Larry Slawson received his master's degree at UNC Charlotte. He specializes in Russian and Ukrainian history.
Was John Brown a Hero?
On the night of 16 October 1859, John Brown and a group of twenty men made their way into the small town of Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Inspired by a sense of radical abolitionism, this motley crew gathered in an attempt to overthrow the shackles of slavery through the creation of a large-scale slave revolt. Although ambitious in their goal, the ill-conceived plan proved disastrous as Brown and his men were quickly overwhelmed within days by a group of U.S. Marines led by the future southern general, Robert E. Lee. Only a few weeks after his capture, the local court of Charlestown, Virginia, found Brown guilty on charges of murder, insurrection, and treason. In response, the court sentenced him to death on December 2nd,1859. Although his trial’s outcome inspired widespread controversy in regard to its fairness, the Virginia court carried out its sentencing, thus, ending Brown’s long career of violence; a career that first emerged in 1855 with the murder of pro-slavery advocates in Kansas. Unbeknownst to those present at his execution, Brown’s death would, in turn, forever alter American society and culture in the years that followed.
Although Brown’s attack in Kansas and Virginia did not immediately resolve the issue of slavery, the trial and execution of Brown served as a rallying cry for the abolitionist cause and helped draw the battle lines for the Civil War only a year later. As a result, his attacks in Kansas and Virginia served as major catalysts for hostilities between the North and South. Although it is clear that Brown’s attacks provided an atmosphere of great tension for the nation at large, one aspect analyzed by professional historians is the question of John Brown’s public image in the days, months, and years following his execution. Why did so many people herald John Brown as a saint and hero for the cause of abolition when his actions involved the killing of numerous individuals and the destruction of both private and public property? Is it fair to label Brown as a saintly figure? Or does the evidence suggest that John Brown was nothing more than a domestic terrorist? This article seeks to address these questions through an examination of current (and past) historiographical trends surrounding this highly contentious issue in American history.
Positive Perceptions and Early Historiography
The controversy surrounding John Brown as a saint or villain is nothing new within modern historiography. Attorney and independent scholar, Brian McGinty, argues that this discrepancy emerged as early as his trial proceedings in 1859. But what explains the rise of Brown’s saintly image? Because of the publicity garnered by the trial across the nation, McGinty claims that the attention generated by the press served to infuriate individuals on both sides of the slavery spectrum: those for and against the institution of slavery (McGinty, 17). As McGinty demonstrates, however, Virginia’s mishandling of Brown’s court proceedings helped to generate sympathy and reverence for Brown and his raid among Northerners and abolitionists. This sympathy, McGinty asserts, directly resulted from the bold and courageous stance that Brown took in defending himself during his trial. As McGinty states: “Abolitionists were inspired by his eloquence and by his willingness to lay down his life for his convictions” (McGinty, 17). Similarly, historian Charles Joyner proclaims that “nothing solidified Northern opinion so powerfully as the image of John Brown on the gallows” (Joyner, 308). As one might expect, however, this reflection of Brown also served to vilify his image across the Southern states, who viewed him as both a murderer and great threat to their slave-centered way of life (McGinty, 262).
Although Southern sentiments obviously reflected a negative view of Brown, a wave of historical research attempted to undo this image in the early 1900s by portraying Brown’s actions in a more positive manner. At the turn of the century, historians W.E.B. Du Bois and Oswald Garrison Villard both reflected these positive sentiments in their biographical accounts of John Brown. Du Bois, for instance, argued that John Brown’s actions embodied all the ideals of an American hero since his actions were “in obedience to the highest call of self-sacrifice for the welfare of his fellow man” (Du Bois, 267). While Du Bois acknowledges that “Brown was legally a lawbreaker and murderer,” he counters this sentiment by arguing that Brown’s actions served as a necessary evil in delivering slaves from bondage and ending the institution of slavery once and for all (Du Bois, 267).
In his 1910 biography of John Brown, Oswald Garrison Villard largely builds upon the earlier interpretation proposed by Du Bois. In his biographical account, Villard portrays the attack on Harpers Ferry in a semi-heroic manner as well. While he argues that “one may dislike the methods he [Brown] adopted or the views he held,” he suggests that Brown’s attack on slavery was “mighty and unselfish” in its overall aims (Villard, 78).
