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The attack of John Brown upon Harper’s Ferry came upon Virginia like a clap of thunder out of a clear sky… John Sergeant Wise

Harper's Ferry insurrection - Interior of the Engine-House, just before the gate is broken down by the storming party - Col. Washington and his associates as captives, held by Brown as hostages. Men shot and bleeding, John Brown and others with rifle and pikes, and hostages inside the engine house of the Harpers Ferry Armory.

Harper’s Ferry insurrection – Interior of the Engine-House, just before the gate is broken down by the storming party – Col. Washington and his associates as captives, held by Brown as hostages. Men shot and bleeding, John Brown and others with rifle and pikes, and hostages inside the engine house of the Harpers Ferry Armory.

Martyrdom did not make the early apostles wrong,  nor does it contradict either the faith or courage of later martyrs. The problem is often distinguishing between who is a martyr and who is something else – often something much less. Heresy is quite often not the denial of faith. Much more likely it is a mistaken emphasis that carried to its logical conclusion may destroy the basis of the faith. In Christian terms it is – for instance – the difference between salvation being offered to everyone and salvation being given to everyone.

Issued in the North during the Civil War, the melodramatic portrayal of an apocryphal incident from the life of John Brown must have had unmistakable propagandistic overtones. In actuality a violent antislavery fanatic, Brown was convicted in 1859 of treason, inciting slave rebellion, and murder in his abortive attempt to seize the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry and ignite an armed slave insurrection in the South. Yet through his trial and execution at Charles Town, Virginia, in December 1859, Brown became for many Northerners a martyr of the abolitionist cause. Here the artist shows Brown calmly descending the steps of the Charles Town jail, hands tied behind his back. "Regarding with a look of compassion a Slave-mother and Child who obstructed the passage on his way to the Scaffold. --Capt. Brown stooped and kissed the Child--then met his fate." The strikingly madonna-like slave woman is seated on a stone railing, holding an equally Christ-like infant. One of Brown's guards reaches forward, about to push her away. In the foreground a mustachioed and elegantly uniformed soldier waits impatiently, hand on his sword hilt. Behind Brown a figure from the American Revolution, wearing a tricornered hat emblazoned "76," watches with concern. The flag of the state of Virginia with the motto "Sic semper tyrannis" flies prominently above Brown's head. A statue of Justice, with its arms and scales broken, stands forgotten behind the railing at left.

Issued in the North during the Civil War, the melodramatic portrayal of an apocryphal incident from the life of John Brown must have had unmistakable propagandistic overtones. In actuality a violent antislavery fanatic, Brown was convicted in 1859 of treason, inciting slave rebellion, and murder in his abortive attempt to seize the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry and ignite an armed slave insurrection in the South. Yet through his trial and execution at Charles Town, Virginia, in December 1859, Brown became for many Northerners a martyr of the abolitionist cause. Here the artist shows Brown calmly descending the steps of the Charles Town jail, hands tied behind his back. “Regarding with a look of compassion a Slave-mother and Child who obstructed the passage on his way to the Scaffold. –Capt. Brown stooped and kissed the Child–then met his fate.” The strikingly madonna-like slave woman is seated on a stone railing, holding an equally Christ-like infant. One of Brown’s guards reaches forward, about to push her away. In the foreground a mustachioed and elegantly uniformed soldier waits impatiently, hand on his sword hilt. Behind Brown a figure from the American Revolution, wearing a tricornered hat emblazoned “76,” watches with concern. The flag of the state of Virginia with the motto “Sic semper tyrannis” flies prominently above Brown’s head. A statue of Justice, with its arms and scales broken, stands forgotten behind the railing at left.

In American history it has been the foolishness of the equality of man in the political order that has invariably led to the something for nothing panacea that has destroyed republicanism and corrupted democracy beyond both recognition and the possibility of realization. John Brown is an easy symbol of the public face of heresy. As with most heretics he has his adherents and as with most that are labeled martyrs he garners a certain grudging admiration from his detractors who possess insufficient discernment to dismiss him as the aberration that he was.

