John Brown Trial

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HIST 310

April 27, 2010

Trial And Execution of John Brown Was Not Fair.

John Brown led a raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia) with his eighteen followers, whites and blacks, in October 16, 1959. Occupying the federal armory, he intended to arm his other followers and black slaves in Virginia to free slaves in the Southern. At that time, many abolitionist in the Northern insisted emancipation of slavery only with words and theory rather than act. On the contrary, Brown believed that only strong act could set slaves free in the Southern. Within thirty-six hours, Brown’s raid on the Federal armory at Harpers Ferry had ended as result of a strong and well-planned Federal troops and Marine. In addition, Brown lost his two sons and most of his followers were killed or scattered at Harpers Ferry in the counter attack of the federal troops. He was captured by the federal troops and transferred to Charles Town, Virginia to have a trial. During Brown’s trial, the Virginia government quickly worked on his case to prevent agitation/animosity by the Southern slaves of Virginia. Brown’s case was not treated fairly even though he had several attorneys and juries. As a result, he was executed on December 2, 1859, two months after his trial. I believe that John Brown would not have fair trial. These were a number of reasons why Brown’s case was not treated fairly. From the beginning, John Brown was not give a proper attorney to defend his case. In Brown’s trial, Lawson Botts, a prominent Virginia attorney, was appointed to be Brown’s defense counsel by the Virginia Court members. However, Virginia assistant prosecutor, Hunter, emphasized that Virginia Legislature tried to treat Brown’s trial fairly. Hunter said that Virginia state court appointed “able and intelligent counsel had been assigned to them here, and … there was but little reason to expect the attendance of those gentlemen from the North who had been written to” for being fair (Document #5). Let us think about Lawson Botts (Document #5). Botts was an attorney in Virginia and he was a Southerner who may have owned a number of slaves. Although Botts may have tried to be unbiased, he might have been a bit prejudice towards Northerners as most Southerners were during the time. Moreover, Botts would also be slave master and Southerner. As slave master and Southerner, Botts might need to consider the public and his position in Virginia. As a result, it may have been tough for Botts to be neutral towards Brown’s trial or actively advocate John Brown and his parties. According to Mr. Hunter’s dialog. “What does he mean by wishing for delay for the purpose of having a fair trial… In regard to the telegram read, we know now who this Mr. Lewis is; we know no whether he is to come here as counsel for the prisoner or …” (Document #6), John Brown asked the court to delay his trial because he believed that he/his case wasn’t treated fairly. In addition, Mr. Botts also felt that Brown and his parties were not treated fairly according to Document #5 that states, “Mr. Botts added that at present the excitement was so great as perhaps to deter Northern counsel from coming, … the prisoners were to have a fair and impartial trial, he presumed that they would come and take part in the case” (Document #5). However, the Virginia Court did not accept the Northern attorney’s request, “or … wants to head a band of desperadoes to rescue the prisoner…” (Document #6). Secondly, not enough time was spent reviewing his case. His trial only took over a week, which begin on Tuesday; October 25, 1859 and concluded on Wednesday; November 2, 1859 (Document #7). One month later, he was executed at Charles Town on the morning December 2, 1859 (Document #17). How was it possible to take only one week to make a decision? It should have taken more than a month because they needed to gather critical evidences, testimonies, proper juries selection, and a...
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