Interpretations such as Du Bois and Villard’s continued unabated until the Sixties and Seventies. In an attempt to produce one of the first unbiased accounts of John Brown, historian Stephen Oates’s biography, To Purge This Land With Blood, portrayed Brown as neither a saint nor a villain. As Oates proclaims, his goal was “neither an indictment nor a eulogy of Brown” (Oates, vii). Rather than “trying to destroy or defend Brown,” Oates attempts to answer the question of “why he performed his controversial deeds” (Oates, viii). By taking this newfound approach, Oates set the stage for future historical research and helped shift the story of Brown away from the biased renditions that dominated earlier research.
Modern Debate: Saint, Guerrilla Fighter, or Terrorist?
As the debate over John Brown’s actions continued over the next few decades, a new and more controversial theme emerged by the end of the twentieth century. This new debate involved the clash of historians over the issue of John Brown and domestic terrorism. In the aftermath of the 1993 World Trade Center attack, the Oklahoma City bombing, as well as the 9/11 terrorist attacks, historians started to question the positive portrayals of John Brown made by historians like Du Bois and Villard. As the new millennium dawned, historians shifted their analysis of Brown to reflect modern concerns and fears facing the United States and the world at large. One particular concern of historians involved whether Brown’s actions in Kansas and Harpers Ferry constituted acts of terrorism? If not, then by what definition do Brown’s actions truly belong? Was Brown a martyr and saintly figure like Du Bois and Villard portrayed in their interpretations? Or do the actions of Brown illustrate a far more sinister theme? Additionally, if Brown fits the definition of a terrorist, another problematic and controversial question arises. As historian David Blight suggests: “Can John Brown remain an authentic American hero in an age of Timothy McVeigh, Usama [sic] Bin Laden, and the bombers of abortion clinics?” (Blight, 44).
Historian Ken Chowder’s article, “The Father of American Terrorism,” addresses these issues directly with his claim that Brown’s actions clearly demonstrated aspects of modern terrorism. Even more alarming, Chowder proclaims that clear “parallels” exist “between John Brown and virtually any leftist who uses political violence” today (Chowder, 91). In this sense, Chowder argues that Brown served as a “precursor and hero” to modern-day terrorists and that his actions made him the “founding father of principled violence” in American society (Chowder, 91). But does this make Brown a terrorist himself? Chowder suggests that Brown’s actions, while violent in nature, reflected the chaotic culture that surrounded him in the 1850s. As he states: “a society where slavery exists is by nature one where human values are skewed” (Chowder, 90). Although Brown’s actions follow current models of terrorism today, Chowder points out that Brown’s adherence to violence “was not outside his society; to a great degree, he represented it, in its many excesses” (Chowder, 90). Thus, Chowder concludes that Brown’s actions do not constitute terrorism when one considers the time period and social ills facing America in the nineteenth century.
Taking an opposite approach to Ken Chowder, historian James Gilbert’s article, “A Behavioral Analysis of John Brown,” argues that Brown’s actions in Kansas and Harpers Ferry are quite similar to the terrorist attacks of the Nineties and early 2000s (Gilbert, 108). As he argues, however, Brown’s actions are often excluded “from the definition of terrorist” since he aimed to destroy a generally accepted evil: slavery (Gilbert, 108). While Gilbert admits that it is often difficult to define terrorism, he asserts that its basic definition involves the targeting of “both property and people…with the necessary presence of illegal actions and social or political motivations as the causative agent” (Gilbert, 109). Given this definition, Gilbert asserts that Brown’s actions are “consistent with the terrorist model” (Gilbert, 112). Brown’s attacks in both Kansas and Virginia not only resulted from personal religious convictions but also involved the systematic murdering of multiple men for the expressed purpose of change in America. Taken in this light, Gilbert argues that Brown’s actions run parallel to terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda, and domestic terrorists such as Timothy McVeigh.
English professor, David Reynolds, in his biography, John Brown, Abolitionist, does not deny the assertions made by Gilbert over the issue of terrorism. As Reynolds states: “He [Brown] was an American terrorist in the amplest sense of the word” (Reynolds, 503). One distinction that Reynolds makes in regard to Gilbert, however, is that “it is misleading to identify John Brown with modern terrorists” (Reynolds, 502). Why is this the case? Reynolds points out that no political means existed for Brown to initiate change within the United States during the buildup to the Civil War (Reynolds, 501). Although Brown expressed his sentiments regarding slavery on numerous occasions throughout his life, Reynolds states that slavery was “cemented in place by law, custom, and prejudice” (Reynolds, 503). As a result, Brown’s only hope for bringing change to America involved the systematic use of violence and destruction to alter the perception of the slavery debate. In this sense, therefore, Brown’s actions clearly fulfilled the definition of what constitutes a terrorist. However, in comparison to modern terrorism, Brown differed significantly in that he desired “a democratic society that assigned full rights to all” (Reynolds, 503). In keeping to this spirit of the “founding fathers,” Reynolds asserts that Brown’s goal was not death and destruction, as espoused by modern terrorists, but freedom and “human equality” (Reynolds, 505). As a result, Reynolds concludes that Brown certainly embodied terrorist tactics in his desire to end slavery, but that his actions reflect that of a “good” terrorist rather than one with evil intentions (Reynolds, 166).
