John Brown, an Abolitionist

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“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil
is that good men do nothing.” – Edmund Burke

Throughout the existence of slavery in America, white abolitionists have played a crucial role in the fight for the freedom of blacks. They all risked everything, and fueled by passion stepped outside of the societal norm to fight for those unable to fight. However, few white abolitionists caused as much controversy during their time as John Brown. Brown was an abolitionist who not only spoke out on his beliefs, but backed up them up with action. He was so contentious that he was able to be considered a hero and a terrorist at the same time. Although Brown’s actions were considered debatable, it can be agreed upon today that they were necessary.

John Brown was born in 1800 into a deeply religious family with a father who was vigorously opposed to slavery. He went through many jobs including being a farmer, wool merchant, tanner, and land speculator, but was never financially successful. He also traveled about the country living in places such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and New York all while managing to father a total of twenty children. However, his lack of money and his family life didn’t stop him for fighting for what he believed in; the abolition of slavery. Though Brown was most famously known for his raid on Harpers Ferry, his involvement in anti-slavery had begun long before. And although he was known for being violent, not all of his efforts and actions resulted in bloodshed. He began his fight for slavery quite peacefully by giving some of his own land to fugitive slaves. He then adopted and raised a black baby with his wife as his own child. Brown had also participated in the Underground Railroad, helping the hiding and movement of black slaves throughout the country. In 1847 Brown had met the famous black abolitionist Frederick Douglas who described brown as “though a white gentleman, [Brown] is in sympathy a black man, and as deeply interested in our case as though his own soul had been pierced with the iron of slavery” (Africans in America). By 1849 Brown had moved into the black community of North Elba, New York, where the blacks referred to him as “a kind father to them” (Africans in America). Looking at Brown’s proceedings at this point, it’s hard to imagine how someone who fought for something so good could be considered by many to be so bad. However, as time went on and the fight for freedom in America grew more widespread, Brown’s controversial methods and violence began to develop.

Brown’s move in 1855 to the Kansas territory with his five sons was when he started to gain his major significance as a figure in the antislavery fight. During this time there was a huge debate going on if Kansas was going to be a free of slave state due to its new entrance as a territory. Brown saw this as a massive opportunity, and arrived heavily armed, exploding with passion, and ready to fight. Brown was involved in numerous scuffles and hostilities, but one act led by him plunged Bleeding Kansas into more violence. Incensed by the sacking of Lawrence in May 1856 by pro-slavery supporters and the failure of the free-state men to retaliate, Brown led a midnight raid on a group of slavery sympathizers at Pottawatomie Creek. The raiders killed five men, which sparked the Battle of Black Jack and the border war that raged across northeast Kansas in the summer of 1856. He had also led an attack the same year on a proslavery town and brutally killed five of its settlers. Now Brown was commonly known as an outlaw, due to his increasingly violent methods of protest. However, his next and final act, the raid of Harpers Ferry, would be the most notorious moment in Brown’s life.

Brown had spent the summer of 1858 looking to raise money to fund his war against slavery. He wanted to create an “army” that he would lead on a grand “battle” (Reynolds). This army consisted of he and 21 other men,...
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