At the corner this morning this question is asked about John Brown on the 150th’s anniversary of his raid on Harper’s Ferry.
Was Brown a hero of black freedom or a bloodthirsty terrorist?
One could argue that he can be both. The cause of abolition was certainly just, no rational person would make an argument against that today.
Fredrick Douglas certainly considered him heroic:
“The true question is, Did John Brown draw his sword against slavery and thereby lose his life in vain? And to this I answer ten thousand times, No! No man fails, or can fail, who so grandly gives himself and all he has to a righteous cause. No man, who in his hour of extremest need, when on his way to meet an ignominious death, could so forget himself as to stop and kiss a little child, one of the hated race for whom he was about to die, could by any possibility fail.
“Did John Brown fail? Ask Henry A. Wise in whose house less than two years after, a school for the emancipated slaves was taught.
“Did John Brown fail? Ask James M. Mason, the author of the inhuman fugitive slave bill, who was cooped up in Fort Warren, as a traitor less than two years from the time that he stood over the prostrate body of John Brown.
I have a hard time thinking that way because of slightly mitigating fact that Brown was a murderous bloodthirsty bastard.
At the Doyle farm, James and two of his sons, William and Drury, were dragged outside and hacked up with short, heavy sabres donated to Brown in Akron, Ohio. Mrs. Doyle, a daughter, and fourteen year old John were spared. The gang then moved on to Allen Wilkinson’s place. He was ‘taken prisoner’ amid the cries of a sick wife and two children. Two saddles and a rifle were apparently confiscated. The third house visited that night was owned by James Harris. In addition to his wife and young child, Harris had three other men sleeping there. Only one of them, William Sherman, was executed. Weapons, a saddle, and a horse were confiscated from the house. While members of the rifle company, including four of Brown’s sons, asserted that their Captain did not commit any of the actual murders himself, he was the undisputed leader and made the decisions as to who should be spared.
Nathaniel Hawthorne said no man was more justly hanged. That’s a generalization but there no question that Brown no matter how right his cause of abolition was a bloodthirsty killer and deserved the punishment he got. His cause in no way mitigates the crime or the sin of murder and can’t be used to justify either. I can’t join in the celebration of Brown that Douglas has. I don’t have the stomach for it.
And for those who would dispute my position because of the lives saved and the evil that ended because of his actions lets play a game and substitute the words “Scott Roeder” for “John Brown”.
Lets say that Roe v Wade is overturned and someday in the future a prominent opponent of Abortion gave a speech quoting the names of people alive because of the repeal of Roe v Wade and the good they had done. What would you think if that person asked used that example and asked if Scott Roeder died (or more likely was imprisioned) in vain?
Personally it would make me sick.
Scott Roeder and John Brown are two heads on the same coin. Bloodthirsty murderers who killed using the cloak of a just cause to try to justify evil deeds. The study of Brown is justified and necessary as his actions were a turning point in American history.
I think the idolization of either of those men is obscene. Any Catholic in particular who would consider it should re-read this post.
Update: Honesty in Motion flatters me. You are too kind.