Views Of John Brown

John Brown, a problem child of American history.  An Old Testament prophet somehow marooned in mid-Nineteenth Century America.  Brown attacked a great evil, American slavery, but he was also a murderous fanatic.  His raid on Harper’s Ferry was a crack-brained expedition that had absolutely no chance of success, and yet his raid helped bring about the huge war that would ultimately end slavery.  Abraham Lincoln commented on Brown at his Cooper’s Union  speech on February 27, 1860 and took pains to separate the Republican Party from Brown:

You charge that we stir up insurrections among your slaves. We deny it; and what is your proof? Harper’s Ferry! John Brown!! John Brown was no Republican; and you have failed to implicate a single Republican in his Harper’s Ferry enterprise. If any member of our party is guilty in that matter, you know it or you do not know it. If you do know it, you are inexcusable for not designating the man and proving the fact. If you do not know it, you are inexcusable for asserting it, and especially for persisting in the assertion after you have tried and failed to make the proof. You need to be told that persisting in a charge which one does not know to be true, is simply malicious slander.

*******************************************************************************************

 

John Brown’s effort was peculiar. It was not a slave insurrection. It was an attempt by white men to get up a revolt among slaves, in which the slaves refused to participate. In fact, it was so absurd that the slaves, with all their ignorance, saw plainly enough it could not succeed. That affair, in its philosophy, corresponds with the many attempts, related in history, at the assassination of kings and emperors. An enthusiast broods over the oppression of a people till he fancies himself commissioned by Heaven to liberate them. He ventures the attempt, which ends in little else than his own execution.

My own view of Brown is summed up in this poem by Stephen Vincent Benet in his epic poem on the Civil War, John Brown’s Body:

JOHN BROWN’S PRAYER

       Omnipotent and steadfast God,
       Who, in Thy mercy, hath
       Upheaved in me Jehovah’s rod
       And his chastising wrath,

       For fifty-nine unsparing years
       Thy Grace hath worked apart
       To mould a man of iron tears
       With a bullet for a heart.

       Yet, since this body may be weak
       With all it has to bear,
       Once more, before Thy thunders speak,
       Almighty, hear my prayer.

       I saw Thee when Thou did display
       The black man and his lord
       To bid me free the one, and slay
       The other with the sword.

       I heard Thee when Thou bade me spurn
       Destruction from my hand
       And, though all Kansas bleed and burn,
       It was at Thy command.

       I hear the rolling of the wheels,
       The chariots of war!
       I hear the breaking of the seals
       And the opening of the door!

       The glorious beasts with many eyes
       Exult before the Crowned.
       The buried saints arise, arise
       Like incense from the ground!

       Before them march the martyr-kings,
       In bloody sunsets drest,
       _O, Kansas, bleeding Kansas,
       You will not let me rest!_

       _I hear your sighing corn again,
       I smell your prairie-sky,
       And I remember five dead men
       By Pottawattamie._

       Lord God it was a work of Thine,
       And how might I refrain?
       _But Kansas, bleeding Kansas,
       I hear her in her pain._

       _Her corn is rustling in the ground,
       An arrow in my flesh.
       And all night long I staunch a wound
       That ever bleeds afresh._

       Get up, get up, my hardy sons,
       From this time forth we are
       No longer men, but pikes and guns
       In God’s advancing war.

       And if we live, we free the slave,
       And if we die, we die.
       But God has digged His saints a grave
       Beyond the western sky.

       Oh, fairer than the bugle-call
       Its walls of jasper shine!
       And Joshua’s sword is on the wall
       With space beside for mine.

       And should the Philistine defend
       His strength against our blows,
       The God who doth not spare His friend,
       Will not forget His foes.

Published in: on February 8, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Views Of John Brown  
Tags: , , ,
%d bloggers like this: