Wednesday, September 02, 2009

John Brown, pt. 2

I’ve been working on the North Carolina reaction to John Brown’s raid part of this current series and I’ve made a couple of discoveries. This is probably not going to be a two parter, but will probably have five parts. I think the new part two is: what do you think John Brown was? Here are your choices:

guerrilla fighting in the revolutionary cause of antislavery
not sure

I’m going to put up a poll on the sidebar and keep it up for a week, and then we will talk about the results. Thanks for voting.



Anonymous said...


Interesting poll, but I think the two choices are complicated. The question you are asking is how do we, now, look back upon John Brown and his actions then? Yet, there is a flip-side to this coin when we consider how people looked upon JB and his actions then. I think, generally, his actions then, were seen as an act of insurrection. Probably terrified the bejeepers out of my ancestors who lived in nearby Clear Spring and I know it rattled my other ancestors all the way up (up meaning South, of course) the Shenandoah Valley! My favorite Southern Unionist - D.H,. Strother - was quite vocal against what Brown did. But it may be most interesting to see how John Brown's image evolved over the course of the war, and in years after through the 19th century.

My personal opinion is that, at the time, he was a terrorist. On the other hand, his actions signaled something greater and in retrospect, because he thrust an brutal awareness of the moral issues surrounding slavery, his status as a pivotal person in pushing the United States closer to ending slavery cannot be overlooked, or... more strangely condemned. It's a strange two-edged sword.

Ghost said...

"...his status as a pivotal person in pushing the United States closer to ending slavery cannot be overlooked, or... more strangely condemned. It's a strange two-edged sword."

Cannot be condemned?

So you approve of terrorist acts if it's in a cause you likewise approve of?

Anonymous said...


Lighten up. The wording of your response twists my words and presents something that isn't the case. That's annoying enough, but especially so in a time when we have compressed time communication tools such as blogs where we have the chance to ask for clarification without coming across as hostile and accusing someone of something. You could have simply asked for clarification on my point about Brown's actions.

He was found guilty by a jury of peers. I clearly said that the people in his time, very likely my own people, were greatly terrified for his actions. At the time, he was likley more seen as a terrorist (though less by by that term than some today may realize).

In retrospect, however, I don't know that any other person or any other thing thrust the issue of slavery in the faces of the people back then more than what John Brown did. A number of people attribute Brown's actions to moving the war closer. Brown's actions weren't the single factor, but I do believe they played a major part.

I didn't say we should hold him on high as a "hero," but because of his influence on history and the inevitable outcome of things, we can't necessarily condemn him. I suppose we have to consider the inevitability of the Civil War, whether it was inevitable or not.

Terrorism or not, what he did can be linked to the eventual freedom of slaves. He may have not had a direct hand in it, but his actions lingered in the minds of people, some who saw that Brown's statements prior to the gallows were absolutely correct.

People then had the perspective of what happened then and at that time. Some offered presdictions of the future based upon Brown's actions. Some of those were quite correct. I think most, however, did not speculate upon some eventual positive impact. We, today, have the advantage of looking back and looking at all of the historical information and can link events together to see what the eventual outcome was.

Frankly, we can take other popular historical characters throughout history and label them as terrorists as well, but we should take care not to overlap our contemporary perception of what a "terrorist" is, today, and the way the actions of people were seen back then.