A 37-year-old unstable man stood at a church prayer meeting in Ohio and made a vow to destroy slavery. His sincere but lethal vow destroyed thousands of lives and helped accelerate the American Civil War. The man vowed, “Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery!”
His ambitions were commendable, while his actions were calamitous. He was a fanatic who had one thing on his mind, and no one could change it. He was John Brown, whose photo in the dictionary should be listed under “fanatic.” He was to die hanging from a rope (bought by the Federal Government) in Charles Town, VA (now, WV) on a cold December day in 1859.
John Brown was from a good family going back to the Pilgrims, proving once again that stupidity, fanaticism, and mental problems can afflict any strata of society. Brown’s father had as an apprentice Jesse R. Grant who was the father of Ulysses S. Grant.
In 1825, the John Brown family moved to Pennsylvania, where they purchased 200 acres and built a home, then started a tannery that soon employed 15 men. From 1825 to 1835, the Browns helped 2500 fugitive slaves find freedom since their home was a major stop on the Underground Railroad. He helped establish a school and became postmaster of Randolph, Pennsylvania.
Obviously, even fanatics can accomplish some good, but it never relieves them of their nefarious activities. After all, Mussolini made Italy’s trains run on time, and Hitler is responsible for the Volkswagen automobile. Oops, it is dangerous to say anything positive (even if truthful) about tyrants. It is acceptable to praise lefties such as Stalin, Castro, Chavez, Obama, Sanders, Biden, and what’s-her-name, etc., even when they lie.
In 1836, Brown moved his family to what is now Kent, Ohio, and in 1837, he made his famous and destructive vow mentioned earlier. The vow was in response to the murder of a famous Presbyterian preacher, newspaper editor, and abolitionist Elijah P. Lovejoy, who was shot and killed by a proslavery mob. His murder shocked the whole country.
In 1846, Brown moved his family to Springfield, Massachusetts, where he joined the Sanford Street Free Church. There he heard famous antislavery speakers such as black leaders Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth, both former slaves. Brown greatly influenced Douglass toward more aggressively pursuing their cause. After spending a few hours with Brown, Douglass wrote in 1847, “My utterances became more and more tinged by the color of this man’s strong impressions.”
Douglass should have been more careful about his friends and associates.
Brown moved again in 1849 to North Elba, New York, a black community in the Adirondack Mountains, with plans to help blacks learn to farm. That was commendable, but fanatics take advantage of situations to further their good or bad causes.
All fanatics are dangerous, as seen recently in Washington, D.C. A half a million Trump supporters met in Washington on January 6 and resulted in an out of control mob invading the Capitol Building. Few in the media mention that only a few hundred were out of control, while hundreds of thousands made their opinions known by peaceful protests.
The mainstream media seem to think it is unthinkable that fanatics like BLM and Antifa would be involved in such a gathering as provocateurs. We know there were rabid fanatics (extremists) on both the left and right who broke laws, and all should go to the pokey for a year or so. Moreover, the violent ones who injured others should go to prison for a few years. That would cool some of their political enthusiasm.
Brown is usually called an intensely religious man, but he was a nut case, and his noble motives are no excuse for his excessive and violent behavior. He thought violence was the only way to stop slavery, and, incredibly, he was proclaimed a hero. He is considered one today by the non-thinkers. Neither Brown’s religious dedication nor his hatred of slavery justifies his zealotry. Neither do the political contradictions, confusion, and chaos give Brown any credibility.
Brown focused his concern on Kansas’s future statehood, then a territory, and made plans to move his family west. He took his fanaticism with him. Brown and the anti-slave settlers were hoping to bring Kansas into the Union as a slavery-free state.
U.S. President James Buchanan (a slave-leaning northern Democrat) determined to admit Kansas as a state as soon as possible, and he didn’t care whether it was a slave or free state. He wanted another state. Abolitionists had moved from New England to Kansas to help the cause of ending slavery. In contrast, proslavery citizens from Missouri and Georgia moved to Kansas to help make Kansas a slave state.
Proslavery people in neighboring Missouri continued to stir the pot in Kansas, helping keep alive the Free State and Slave State issue. They were known as jayhawkers who took advantage of the chaos to bully the anti-slavers along the Kansas-Missouri border. Abolitionists were genuinely concerned with the possibility of another slave state.
A train wreck was in the making that Brown only caused to accelerate as he and his family moved to Lawrence, Kansas. Antislavery settlers from Massachusetts founded Lawrence to make Kansas (soon to be called Bleeding Kansas) a Free State, mitigating the influence of proslavery citizens. When Brown moved there, he made the political situation worse, much worse.
