Facebook

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Martyr or Madman? 12 Quotes About Abolitionist John Brown

Martyr or Madman? 12 Quotes About Abolitionist John Brown

On this day 159 years ago, an abolitionist named John Brown delivered the order that would change the United States forever: "Men, get on your arms. We shall proceed to the Ferry."

Brown and his followers would fail in their attempt to ignite a mass uprising against slavery, but their raid of Harpers Ferry would spark new passion, both in people invested in the institution of slavery and those committed to its destruction. Brown would be executed six weeks after the raid. The Civil War would officially begin less than two years from that day.

More than a century and a half later, there's no doubt that Brown's actions were historically significant, but the man himself remains as controversial as ever. Saint or madman? Murderer or liberator? Devil or martyr? As historian Dennis Frye puts it, "John Brown is not what we think, but what we feel."

On the anniversary of his infamous raid, here are 12 quotes about Brown from people who met him or closely studied his life.

1. Dennis Frye, former National Park Service chief historian at Harpers Ferry:

"Americans do not deliberate about John Brown they feel him. He is still alive today in the American soul. He represents something for each of us, but none of us is in agreement about what he means."

2. Virginia politician and soon-to-be Confederate General James L. Kemper to fellow assemblymen in Richmond one month after Brown's attack:

"All Virginia [will] stand forth as one man and say to fanaticism, whenever you advance a hostile foot upon our soil, we will welcome you with bloody hands and hospitable graves."

3. Abolitionist and political activist Harriet Tubman, as quoted in Bound For the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero:

"He done more in dying, than 100 men would in living."

4. Soon-to-be Confederate General Robert E. Lee, who oversaw the quelling of the raid and the capture of John Brown:

"The result proves that the plan was the attempt of a fanatic or madman, which could only end in failure; and its temporary success was owing to the panic and confusion he succeeded in creating by magnifying his numbers."

5. Writer, philosopher, and prominent abolitionist Henry David Thoreau in "A Plea for John Brown":

"No man in America has ever stood up so persistently and effectively for the dignity of human nature, knowing himself for a man, and the equal of any and all governments. In that sense he was the most American of us all. He needed no babbling lawyer, making false issues, to defend him. He was more than a match for all the judges that American voters, or office-holders of whatever grade, can create. He could not have been tried by a jury of his peers, because his peers did not exist."

6. Writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, in "Chiefly About War Matters":

"Nobody was ever more justly hanged."

7. James McBride, author of The Good Lord Bird, a novel about Brown and Frederick Douglass:

"The hard part about writing about a guy like John Brown is that he was so serious, and his cause was so serious, that most of what's been written about him is really serious and, in my opinion, a little bit boring."

8. Col. Lewis W. Washington - a local gentleman farmer, slave owner and great-grandnephew of President Washington - describing his impression of John Brown while being held hostage by him in Harpers Ferry:

"[Brown] was the coolest and firmest man I ever saw in defying danger and death. With one son dead by his side, and another shot through, he felt the pulse of his dying son with one hand and held his rifle with the other, and commanded his men with the utmost composure, encouraging them to be firm and to sell their lives as dearly as they could."

9. Henry A. Wise, governor of Virginia at the time of the raid:

"He is a man of clear head, of courage, fortitude and simple ingenuousness. . . . He inspired me with a great trust in his integrity as a man of truth. He is a fanatic, vain and garrulous, but firm, truthful and intelligent."

10. Abolitionist and author Frederick Douglass, via "A Lecture on John Brown":

"His zeal in the cause of freedom was infinitely superior to mine. Mine was as the taper light, his was as the burning sun. Mine was bounded by time. His stretched away to the silent shores of eternity. I could speak for the slave. John Brown could fight for the slave. I could live for the slave. John Brown could die for the slave."

11. Historian Karen Whitman in "Re-evaluating John Brown's Raid at Harpers Ferry":

"Evidence leads us to believe that John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry was a reasonable, though dangerous, act which could have succeeded."

12. Soon-to-be President Abraham Lincoln on hearing of John Brown's raid:

"Old John Brown… agreed with us thinking slavery wrong. That cannot excuse violence, bloodshed, and treason. It could avail him nothing that he may think himself right."


John Brown's Raiders
Although the radical abolitionist assault on the U.S. armory and arsenal at Harpers Ferry has gone down in history as John Brown's Raid, the 59-year-old Brown was accompanied by 21 others - 16 white men, three free blacks, one freed slave and one fugitive slave. Here's what we know about them.

John Brown's Raiders

Although the radical abolitionist assault on the U.S. armory and arsenal at Harpers Ferry has gone down in history as John Brown's Raid, the 59-year-old Brown was accompanied by 21 others - 16 white men, three free blacks, one freed slave and one fugitive slave. Here's what we know about them.

10 Facts About Harpers Ferry

Located at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, Harpers Ferry played a vital role in America's political and military landscape leading up to and during the Civil War. Here are 10 facts you should know about the town's important history.

Gallery: Harpers Ferry During the Civil War

If you haven't had a chance to see Harpers Ferry for yourself, this collection can give you a glimpse of what the town looks like today. See recent photos of historic Harpers Ferry, including Allstadt's Ordinary, a 13-acre tract associated with John Brown's raid that our supporters have helped to save.

West Virginia in the Civil War

The state of West Virginia didn't even exist when John Brown attempted his raid of Harpers Ferry in 1859. Learn how the state this historic town now calls home was formed in the midst of the Civil War and what role it played in America's defining conflict.

John Brown's Smoldering Spark

How did America commemorate John Brown's raid on its 100-year anniversary? Let's just say that controversy over Brown was alive and well in 1959. Dennis Frye describes what the little town of Harpers Ferry did to mark the centennial of this significant and politically charged event.

American Battlefield Trust