In this time of renewed civil activism, there is one “controversial” figure I’d like to spend some time writing about. Radical Abolitionist and True American John Brown.
John Brown was a figure in the early to mid 19th century, active right before the start of the Civil War, who is considered controversial for the methods he used while he sought the destructive end to the institution of slavery.
His methods, of course, being the death of slavery’s perpetrators. This is where the “controversy” arises. However, I disagree.
Slavery is one of the worst, most inhumane actions a person can take. The forceful removal of a person’s unalienable rights, if you view this from the perspective of religion, like Brown did, is against the will of God. Many might claim that God’s will was for humanity to have free will, yet slavery is a total and nonconsensual removal of that free will, so how could God allow it?
Brown, being a true hero, took matters into his own hands after the murder of Elijah Lovejoy by a proslavery mob. It was, of course, at a memorial service for the staunch abolitionist that John Brown first would recite his creed. “Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery!”
John Brown looked at a government that, through whatever means, continued to flounder around and refuse to put an end to the evil institution of slavery, and where others saw a long and winding path to the emancipation of people of color, Brown saw a failing. And he saw the time to act.
I am a Kansan, born and raised, so I have learned about Bleeding Kansas in nearly every history class from second grade to eighth grade. The conflict that happened here in Kansas was awful, but for abolitionists, entirely justified.
We are a few months away from the anniversary of what many would call the “start” of Bleeding Kansas – The Sack of Lawrence, an event in which pro-slavery forces attempted to destroy Lawrence, known as the “Hotbed of Abolitionism” in Kansas. And not soon after, John Brown made his debut when he perpetrated the Pottawatomie Massacre. Brown, five of his sons, and several associates made an outing into Franklin County, where they would gather up perpetrators of the Sack of Lawrence and execute them.
Here’s where perhaps I lose you. These deaths were wholly justified. The men that Brown and company executed were some of the worst of the worst. Maybe not slave owners, but certainly supporters of the practice. Men who wanted Kansas admitted to the union as a pro-slavery state, men who supported the attempt to snuff out Lawrence and would likely support further action in the same vein. I’d argue that Brown’s morals remain intact as well, as he did not kill indiscriminately. He did not kill the wives of the slavers he killed, nor did he snuff out their entire families. Sixteen-year-old John Doyle was spared where his pro-slavery father and two brothers were not. Brown showed mercy where mercy was deserved and none where it was not earned.
There was no world in which those who sacked Lawrence would see any sort of judgment for their crimes. And thus, John Brown committed himself to what I would call was a moral duty to punish the unpunishable. The deaths of those 5, and the countless other pro-slavery advocates that Brown would see, in my eyes, are not only justified, but a total act of moral good.
The murder of innocent people, of course, is demonstrably evil. However, I’d argue that pro-slavery advocates were far from innocent. Their role in holding up one of the most evil institutions is definitely not an “innocent” act. In fact, I’d say that when you choose to remove someone’s freedom of choice or their will because you either believe them to be inferior or just because you can, you forfeit any rights you may have had in regards to your continued existence.
John Brown watched his country fail those who built it time and time again, and taught it a lesson we could all use a refresher in. When your country fails, do not ask it to keep failing and let that be the end of your efforts. Go out and do the work. Be it an armed rebellion when you are under constant and unending attack by the government, or protesting and making your distaste obvious.
We could all be a little more like John Brown.
Braedon Martin is a Hutchinson sophomore studying journalism. He is the Collegian’s Opinion Page Editor and the Managing Editor for Content.