John Brown: Terrorist or Revolutionary?
John Brown was a man starkly opposed to slavery. In 1855, John Brown led an unsuccessful raid on Harper's Ferry in order to arm slaves with weapons Brown and his men seized from the arsenal in order for the slaves to free themselves. Because this was against law of the time, John Brown was tried and executed for treason. Due to his methods, many people labeled him as a terrorist; however, because he worked for a good cause, the abolition of slavery, John Brown can be seen as a Revolutionary who used forceful methods. A definition of terrorism is needed before deciding whether John Brown was a terrorist or not. According to the website Terrorism Research, the definition of a terrorist is a person who commits acts of violence to intimidate or coerce society or the government, especially for political purposes. Terrorism is a psychological tactic, wherein a combatant group attempts to cause a psychological impact and incite intense fear. The United States military definition of terrorism is: “The calculated use of unlawful violence or the threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological” (“Terrorism Research”). Terrorists do not participate in formal war; instead, they attack civilian populations or landmarks. Terrorists believe that they have no option other than violence when they are fighting a government. Peaceful alternatives are either non-existent or ineffective. Many terrorists act the way they do because of a firm belief in their religious values or ideals. John Brown believed he was doing the work of God by abolishing slavery. In the light of the above definition, and John Brown's actions, he was a terrorist. In 1854, a major act was passed in the House called the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. It created the Nebraska Territory in 1853. The Act evoked a riot and proslavery senators killed the bill in the Senate, but a compromise was introduced by Senator Stephen A. Douglas. He developed the idea of popular sovereignty. Popular sovereignty was a doctrine, held chiefly by the opponents of the abolitionists, that the people living in a territory should be free of federal interference in determining domestic policy, especially with respect to slavery. The Republican Party was formed in the wake of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and had an anti-slavery stance. The enshrinement of popular sovereignty as a national policy opened Kansas up to competition between anti and proslavery settlers, most of which came from Missouri. In 1854, settlers arrived in large numbers to vote pro-slavery. At this time, John Brown arrived in Kansas amongst a battle between pro- and antislavery settlers. To slaveholders, John Brown was evil and a liar. To abolitionists, he was noble and courageous. John Brown had come to believe that violence was the only way he could prevail in the fight to end slavery in the United States. At this time, Brown wrote to his family, giving an account of invasion he led. He tells them all about how, “After a proslavery settler shot slavery opponent Charles Dow in November 1855, an army of Missourians, under the command of proslavery sheriff Samuel Jones, crossed the state line to lay siege on the "free state" town of Lawrence. Brown, longing for an opportunity to strike out with force against slavery and slaveholders, loaded a wagon with provisions and weapons, then set out for Lawrence” (Earle, 51). After Dow was murdered by Coleman, he gave himself up, but then only witness to the murder was being held on false pretenses to prevent him from testifying against Coleman. However, the witness was rescued by some men, which triggered Governor Shannon calling up a proslavery force of about 2000 to try to re-secure the witness. Shannon threatened to destroy the town where the witness was being kept, and a battle was...
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