John Brown: an Extreme Abolitionist

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Jason Peterman
History 128
Chris Carey

John Brown: An Extreme Abolitionist

John Brown’s beliefs about slavery and activities to destroy it hardly represented the mainstream of northern society in the years leading up to the Civil War. This rather unique man, however, took a leading role in propelling the nation toward secession and conflict. Many events influenced Brown’s views on slavery from an early age. When he was older, his strong anti-slavery feelings had grown, and he became an extreme abolitionist. His raid on Harpers Ferry was one of the first monumental events leading up to the civil war.

When John Brown was young, he witnessed an attack on a young slave boy, who was beaten with a shovel. The boy died, and Brown never forgot what he had seen. Brown’s father was dedicated to antislavery, and Brown became familiar with the movement. He continued to read about antislavery, and his faith led him to believe that God was going to set the slaves free. It was his faith that deepened his feelings about slavery, and Brown hoped to adopt a black boy and open a black school — neither of those promises came true. After hearing about the brutal murder of Elijah P. Lovejoy, Brown vowed to spend his life trying to eradicate slavery.

John Brown chose to participate in the abolitionist movement largely on his own, as he preferred not to take orders from others. Brown befriended many black men and read Fredrick Douglass’ writings. He wrote an essay from the perspective of a free black man named Sambo, which was published in a black abolitionist newspaper. In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed, and Brown’s sons went to Kansas to keep slavery out of the state. Brown resigned himself to stay out of the fight, but when one of his sons begged for help getting firearms, he gave in and left for Kansas to join his sons.

John arrived in Kansas to the beginning of a harsh winter. Despite Missourians’ attempts to punish antislavery and abolitionists,...
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