Intent on dismissing prior interpretations of John Brown, historian Nicole Etcheson largely counters the notion of Brown’s association with terrorist principles. While she admits that “Brown did employ terrorist tactics” in his raids within Kansas and Virginia, Etcheson points out that Brown’s actions are more aligned with that of a guerrilla fighter rather than a terrorist (Etcheson, 29). Why is this the case? Etcheson suggests that fundamental differences exist between what constitutes both a guerrilla fighter and a terrorist. Guerrilla fighters, according to Etcheson, wage war against forces much larger than themselves in an attempt to generate change. While this characteristic equally applies to terrorists, Etcheson points out that guerrilla fighters, more often than not, are highly selective in their targets and often avoid “indiscriminate” killing (Etcheson, 32). Terrorists, on the other hand, do not make distinctions and employ mass terror as a means of eliciting change. Such sentiments go directly against Brown, she claims, as “Brown himself was far more targeted in his use of violence” (Etcheson, 29). Similar to Brian McGinty’s portrayal of Brown in, John Brown’s Trial, Etcheson states that Brown “never openly embraced violence, sensing that to do so would hurt the antislavery cause” (Etcheson, 29). The raids in both Kansas and Virginia were both calculated strikes, she argues, that never deliberately targeted innocent bystanders. Thus, Etcheson concludes by stating that John Brown’s raid was a “guerrilla strike against slavery,” and nothing more (Etcheson, 29).
In 2011, Historian Paul Finkelman’s article “America’s First Terrorist?” calls into question the assertions made by Reynolds and Gilbert regarding John Brown’s terrorist connections. Like Gilbert before him, Finkelman argues that it is difficult to define the concept of terrorism. However, Finkelman points out that all terrorists gravitate toward one universal aim: “to terrify people and strike fear in the minds of those whom their terror is directed” (Finkelman, 18). Terrorists, as he describes, possess no other goals except to “kill, destroy, and terrorize” those they oppose (Finkelman, 19). Political change is often their ultimate goal, but “indiscriminate killing,” masking their identities, and the avoidance of traditional “political processes” to elicit this type of change are all key concepts of terrorism (Finkelman, 19). Understanding these points is crucial, Finkelman believes, as they help to differentiate John Brown from the terrorist model defined by historians such as Gilbert and Reynolds. While Finkelman does not deny the fact that Brown’s actions in both Kansas and Harpers Ferry were violent, he argues that Brown and his men do not fit the terrorist model due to the manner in which they carried out their raids. Specifically, Brown “ordered no killings; he did not wantonly destroy property; and he cared for his hostages” throughout his siege at Harpers Ferry (Finkelman, 26). Moreover, Finkelman argues that Brown’s attack on pro-slavery advocates in Kansas, only a few years earlier, does not fit the terrorist model either since “there was a violent civil war being fought over slavery there” (Finkelman, 26). With no political means at his disposal to end slavery, Finkelman makes the point that Brown’s actions were more or less a reaction that resembled the American revolutionaries during the War of Independence (Finkelman, 27). Rather than following terrorist ideals, he argues that Brown resembles more of a guerrilla fighter, or revolutionary in his approach to ending slavery (Finkelman, 27).