Lawrence was invaded by about 800 proslavery men led by the Douglas County Sheriff Samuel Jones on May 21, 1856. Jones had been shot in the back earlier and chased out of town, so he had the color of law on his side if not actual authority for the Lawrence raid. Two flags were flying at the head of the posse: an American flag and a flag with a crouching tiger. Other banners proclaimed “Southern rights” and “The Superiority of the White Race.”
The town leaders decided not to resist the posse but also refused to comply with their demands. Sheriff Jones told a town spokesman that all citizens had to surrender their weapons, but the spokesman replied that he could not command a town citizen to do anything. The town official did give him the town cannon, but the sheriff was not satisfied. Tyrants must always disarm free citizens.
After failing to destroy the Free State Hotel with cannon fire, the sheriff torched the building. He and his men then destroyed the Kansas Free State and the Herald of Freedom printing presses and threw the type and other equipment into the Kansas River. The sheriff’s posse then burned a large home, looted the town, and was dismissed by the sheriff, who went home for a cold refreshment.
The next morning, Brown and his sons, disappointed that Lawrence’s citizens had not resisted, went to the homes of proslavery settlers near Pottawatomie Creek in Kansas on May 24, 1856. The Brown family announced they were the “Northern Army” come to provide justice. They broke into proslaver James Doyle’s cabin and marched him and two of his sons down a road where Owen and Salmon Brown hacked their victims to death with broadswords. John shot Doyle in his forehead. Later that evening, the Browns visited two more cabins and brutally murdered two other proslavery settlers.
None of those executed owned any slaves or had anything to do with the raid on Lawrence.
Brown lit the match that exploded the powder keg of three months of violence following the massacre, and 29 people died.
Shockingly, Brown is considered a hero, even a dedicated Christian, by many. No, not the kind revealed in the Bible where a Christian is one who has trusted Christ and experienced a changed life. Brown and his crowd did not act like Christians, and the Capitol mob did not act like Christians or Conservatives.
Of course, some of the riot leaders in Washington were far-left provocateurs.
The sacking of abolitionist Lawrence could not be justified. The fact that the proslavery county sheriff led the raid did not make it legal. The invasion of the town only antagonized the northern states and made the division more rigid. Pro Free State Republicans introduced a bill to bring Kansas into the Union as a free state while Democrats introduced a bill to bring in the new state as a proslavery state. The lines were drawn, and everyone chose sides, sometimes brother against brother.
Attempting to settle the issue, the territorial legislature (very proslavery) called for a Constitutional Convention in Lecompton in September of 1857. Free-state (antislavery) men were fearful that proslavery influencers would rig the election. They did. So, proslavery forces “won” that election as border ruffians poured over the Missouri border to stuff the ballot boxes.
When the Territory citizens voted on the issue, many fraudulent votes were cast from nonresidents from Missouri, resulting in massive violence that reinforced the area’s name of Bleeding Kansas. Some people estimated that up to 60 percent of the votes cast in Kansas were fraudulent.
With all the chaos, Kansas, as a free state, later became the 34th state to join the Union, not because of John Brown but despite him. Both sides committed atrocities, and this struggle between pro-and anti-slave forces in Kansas was a significant factor in the eruption of the Civil War.
Brown moved back east and met with two black leaders Frederick Douglas and Harriet Tubman, who greatly influenced him. With Tubman’s help, whom he called “General Tubman,” Brown led an attack on pro slavers, as well as a United States military armory, at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in October of 1859.
(And now Biden wants to replace Jefferson’s face on the twenty-dollar bill with Tubman’s.)
Brown’s motive for the raid was to get supplies, guns, and ammunition to arm slaves he expected to rebel and attract other slaves spreading rebellion throughout the South. Alas, the slaves did not rebel as expected. During the raid, a Baltimore and Ohio train left the station headed for Washington, where passengers reported the attack.
As the train pulled away from the station, a baggage handler was shot in the back and killed when he refused to obey Brown’s men. The victim was a free Black man!
Brown attacked the armory with 21 men, including his sons, but it was all over within two days. His men were killed or captured by the locals and U.S. Marines led by Robert E. Lee. Brown was tried for the murder of five men, instigating a slave rebellion, and treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia and was found guilty on all counts.
On December 2, 1859, Brown was hanged in Charles Town and buried with the noose still around his neck. One of the witnesses to his hanging was an obscure actor named John Wilkes Booth, another fanatic.
Fanatics come from all groups of people and must not be excused, esteemed, or emulated by people of principle.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of this publication.