22 May 2013
Debate between John Brown and Irrational Terrorist
Opposition to slavery issue was a major problem in the seventeenth and eighteenth century in the United States. Most of the opposition came from the religious leaders, especially Christian (Purtian) leaders. Such as Samuel Sewall, John Woolman and Anthony Bezezet published pamphlets that urge people to abolish slavery system. John Brown was also the abolitionist who believed that armed insurrection was the only way to overthrow the institution of slavery system in United States. In 1859, he killed pro-slavery supporters and led raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. However, there is a controversial issue whether John Brown was a terrorist like Osama bin Laden or a hero who fought against the freedom of slavery. There is no exact answer for this issue, but the debate between C.Vann Woodward and David S.Reynolds gives us reasons and evidence whether John Brown was a terrorist or hero.
In the debate of “Was John Brown an Irrational Terrorist?”, Professor C.Vann Woodward stands for “Yes” side and Professor David S.Reynolds stands for “No” side. Woodward argues that John Brwan is a fanatic who committed wholesale murder in Kansas in 1856 and whose ill-fated assault on Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in 1859 was an irrational act of treason against the United States. On the otherhand, Reynolds aruges that John Brown is a deeply religious, yet deeply flawed, humanitarian reformer who employed violent means in Kansas and in the raid at Harpers Ferry against pro-slavery outrages at a time when the United States had failed to live up to its most cherished ideal of human equality. Woodward states that John Brown was a thief. “The business of stealing horses under the cloak of fighting for freedom and running them off to the Nebraska-Oiwa border for slae. John Brown and his men engaged freely and profitably in this business and justified their plunder as the spoils of war. (291) basically, he stole the horses and sells it for his profit. He also depended on donations given by his supporters and followers. “He depended for support upon donations from people whom he convinced of his integrity and reliability.” (291) There was a famous Pottawatomie massacre of May 24, 1856. John Brwon, leading four of his sons, a son-in-law, and two other men, descended by night upon an unsuspecting settlement of four proslavery families. (291) But it revealed that victims weren’t slaveholder and not related to any of the pro-slavery issue. After the incident, he denied responsibility for the act. Basically, he killed innocent people and also denied of his murder. There is also other raid that John Brown leads. It is a raid of Harpers Ferry. He led his followers with weapons and captured the federal armory. However, it failed and most of the followers are killed or prisoned. Professor Woodward insist that John Brown was insane and also all members of his family. There is evidence that John Brown and his families were insane. “In the Brown Papers at the Library of Congress are nineteen affidavits signed by relatives and friends attesting the record of insanity in the Brown family. John Brown’s maternal grandmother and his mother both died insane… Of John Brown’s immediate family, his first wife and one of his sons died insane, and a second son was insane at intervals.” (292) Also, Woodward states that he was a monomaniac. Monomaniac is mental ill that only focuses one thing. “Several believed that he was a monomaniac, one that he was insane on subject of religion and slavery.” (292) Professor Reynolds believes that John Brown’s act of raid was a proper, because it was war crime committed against proslavery settlers by a man who saw slavery itself as an unprovoked war of one race against another. Historian Paul Finkelman backs up his idea by comparing John Brown and Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168 people by bombing a federal building in Oklahoma City. “Brown attacked proslavery forces in a time when the political debate was stifled, whereas McVeigh slaughtered innocent people in an era when he could have made his point peacefully.” (301) Since there were so many issues that were wrong with American society and political corruption was common, John Brown’s acting was a heroic. Reynolds states that “Just as John Brown saw that decades of what he called “talk, talk, talk” had done nothing to halt slavery, so some modern terrorists stand opposed to social institutions or governmental systems that they feel have become overwhelming and impossible to challenge in any way other than through violence.” (302) John Brown’s only option was violence, because it was the only way to solve the slavery issue. Slavery issue was not the only thing John Brown protested. He also protested about other issues in that time. He’s writings prove that he also protested on them. “He did protest, as evidenced by remarks about corruption, women, Native Americans, and economic inequality in his writings.” (303) However, he believed that those other issues are possible to be solved except slavery issue and that’s why he used violence. Reynolds states that comparing John Brown and current terriorist is a misleading. “It is important to recognize that many of the social ills that later bred radical violence plagued the nation in his time, but he went to war only over the issue of slavery.” (302)
In my position from this debate, I stand for “Yes” side. I think John Brown was not a hero who leads end of slavery. He was a murderer who killed innocent people. Eventhough, he affected a lot on end of slavery, he used violence to solve the problem. Also the evidence of insane of his family shows that John Brown was not a normal person. I believe that his passion of anti-slavery came from monomaniac, not from he’s will and volition.
The debate between “Was John Brown an Irrational Terroist?” talks about whether John Brown was a hero who brought to end of slavery or terroist and murderer who uses violence. It is controversial issue that can not be firmly answered, but one thing that certain is that he played really important role on halt the slavery in United States eventhough he was murderer and insane. We should somewhat appreciate him for ending the slavery.
Reynolds, Daivd S. “Was John Brown an Irrational Terrorist?” Taking Sides: United States History Vol 1. 291. Print Reynolds, Daivd S. “Was John Brown an Irrational Terrorist?” Taking Sides: United States History Vol 1. 292. Print Woodward, C. Vann. “Was John Brown an Irrational Terrorist?” Taking Sides: United States History Vol 1. 301. Print Woodward, C. Vann. “Was John Brown an Irrational Terrorist?” Taking Sides: United States History Vol 1. 302. Print Woodward, C. Vann. “Was John Brown an Irrational Terrorist?” Taking Sides: United States History Vol 1. 303. Print