Offering a counterargument to the points made by both Etcheson and Finkelman, Brenda and James Lutz’s article, “John Brown as Guerrilla Terrorist,” takes the middle ground in their assessment of Brown. Rather than picking between guerrilla fighter and terrorist, the Lutz's assert that Brown’s actions in Kansas and Virginia are representative of both. As they state: “in many respects, Brown was a terrorist who aspired to be a guerrilla fighter or insurgent” (Lutz, 1049). Countering Etcheson’s assessment that Brown avoided the targeting of innocent bystanders, the Lutz’s argue that Brown’s actions in Kansas territory suggest otherwise. As they point out, Brown specifically targeted “innocent” people within Kansas in order to provoke a larger engagement between pro-slavery advocates and abolitionists (Lutz, 1044). By recognizing and incorporating the “pervasive” qualities of “fear,” Brown’s strategy successfully elicited “a response by the pro-slavery forces,” who later “burned a free soil town in retaliation” (Lutz, 1044). While the Lutz’s agree with both Finkelman and Etcheson that Brown’s actions at Harpers Ferry represent more of a guerrilla tactic, they assert that his actions in Kansas are clearly representative of terrorist principles in that Brown murdered innocent civilians for the sake of promoting his cause (Lutz, 1043-1044).
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A Complicated Legacy
In conclusion, the evidence suggests that the controversy surrounding John Brown and his raids within Kansas and Virginia is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Why is this the case? One particular problem facing historians is that a universal definition of “terrorism” does not exist. Until a comprehensive definition is constructed, Brown’s portrayal as a terrorist is likely to continue sparking widespread debates. When historians are forced to develop their own definitions of terrorism, they construct meanings that fit the desires of their own particular research. More specifically, this creates a biased rendition of Brown’s actions since the definition of terrorism is artificially constructed around the needs and biases of each historian.
Finally, as definitions of terrorism and guerrilla warfare continue to change over time, David Reynolds is correct to question the idea of using a modern definition of terrorism on a nineteenth-century event. Just as wars have evolved from the eighteenth century to the present, so too has the concept of terrorism and political violence. In this sense, it appears wrong to apply modern definitions of terrorism to an event that occurred well over a hundred years ago. To combat this discrepancy, historians need to develop an acceptable definition of terrorism that fits the political and cultural environment of nineteenth-century America, rather than relying on a definition of terrorism that applies solely to the twenty-first century.
Suggestions for Further Reading
Carton, Evan. Patriotic Treason: John Brown and the Soul of America. New York: Free Press, 2006.
Horwitz, Tony. Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War. New York: Henry Holt and Company LLC, 2011.
Nelson, Truman. The Old Man: John Brown at Harper's Ferry. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2009.
Blight, David. “John Brown: Triumphant Failure.” The American Prospect 11, no. 9 (2000): 29-48.
Chowder, Ken. “The Father of American Terrorism,” American Heritage 51, no. 1 (2000): 81-91.
Du Bois, W.E. Burghardt. John Brown. New York: International Publishers, 1972.
Etcheson, Nicole. “John Brown, Terrorist?” American Nineteenth Century History 10, no. 1 (2009): 29-48.
Finkelman, Paul. “John Brown: America’s First Terrorist?” Prologue 43, no. 1 (2011): 16-27.
Gilbert, James N. “A Behavioral Analysis of John Brown: Marty or Terrorist?” in Terrible Swift Sword: The Legacy of John Brown, ed. Peggy A. Russo and Paul Finkelman. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2005.
"John Brown's Raid (U.S. National Park Service)." National Parks Service. Accessed April 29, 2017. https://www.nps.gov/articles/john-brown-s-raid.htm.
Joyner, Charles. “Guilty of Holiest Crime: The Passion of John Brown,” in His Soul Goes Marching On: Responses to John Brown and the Harpers Ferry Raid, ed. Paul Finkelman. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995.
Lutz, Brenda and James M. Lutz. "John Brown as Guerrilla Terrorist," Small Wars & Insurgencies 25 no. 5-6 (2014): 1039-1054.
McGinty, Brian. John Brown’s Trial. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009.
Oates, Stephen B. To Purge This Land With Blood: A Biography of John Brown. New York: Harper & Row, 1970.
"Recollections of the John Brown Raid by a Virginian Who Witnessed the Fight." Alexander Boteler's Account. Accessed April 29, 2017. http://www2.iath.virginia.edu/jbrown/boteler.html.
Reynolds, David S. John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005.
The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. "John Brown." Encyclopædia Britannica. March 14, 2011. Accessed April 29, 2017. https://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Brown-American-abolitionist.
Villard, Oswald Garrison. John Brown: 1800-1859, a Biography Fifty Years After. London: Constable, 1910. https://archive.org/details/johnbrownfiftybio00villuoft (accessed: November 15th, 2015).
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2017 Larry Slawson
Robert Sacchi on October 29, 2018:
I like the way you gave the full spectrum of opinions in this article. Another aspect of the John Brown's Harpers Ferry raid is he got help from some people up north. Others knew what John Brown was going to do and kept quiet about it.
