John Brown threatens their way of life, and he was the only one who dared to use violence as a way of stopping slavery. The southerners stopped at nothing, even using violence, to prevent Browns active movement to convert pro-slavery states. Brown justifies his usage of aggression because of his disbelief in pacifism and his belief in fighting fire with fire. He thought that other abolitionists were too slow to effect changes. He expressed his frustration over this lack of active action from the pacifist abolitionists when he said These men are all talk. What we need is action action!
The pro-slave forces were already using violence, and some of them were even directed to his family. And so according to Brown, fighting was the only answer because the pro-slavery states will not stop the violence nor let the slaves go free with only legislations and writing. Because of this, even some his fellow abolitionists and anti-slavery did not support John Browns methods. Several abolitionists expressed their disagreement with Browns plans, one of them being Frederick Douglass. Abraham Lincoln, American president and an anti-slavery supporter said that John Brown was a misguided fanatic.
Only few agreed to support him via financial assistance, weapons and military support. His plan to arm the slaves and lead them to fight against the pro-slavery militia in the raid of Harper Ferry was supposed to be the zenith of his aggressive movement. But he failed, and was sentenced to death. Even before he died, Brown still maintained his stance and claimed that nothing but blood can cleanse the crimes of his nation. After his death, many felt that he deserved to be hanged, like Abraham Lincoln and some pacifist abolitionists.
On the other hand, some praised Brown for his efforts to liberate the slaves such as writers Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Also, many held memorial meetings in honor of Brown in some states in the north as the guns went off. With the United States detraction from the institution of slavery and fervent review of American values, much of the publics opinion of John Brown were changed and more openly articulated. Whats attention-grabbing is the fact that even with slavery abolished, many still retained the negative view of John Browns acts. Intellectuals viewed Brown as one of the forerunners of terrorism and anarchy.
Some even go as far as comparing him with modern terrorists. Many biographies of John Brown had been written; most fanned the flames of anti-Brown sentiments. One of which is the account of Oswald Garrison Villard, William Lloyd Garrisons grandson. His ways of interpreting the facts that surround Browns life were used as a base by more contemporary anti-Brown authors. More and more writers of the 20th century were convinced that John Brown was an extremist killer. Otto Scott was convinced that Brown is a political assassin whose object was to instigate terror to change the nation. A criminologist, James N.
Gilbert, describes Browns actions and life as a perfect fit to the terrorist model. He speaks of how Browns deeds and psychological condition similar to the form of a terrorist. It can be observed that more recent biographies of Brown have veered away from the usual negative view. These writers provided a revolutionary take on the history of the man. Some of the works include Bruce Olds work, Raising Holy Hell which illustrated Brown as a zealot with a conviction for godly violence. African-American Scholars have retained a positive image of Brown and showed this in their writing.
According to Albert Fried, the depictions of Brown as an extremist echoed the authors personal inclination to the moderates and hostility to extremists. Louis de Caro agreed with Fried when he says that there is no fairness involved in the portrayal of Brown in academic writing. This is seen in the more recent comparisons of Brown with modern well-known terrorists like Osama bin Laden. Louis Ruchames, a historian and Brown documentary scholar believes that Browns movement was based on great ideals and thus he deserves to be placed in a pedestal with great American heroes.
From the things discussed, it can be seen that views of John Brown when he was living were conflicting, and so were the ones after his death. From both time lines, we can see that there were some who disagreed with his methods and thought of him negatively, while some viewed him a hero and a revolutionary ahead of his time. Many expect that public opinion of him will be unified into one positive stand since the abolition of slavery, but still, many negative views persist. Why is this the case?
As mentioned in the earlier part of this paper, many of the situations and things in the environment are viewed by people in light of the institutions supported by society. It is already clear that the people in the 19th century viewed John Browns actions as abnormal and threatening because of the established institution of slavery. But the unchanging negative perception of John Brown comes not from the publics scrutiny of his motives, but in the nature of the path he took to liberate the slaves.
In the modern times where the values of liberty and human rights prevail, people and scholars alike tend to lean heavily to the persecution of the violence that Brown resorted to for him to reach his goals. They agree that it was not his goals that were erroneous, but the means he used to effect what he wanted. This went against the basic tenet of American democracy and human rights. Regardless of conviction, belief and religion, everyone is equal in the eyes of the law and one must never step on the rights of the other. These are basic values that have remained unchanged even when the times changed.
Many still believe that violence is not the answer as aggression will violate human rights. Furthermore, modern society is very much exposed to the perils of terrorism. John Browns acts were all too reminiscent of the people related to recent traumas that the nation has undergone for the past decade. His violent acts remind us of the contemporary anarchists who has disturbed the peace that we have. Reading his history would automatically generate associations with modern con-men like extremist suicide bombers or Osama bin Laden.