Term paper on John Brown’s Raid on Harper’s Ferry

John Brown was one of the leaders of the abolitionist movement in the USA, but his methods evoked a strong opposition not only from the conservative part of the American society, but also from the larger part of abolitionists who could not accept his revolutionary approach to the abolition of slavery. At the same time, John Brown was an ardent abolitionist and he was ready all methods available to meet his ultimate goal ”“ the liberation of slaves. In this respect, abolitionist ideas proved to be extremely important for John Brown and his abolitionists views were formed under the impact of his education and raising up in the neo-Calvinist environment. In such a way, from the early childhood, John Brown learned fundamental Christian concepts which promoted humanism and support of all people in need.

Hence, John Brown viewed slavery as the great injustice and his beliefs forced him to carry on struggle for the abolition of slavery. In addition, he witnessed the injustice in relation to slaves and naturally he wanted to help them, in accordance with his personal philosophy and religious beliefs.

John Brown, being a convinced abolitionist, was extremely concerned with the position of slaves and he attempted to start a large scale civil action against slavery. But he understood that peaceful civil actions would bring little effects, if it was not backed up with a serious military power. Hence, John Brown arrived to the conclusion that the abolitionist movement needed an organization, which would stand for abolitionist ideas, promote them and maintain the organized struggle for the abolition of slavery in the USA. As a result, the League of Gileadites was created. The League of Gileadites aimed at the promotion of abolitionist ideas and the organization of the abolitionist movement in the USA. In such a way, the League was supposed to become a strong organization that could force the authorities to put the end to slavery in the country.

At the same time, it should be said that in practice the League of Gileadites mainly assisted fugitives who escaped from their masters. In such a way, the practical aspect of functioning of the League did not went on to the organization of the revolutionary struggle. Instead, it was a kind of humanitarian organization which assisted ex-slaves, though its actions apparently violated existing legal norms. The latter probably stimulated, in a way, the Bleeding Kansas, since the League promoted the idea of self-sacrifice for the sake of elimination of slavery, but this organization did not really encouraged people to raise a military resistance and to start a civil war or revolution. Therefore, the League of Gileadites could not lead directly to the raid on Harper’s Ferry.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act apparently provoked the guerilla war, known as the Bleeding Kansas. The pro-Southern policies conducted by the US Presidents provoked the growth of the abolitionist movement and its radicalization. At the same time, the guerilla war led to numerous casualties among the civilian population and, naturally, the actions of both the regular army and guerillas led to deaths and injuries of innocent people. In this respect, it is possible to refer to Mahala Doyle and Louisa Jane Wilkinson accounts, which reveal the fact that members of their families became victims of the guerilla war. In this respect, the direct involvement in the struggle for or against slavery was unnecessary to become a victim of this struggle. In fact, it was enough to be a convinced abolitionist or anti-abolitionist to get killed for such beliefs. This problem was typical not only for Doyle and Wilkinson but abolitionists faced this problem as well and John Brown’s losses in the battlefield were multiplied by losses in the result of repressions against abolitionists from the part of the local populations and supporters of slavery. At the same time, abolitionists openly challenged the existing social order and rebelled, while Doyle and Wilkinson families did not violate existing laws, but still they became victims of the guerilla war.

The description of the raid on Harper’s Ferry by its participants is very important because they present the position, different from the official one. In this respect, it is possible to refer to the description of the raid by Osborne Anderson. In fact, Osborne Anderson describes the raid in details and he explains the goals of the raid and expectations of guerillas who wanted to take the arsenal and continue their struggle. At the same time, on reading the description of the raid on Harper’s Ferry written by Osborne Anderson, it becomes obvious that participants of the raid were idealistic and they did not really feel any fear in face of the enemy, but they were apparently unprepared tactically to the raid. Moreover, they were disorganized in a way because after their first success, John Brown proved to be unable to hold the positions the guerillas gained. They were overwhelmed with their success and did not expect the ongoing struggle. As a result, they failed to resist to the constantly increasing pressure from the part of the regular army and eventually they were defeated.

John Brown viewed the raid on the Harper’s Ferry as a strategically important step in the revolutionary struggle of abolitionists against southerners and authorities supporting slavery. He believed that taking the arsenal of the Harper’s Ferry will supply his army with sufficient amount of weapon and ammunition to carry on the struggle on the national scale. The revolution could be spread nationwide and this prospect justified the raid on the Harper’s Ferry.

The Petersburg Virginia Express condemned the raid on the Harper’s Ferry because it was viewed as the betrayal of the national interests and as the attempt to overthrow the official government. In fact, the Petersburg Virginia Express viewed the attack as the revolutionary act which threatened to the US sovereignty. As a result, the paper insisted on the severe punishment of the guerillas.

David Thoreau defended John Brown because their ideas were similar in regard to human rights and the necessity of protection of natural rights of people. Thoreau viewed Brown’s struggle as the manifestation of the struggle for equal rights of slaves and the rest of American society. In such a way, Thoreau justified Brown’s actions by the noble goal of the struggle.

In spite of the criticism of many historians, John Brown was apparently an important figure in the American history. He had radical ideas but his goal was just. He apparently attempted to liberate slaves, but he could not find the effective and fast way to the abolition but slavery.


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