Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Legacy of John Brown

The anniversary of John Brown's ill-fated raid on Harper's Ferry has just passed, one of the more violent and incredible acts that took place in the antebellum years, leading up to the Civil War.

First of all, the House Divided Blog has posted a couple of very interesting posts about this subject, including a link to the online exhibit at the Gilder Lehrman Institute. Both of these sites are very interesting and much more in-depth than anything I plan to post, but I thought I would post a few of my comments about this subject anyway.

A few  weeks ago, I made a post claiming 1850s was a volcano, with many mini-eruptions spewing out controversies throughout the land. If this is true, the Harper's Ferry raid may have been the nearest thing to the Mount St. Helens type explosion, at least during this decade (though the firing at Fort Sumter was the ultimate eruption.)

I guess my interest in the matter is regarding the legacy Brown left. Was he a hero, dying for his cause? Or was he a 19th-century terrorist, using violent crime to make his point? A martyr or a threat to civilization?

My opinion, I suppose will be nothing new. I can understand the concept of "dying for what you believe in" and appreciate that his opposition to slavery was admirable, especially in that time, but to resort to such violence, even after what he had witnessed in Bloody Kansas, was not justified.

Perhaps a reasonable argument is that time proved Brown right - that the coming of the Civil War meant his prediction that bloodshed would be required in order to end slavery turned him into a sort of Nostradamus of his time. Maybe he had more foresight than most of  his peers.

As much as I do, however, not like the actions he took, the decisions he made, the killing, the bloodshed and the violence he produced, there is a small nagging feeling that perhaps something so radical was necessary to help lead towards the end of an institution that had been so violent and evil towards not dozens, but millions of people over 250 years. I cannot get rid of the feeling that maybe Brown was heroic, at least in some sense of the word.  I do not mean to defend the killing he and his minions did, but simply wish to point out what a complicated, confusing issue this can be.

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