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The Enigma Of John Brown

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John Brown was an American abolitionist, born in Connecticut and raised in Ohio. He felt passionately and violently that he must personally fight to end slavery. This greatly increased tension between North and South. Northern mourned him as a martyr and southern believed he got what he deserved and they were appalled by the north's support of Brown. In 1856, in retaliation for the sack of Lawrence, he led the murder of five proslavery men on the banks of the Pottawatomie River. He stated that he was an instrument in the hand of God. On October 16, 1859, he led 21 men on a raid of the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. His plan to arm slaves with the weapons he and his men seized from the arsenal was thwarted, however, by local farmers, militiamen, and Marines led by Robert E. Lee. Within 36 hours of the attack, most of Brown's men had been killed or captured. Brown was hanged on Dec. 2, 1859. He became a martyr for many because of the dignity and sincerity that he displayed during his popular trial. Before he was hanged he gave a speech which was his final address to the court that convicted him. And he was thankful to Bob Butler for letting him send that text in electronic form. "This court acknowledges, too, as I suppose, the validity of the law of God. I see a book kissed, which I suppose to be the Bible, or at least the New Testament, which teaches me that all things whatsoever I would that men should do to me, I should do even so to them. It teaches me, further, to remember them that are in bonds as bound with them. I endeavored to act up to the instruction. I say I am yet too young to understand that God is any respecter of persons. I believe that to have interfered as I have done, as I have always freely admitted I have done, in behalf of his despised poor, I did not wrong but right. Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingles my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I say let it be done." ( ) On that day he also said "I John Brown am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty, land: will never be purged away; but with Blood. I had as I now think: vainly flattered myself that withought very much bloodshed; it might be done." ( )

Brown received little formal education and followed in his father's occupation as a tanner of leather. Like so many New Englanders of that time Lured westward, pursued the tanning business first in western Pennsylvania and then in Ohio. But unsuccessfully land speculations and the hard times following the Panic of 1837 drove him into bankruptcy in 1842. He then became a wool dealer but faced ruin again in 1849 when his attempt to cut out the usual middlemen and make a direct sale of 200,000 pounds of American wool to buyers in England resulted in a huge loss. This kind of risk taking was normal for a business man. Brown may be unluckier than some others, but the notion that his antislavery zeal was somehow a compensation for business failure makes little sense. John Brown is a lightning rod of history. Yet he is poorly understood and most commonly described in stereotypes - as enigma. During his childhood years he moved to Hudson with his parents. Over there his abhorrence of slavery became even stronger. Personally witnessing the abuse of a young black slave, he said to have pledged "to wage an eternal war against slavery." He took his pledge seriously, very seriously, and actively fought for this cause throughout his entire life. While living in Hudson, John Brown married his first wife, and began raising a family. He was married again later in life, and in all he fathered twenty children, twelve surviving past childhood. He ingrained all his children with his fierce anti-slavery passion. There was never much money in the Brown households. He and his family raised some of their food, and they kept sheep. John provided meager incomes by dressing out leather and land surveying. But his focus was always on the abolition of slavery.

As early as 1834, when his tannery was doing well, Brown proposed to raise a black boy in his own family as an experiment to show slaveholders that race was no obstacle to the building of character. He also considered opening a school for black children. In 1835 he was organizing similar groups back in Ohio. Later on, he did the same in Massachusetts. His belief was that the more groups like this he could organize, the sooner the slave states would have to recognize the trend and adopt emancipation. He traveled to Virginia, and planned colonies for black people there on tracts of land owned by Oberlin College. Then in 1848, he headed to North Elba in New York, where Gerrit Smith had set aside 100,000 acres of northern land to be used by black people who wanted to clear the land and set up small farms. Brown actually purchased some of this land himself so that he could be there



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