives and were transformed into a martyr. To the south, Brown was considered a terrorist and a murderer whose purpose was to deprive them of their wealth.

Works Cited

  • Earle, Jonathan Halperin. John Brown's Raid on Harpers Ferry: A Brief History with Documents. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2008. 
16 December 2021
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