John Brown’s Raid on Harper’s Ferry Essay

Abolitionist John Brown is one of the most controversial figures of the U.S. history.  He belonged to the abolitionist movement and insisted on arm resistance against slave holders. His actions had one ultimate goal he wanted American government to ban slavery. His active actions provoked much dissatisfaction from the side of authorities.

Despite John Brown was white he felt injustice of the very slavery institution very sharply. Like many Northern citizens, he was very dissatisfied with the actions of Southern population of the country. In contrast to the most of his Northern contemporaries, he did no believe in peaceful resistance. He believed that talks were just the waste of time and he also believed that only actions could help to resolve the situation. He followed this strategy and organized an active resistance.

During his first fifty years Brown traveled a lot around the country. He worked as a merchant, farmer, tanner and land reseller. Brown early formed his outlook and realized the fallacy of slavery institution. His actions were directed to support his active life position. He performed different steps aiming to abolish slavery. He financed publications of anti-slavery authors, such as David Walker and Henry Highland. He also helped slaves in many ways. He gave them land, helped black people who asked for his help. Despite most of his financial affairs failed and Brown himself needed money in order to support his big family he did everything possible in order to help those who were really in need. In 1851 he helped to establish the League of Gileadites. This organization helped to protect slaves. It protected escaped slaves from their masters. This organization reflected Brown’s abolitionist position and his further actions during the raid at Harpers Ferry also proved this his position.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act designed by Democratic Senator Stephan Douglas became a compromise to the Southern states. This Act allowed these states to make their own decisions the on slave-holding topic. This act was originally designed as a means to develop Mideastern Transcontinental Railroad. The act gave the settlers opportunity to vote in order to make a decision considering slavery subject. This act resulted in fierce resistance of the North.

The act established that settlers could vote to decide whether to allow slavery, in the name of popular sovereignty or rule of the people. Douglas hoped it would ease relations in both North and South, because the South could expand slavery to new territories but the North still had the right to abolish slavery in their states. He was wrong.

Opponents denounced the law as a concession to the slave power of the South. The new Republican Party, which was created in opposition to the act, aimed to stop the expansion of slavery, and soon emerged as the dominant force throughout the North.

In 1856 Brown initiated the Pottawatomie Massacre in Kansas. He regarded this Massacre is actions aiming to cancel slavery. The wives of men killed by Brown during the Massacre had another perception of events. Louisa Jane Wilkinson, the widow of Allen Wilkinson and Mahala Doyle, the widow of James Doyle, blame Brown for heartless murder. Famous letter of  Mahala Doyle, a widow of James Doyle killed during the massacre, blames John Brown in cruel and cold bloody murder. Despite James Doyle was active pro-slavery party member he did no possess the slaves of his own.  Mahala Doyle claims that innocent people were killed in accordance with John Brown’s order.

From her point of view the Massacre became nothing but a cold-blooded murder to innocent people. In her letter to Brown she claims: you can’t say you done it to free our slaves because we had none and never expected to own one (Earle).

Three years later John Brown developed and headed the raid at Harpers Ferry.  This raid aimed to free prisoners and organized the rebel aiming to cancel slave. It took place on October 16 in 1859. John Brown and 19 people who supported and shared his ideas seized the Armory and Arsenal at Harpers Ferry. The participants of the raid who fought on the side of John Brown fully sharing his ideas. They treated John like Prophet who had special mission of liberation. Osborne Anderson, same like other people who took part in the raid fully believed in the ideas expressed by John Brown and followed all his instructions. During the Sunday night Brown and his people seized the armory.

During the attack several people including African American railroad baggage handler were killed. Brown held about 60 people of the town as hostages. Brown waited the slave of the town to join him but none of the slaves came. On October 18 Colonel Robert Lee and his people stormed the engine house where Brown and his people hid. The fight was soon over and John and most of his people were caught and thrown to prison.

John Brown believed in higher truth and believed that slavery was such an ugly phenomenon which should have been stopped by any means. His raid at Harpers Ferry aimed to show enslaved people that they had the right and ability to fight. As he himself states: I believe to have interfered as I have done, in behalf of His despised poor, was not wrong, but right. Now, if it be deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle 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 submit: so let it be done (Earle). He believed that his bold raid would help slaves to gain a desire to fight the injustice.

Reaction on the actions of John Brown was controversial. It split the country into two parts. One part of the county supported John Brown’s actions and believed he showed heroic self-sacrifices for the sake of higher ideals of liberty.

Other part of the country blamed Brown as a murder, terrorist and person who broke the calmness in the country.

Newspapers of those times reflected the spirit of the epoch and did not support actions which could bring damage to the structure of the country.

Henry David Thoreau, a prominent naturalist, thinker and philosopher of 19th century. defended John Brown’s actions and ideology. Civil Disobeyance one of central notions of Thoreau’s philosophical and social position, had much in common with Brown’s ideas. Thoreau was greatly impressed by the inner strength of John Brown: I do not wish to kill or be killed, but I can foresee circumstances in which both of these things would be unavoidable. Perhaps the time had come for violent resistance (Earlie). After Brown was caught and condemned many people blamed his actions but Thoreau supported him. He underlined that he supported his ideas but not his actions.

John Brown provoked loud reaction of the society. Some believed him to be the chosen person who dedicated his life protecting those who needed protection. Others believed him to be a heartless murder who sacrificed innocent people for the sake of his ideas. Contemporary critics speak about the terrorism and inappropriate method and blame John Brown. I believe that we should consider the time when John Brown lived if we want to judge him. John Brown to much extend shaped out abolitionist movement which finally resulted in the cancellation of slavery.

Slavery is a shameful fact of the American history. John Brown wanted to correct this situation and he believed that methods of active resistance suited best for this purpose. I believe that John Brown was a controversial personality and we cannot blame or praise him. To great extend John Brown conditioned the ideology of anti-slavery movement.

He inspired many people to start struggling for their rights.  His ideas and good deeds aiming to help slaves definitely became a big contribution to the abolishment of slavery. At the same time his methods show that his desire to stop slavery and stop injustice sometimes made him turn to unjust methods. I believe we should mind not only final results and ideology but also methods used to reach these goals. In the case with John Brown his methods were unjust and potentially dangerous. We can appreciate his will for equality and abolishment of slavery but his methods should be condemned. Higher ideals cannot be reached by dirty means and moral background of Brown’s behavior is doubtful.

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