John Ward on June 11, 2017:
In one way he could be a hero,Trying t right a wrong, but in his method of doing so, he was definitely, in my opinion, wrong. One must not for any reason resort to Murder.
Ronnie wrenchBiscuit on May 02, 2017:
Obviously you are educated and have been infected with a generous dose of Idealism. Yes, I would prefer the world that you have envisioned, but that is not the world in which we live. A Nazi is not going to wake up one day and be ashamed for being a Nazi. A King is not going to wake up one day and decide to give up his crown. Nor will we ever be able to reason with the cockroach so that he may never trouble us again. Many people must be led to the trough and "corrected", even if such correction puts them on the fast-track to Jesus.
John Brown was a realist and knew that the rhetoric of the abolitionist's would have little effect on the cold hearts of the southern slave-owning class. I am Aniyunwiya/ German, and from my colorful perspective, John Brown exemplified what we should all aspire to. Mr. Brown was an educated man with a business, a family, and friends. Yet, because of his humanity, he sacrificed his own life for the greater good of another race of people. This is remarkable indeed, since the average man would not make such a sacrifice for his own kind. It is a testament to this evil nation that statues have been erected and holidays proclaimed in honor of thieves, rapists, and slave-owners like George Washington and Columbus, but I cannot recall one conspicuous memorial to John Brown.
John Welford from Barlestone, Leicestershire on May 02, 2017:
Ronnie, I don't know why you imagine that I'm an American! I'm British, and no more proud of my country's history of violence against his fellow man than you are of yours - assuming that you are an American yourself, that is.
The question is whether one approves of violence that has a beneficial end result, whether the violence is committed by an individual or a nation. You quote Nelson Mandela as a "freedom fighter", but how much violence did he use? His "crimes" were acts of sabotage, not of violence against the person. Gandhi was renowned for being entirely non-violent.
The question arises of whether there can ever be a "just war", and the American Civil War comes up as a possible example. However, as has often been pointed out, it was not fought primarily as a war against slavery but as a political war aimed at saving the Union.
As I said before, one can throw examples backwards and forwards as much as one likes, but the general principle - that violence causes more problems than it solves - can surely not be doubted. That is not to say that the odd exception to this rule cannot be found. Whether or not John Brown is one such example is a moot point that is still open to debate.
Ronnie wrenchBiscuit on May 02, 2017:
Partial nonsense notwithstanding, what you have countered with is a complete strawman. Lincoln ended up following in John Brown's footsteps, with the difference being that when Lincoln was done with his brand of "peaceful diplomacy" over 600,000 lay dead, from Gettysburg to Fort Myers.
But like so many apologists for Manifest Destiny and U.S. Imperialism, you have made a distinction between acts of violence committed by an individual and violent acts committed by the state, or ruling authority. From a practical standpoint, and from the perspective of the victims, dead is dead. Once we arrive at the gates of immortality, or oblivion, how we got there is of no consequence, as it does not affect the outcome. Nothing defines terrorism as completely as the violence perpetrated by the Euro-Americans against the Indigenous and the African from 1492 unto the present.
In order for you to justify your position against terrorism as a means to overthrow tyranny, you would have to also be willing to condemn the United States government, the European aristocracy that preceded it, the millions of uninvited European immigrants, and the progeny of those immigrants who now number near 200 million!
But you will not do such a thing because like so many Americans, you have adopted a double standard, and you have accepted state sponsored terrorism as a necessary evil. To compare the righteous acts of the honorable John Brown to the terrorist acts of a squatter nation is blasphemy! Ironically, the term "terrorist" is often used by defenders of the state to define freedom fighters who were/are simply reacting to state sponsored terrorism.
John Brown, Nate Turner, Goyathlay, Tatanka Iyotanka, Tecumseh, and Fidel Castro were all freedom fighters. And another great freedom fighter, Nelson Mandela, embraced the latter as a friend. Apparently Mandela also understood that diplomacy alone is not always enough to combat state sponsored terrorism. If you disagree, then I suggest you go out into the wilderness unarmed. Once you have arrived at your destination, see how well your diplomacy works with a hungry pack of wolves; a ravenous breed who do not understand the language of peace.
