November 20, 2012
John Brown: America's First Terrorist?
By Paul Finkelman
This is an article written (Prologue Magazine Spring 2011, Vol. 43, No. 1) by: Paul Finkelman, in his article he describes the life and actions of John Brown, an anti-slave rights activist. He questions whether John Brown was “America’s First Terrorist” with the use of arguments presented by other historians and authors. John Brown led a few men and his sons on a murderous journey in Kansas and then a group of men to a raid in Harpers Ferry Va.
John Brown was an abolitionist, who grew up despising slavery. His father was a supporter of the new abolitionism laws. This idealist was instilled in John Brown and he kept this mindset for the rest of his life. To say John Brown was a terrorist is very questionable. The definition of a terrorist is: somebody who uses violence, especially bombing, kidnapping, and assassination, to intimidate others, often for political purposes. Yes, this could be true for John Brown. He did kill, kidnap, and intimidated those who were pro-slavery, but so was John Wilkes Booth and a group of co-conspirators.
John Brown held to the idea that non-free slaves had human rights and he had to be the one who would give them the right to be equal among all men. John Brown will always be famous for his Harpers Ferry Raid, and to some the start of the secession from the Union. So who really is John Brown? Is he a terrorist? I believe he is an anti-slavery activist and perhaps even an extreme abolitionist. I believe that even under the definition of a terrorist, a person who is a terrorist does not care about who he or she hurts or offends. The writer of the article commented on Terry Nichols and Timothy McVeigh as terrorist. They were tried with charges of: 8 counts of first-degree murder, Conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, Use of a weapon of mass destruction, and Destruction with the use of explosives.
Ironically when McVeigh was arrested he wore a T-shirt with a picture of Abraham Lincoln and the motto: sic semper tyrannis ('Thus always to tyrants'), the state motto of Virginia and also the words shouted by John Wilkes Booth after he shot Lincoln, On the back, it had a tree with a picture of three blood droplets and the Thomas Jefferson quote, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.
John Brown moved from Ohio to Kansas in 1855 to Osawatomie, Kansas a year after the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. His sons and a son-in-law were already living there and were telling him how the pro-slavery settlers were militant and turning Kansas into a slave state. This did not set well with him and he started having conflicts with the pro-slavery settlers. On May 24th 1856 in Pottawatomie, Kansas John Brown and his men (including his sons) went to the home of James Doyle and kidnaped Mr. Doyle and two of his sons, he spared the life of Mrs. Doyle and her 16 year old son and daughters. They took the three men outside and slaughtered them to death, and it is alleged that John Brown shot James Doyle in the head just to confirm his death. Many others would be killed that night and two men James Harris and Jerome Glanville were spared, thus able to identify John Brown and his men. The actions of John Brown and his men on this night would become known as The Pottawatomie Massacre. After these actions John Brown moved back east and started to raise funds to support his anti-slavery cause.
Six abolitionists named Franklin Sanborn, Thomas Higginson, Theodore Parker, George Stearns, Samuel Howe, and Gerrit Smith offered John Brown support for his anti-slavery activities, they would become known as the Secret Six. With this financial support John Brown was able to gather supplies to fulfill his plan to seize the Harpers Ferry Armory. On October 16, 1859, John Brown led his men on a raid to take over Harpers Ferry Armory. He...
Cited: Finkelman, Paul. "John Brown: America 's First Terrorist?" Prologue Magazine. National Archives, April & May 2011. Web. Nov. 2012. <http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2011/spring/brown.html>.
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