Print shows John Brown, under heavy guard, kissing a young African American child, as he leaves a jail on his way to the gallows. Includes a remarque of Abraham Lincoln, bust portrait, facing left[sic].

Print shows John Brown, under heavy guard, kissing a young African American child, as he leaves a jail on his way to the gallows. Includes a remarque of Abraham Lincoln, bust portrait, facing left[sic].

McGlone’s book really does not go far enough in that direction and probably could not have been published if it did. It does however give some semblance of order to a good deal of the testimony about the man, his acts and their consequences that will allow the reader to see that this was a heretic who became a criminal and deserved his fate.

Northern rejoicing at the end of the Civil War often took the form of vengeful if imaginary portrayals of the execution of Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Here abolitionist martyr John Brown rises from the grave to confront Davis, although in actuality the latter had nothing to do with Brown's 1859 execution. Brown points an accusing finger at Davis, who sits imprisoned in a birdcage hanging from a gallows. Davis wears a dress and bonnet, and holds a sour apple. Below, black men and women, resembling comic minstrel figures, frolic about. (For Davis's female attire, see "The Chas-ed "Old Lady" of the C.S.A.," no. 1865-11.) Since the beginning of the war Union soldiers had sung about "hanging Jeff Davis from a sour apple tree." Davis's actual punishment was imprisonment at Fortress Monroe after his capture on May 10, 1865.

Northern rejoicing at the end of the Civil War often took the form of vengeful if imaginary portrayals of the execution of Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Here abolitionist martyr John Brown rises from the grave to confront Davis, although in actuality the latter had nothing to do with Brown’s 1859 execution. Brown points an accusing finger at Davis, who sits imprisoned in a birdcage hanging from a gallows. Davis wears a dress and bonnet, and holds a sour apple. Below, black men and women, resembling comic minstrel figures, frolic about. (For Davis’s female attire, see “The Chas-ed “Old Lady” of the C.S.A.,” no. 1865-11.) Since the beginning of the war Union soldiers had sung about “hanging Jeff Davis from a sour apple tree.” Davis’s actual punishment was imprisonment at Fortress Monroe after his capture on May 10, 1865.

John Brown’s war against slavery  Robert E. McGlone  Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 2009  Hardcover. 1st ed. x, 451 p. : ill., maps ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Effect of John Brown's invasion at the South. Cover of Harper's Weekly with three scenes including an elderly man using a pike to dig potatoes, a woman cook brandishing a kitchen knife, and a southern planter handing out weapons to his slaves.

Effect of John Brown’s invasion at the South. Cover of Harper’s Weekly with three scenes including an elderly man using a pike to dig potatoes, a woman cook brandishing a kitchen knife, and a southern planter handing out weapons to his slaves.

Drawing on both new and neglected evidence, this book reconstructs Old John Brown’s aborted “war” to free the slaves in the American South before the Civil War. It critiques misleading sources that either exalt Brown’s “heroism” and noble purpose or condemn his “monomania” and “lawlessness”. McGlone explains the sources of his obsession with slavery and his notorious crime at Pottawatomie Creek in “Bleeding Kansas” as well as how the Harpers Ferry raid figured into Brown’s larger vision and why he was captured in the federal armory there.

"Marching on!"--The Fifty-fifth Massachusetts Colored Regiment singing John Brown's March in the streets of Charleston, February 21, 1865

“Marching on!”–The Fifty-fifth Massachusetts Colored Regiment singing John Brown’s March in the streets of Charleston, February 21, 1865

John Brown’s War Against Slavery chronicles how this aged American apostle of violence in behalf of the “downtrodden,” this abolitionist “fanatic” and “terroriser,” ultimately rescued his cause by going to the gallows with resolution and outward calm. By embracing martyrdom, John Brown helped to spread panic in the South and persuaded northern sympathizers that failure can be noble and political violence “righteous.”

The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.

The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.

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