John Welford from Barlestone, Leicestershire on May 02, 2017:
Ronnie, Maybe you will allow me only to be uttering partial nonsense! We could swap examples backwards and forwards all day, but let me just offer that of William Wilberforce, who ended the British slave trade purely through peaceful means without seeing any need to resort to violence.
If you want to argue that terrorism is acceptable if the cause is right, you are perfectly free so to do. However, you will not find it easy to get everyone to agree with you!
Ronnie wrenchBiscuit on May 02, 2017:
John Welford, That is total nonsense. There had been nearly 400 years of slavery by the time John Brown raided Harpers Ferry. It appears you are suggesting he should have waited another 400 years before resorting to violence. Furthermore, the United States has always used violent measures to fulfill their Imperialist ambitions here and abroad. I can imagine that if you would have lived during that era you wouldn't have broke a sweat trying to end the evil institution of slavery. I'm sure you would have gone fishing instead.
You condemn John Brown for the handful of men that died as a result of his righteous acts. Yet, hundreds of millions have died as a result of the Terrorists who invaded this continent in 1492. But you will not condemn the colonizers, nor will you condemn the evil presidents and politicians of the United States who are the greatest terrorists the world has ever known. As far as Lincoln is concerned, it appears that his political strategies didn't work. The southern miscreants were too lazy to do their own work, and they had developed a fondness for raping African women. Consequently, they were prepared to die in order to maintain the status quo.
John Welford from Barlestone, Leicestershire on May 02, 2017:
Whether history regards a killer as a terrorist or a freedom fighter depends in great part on whether the historian approves or disapproves of the cause in question. John Brown was willing to kill and also top sacrifice the lives of his two sons, who died at Harpers Ferry. Surely they are more deserving of the "saint" label than he was?
I would also reject the argument that Brown had to use force because there were no political avenues open to him. How about the example of Abraham Lincoln, who used political strategies long before being forced to use violence? There have always been plenty of people who have achieved great things without feeling the need to kill people in the process.
Larry Slawson (author) from North Carolina on May 01, 2017:
@Eric I'm glad that you enjoyed the article! Yeah, I'm not sure why there is so much confusion either haha. Historians (and scholars in general) have a tendency to debate the meaning of words quite a lot. The term "genocide" is another highly contested term in the academic community. In my own research for graduate school, this has been a recurring theme it seems.
@Jason, I'm glad that you enjoyed the article as well!
Jason Mackenzie from Perth WA 6000 on April 30, 2017:
Hi, very well-written academic article and thorough in its observations. If the idea was to spark a debate, this is a truly successful attempt since it is bound to get anyone thinking. Cheers!!!
Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on April 29, 2017:
A great read and very well done. But I fail to see the confusion. Terror in the citizenry, if that is the goal it is terrorism. Tea Party and Brown did not strike terror into anyone. It so clearly was not their purpose to terrorize. Moms did not worry for their children. The debate is academic and really should be centered on the semantics of a very easy word to understand.
I really liked this, thanks.
Ronnie wrenchBiscuit on April 29, 2017:
Interesting article, and well written. However, the truth is not in the middle at all. To suggest that it is simply reveals the inherent racist nature of many Americans. If John Brown had killed 1,000 miscreant slave traders and owners, it would still not compare to the longevity and the severity of the terrorist acts committed against the African slaves and my Indigenous ancestors by the colonizing European squatters.
Yet, these revisionists who fancy themselves scholars never question the terrorist acts of the European Invaders, the Pilgrims, and men like Columbus, George Washington, or Andrew Jackson. Nor do they link the word "terrorist" and "psychopath" to the tens' of thousands of good Christian white folk who attended and participated in the lynching of people of color, as well as white sympathizers during the Jim Crow era.
Yes, John Brown was a saint by any measure that takes into account the humanity of my ancestors and the African people. John Brown was a blessing to us all.
Larry Slawson (author) from North Carolina on April 29, 2017:
Thanks Howard! I'm really glad that you enjoyed the article. I agree 100 percent! I think the truth is somewhere in the middle as well.
Definitely a tragic time in American history.
Howard Schneider from Parsippany, New Jersey on April 29, 2017:
Wonderful and comprehensive Hub, Larry. John Brown's controversial tactics to fight slavery were a noble cause but his image was and is based on where you stand in life. Southerners of the time considered him a criminal and terrorist. Many people of our time will do so also especially after the 9/11 attacks. The truth, as always, is somewhere in the middle. Brown was religious and committed against this intractable problem. He did what he felt he had to but people got hurt and he paid with his life. These were very tragic times.