"If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land." -2 Chronicles 7:14

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Helping or Hurting the Cause?

For a history assignment, I had to write an essay answering the following question:  "Did John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry help the cause of abolition?"  Below are my thoughts on it.  What do you think?


The issue of slavery was a very intense one and a point of disagreement for many, especially in the 1800s. That was the century of our civil war. It was early in that century that people began to truly form opinions on slavery and, in some cases, adamantly voice their disagreement with those holding differing views. There were many people who pointedly tried to end the issue of slavery once and for all. One of those people was John Brown. However, due to his violent approach, I believe that his efforts caused more hurt to the mission than help.

Slavery was a common practice for many who grew up in the previous century. Especially for Southerners, abolishing slavery would completely alter their way of life. In fact, because of this, when talk of abolishing slavery first came up, it was mostly Northerners who supported it. John Brown was one of those folks who grew up in the north and supported the abolition. He had a strong religious upbringing, which could have had some effect on his views regarding slavery. However, an event that most likely caused it happened when he was a child. He witnessed a slave being beaten and the image was engraved in his memory forever. This may be part of the reason he was so vehemently opposed to slavery.

As the mission to abolish slavery became more controversial, John Brown became convinced that violence was the only true solution to abolishing it as soon as possible. Congress granted newer states such as California the right to have a statewide vote, choosing whether they would legalize slavery for themselves. This new practice, called “popular sovereignty”, was put into action in the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. People from both sides of the argument began pouring into Kansas, hoping to sway the result of the voting. Pro-slavery forces attacked the town of Lawrence and burned down their anti-slavery headquarters. Brown and six of his men took revenge for the attacks by killing five men in pro-slavery camps along the Pottawatomie Creek.

John Brown fled Kansas to avoid prosecution for killing these men. For two and a half years he traveled around New England, raising money for weapons intended for use in waging a war against slavery. On October 16th, 1859, Brown led twenty-one of his men on a raid of the military arsenal in Harpers Ferry, Virginia. His plan was to give the captured weapons to slaves and create a chain reaction of attacks across the entire Southeast. His plan, however, did not have the intended effect. Slaves did not respond to his calls for violence against the slave owners holding them on their farms, plantations, and homes. Local troops and a force of Marines led by Robert E. Lee killed several of Brown's men, including two of his sons. He was captured and convicted of treason, murder, and inciting a slave insurrection. John Brown was hanged on December 2nd, 1859.

I have no doubt that John Brown had good intentions. Due to his strong moral upbringing and his witnessing of a slave-beating as a child, he had many reasons to oppose slavery. He, along with many others, made the abolition of slavery possible. However, I do feel that Brown's efforts hurt the abolitionist cause more than they helped them. By going into certain places and inciting violence to end slavery, he sent the wrong message to the pro-slavery groups as well as to his fellow abolitionists. I do not think Brown went so far in his efforts that he can be labeled a “terrorist”; however, I feel that he could have gotten his point across, as hundreds of others did, without the unnecessary violence he included.

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