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John Brown - a Hero or Villain?

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What makes a hero or a villain? A hero is defined as a person noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose, especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life.

By this definition, there existed countless heroes in America during the 1800's with relation to slavery. There were many abolitionists, particularly from the North, that exhibited courageous attitudes. It was these heroes that taught the southerners, who believed their lives could only prevail if slavery survived and expanded westward, what they knew was morally right (3, 92). John Brown is one abolitionist who stands out amongst the rest and has been noted as one of the most important men in the process of abolishing slavery. It was Brown's work that sparked the revolts and fighting that would occur between the North and the South after his time. Brown can be considered a hero on account of his actions in Kentucky and Virginia.

After the Turner revolt, the topic of slavery took over American politics (3,91). Congressman David Wilmot suggested that legislation prohibit slavery in new territories that were conquered from the victory in a war with Mexico (3,91). Wilmot acted in hopes of stopping slavery's expansion westward but his movement did not pass with the Senate and was therefore disregarded (3,91). The South's population was slowly becoming overshadowed by the North's, leaving little room to stop anti-slavery legislation (3,91). When California was admitted as a free state in 1850, the US was left with no slave state to balance this addition and some southerners desired a separation of slave states from the union (3,92). Congressmen and senators started to fear their political opponents tremendously; tension was slowly building up (3,92). The Compromise of 1850 admitted California as a free state but also passed a law making it painless for slave-owners to recover their escaped slaves from free states (3,92). Congress then passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act which allowed inhabitants to decide whether Kansas would be a free state or a slave state (3,92). In hopes of victory, the opposing sides invaded the territory which was after nick-named "Bleeding Kansas" by the easterners (3,92). This unsettled region would be the perfect setting to launch a crusade against slavery (3, 92). This scheme was exactly what John Brown had in mind (3,92).

John Brown was born in Torrington, Connecticut in 1800 and grew up in Hudson, Ohio with a family of sixteen children (2, 1). Brown's father was a captain in the Revolutionary War and endowed Brown a hatred for slavery (3, 93). Since he was young, Brown felt a strong importance of religion and his teachings in the Bible (3,93). He felt that the pro-slave sinners should be punished for their wrongdoings (3,93). After Brown married Dianthe Lusk and moved to North Elba, New York, he wished to assist the free blacks in getting accustomed to farming in the Adirondacks (2, 1). During the 1850's, Brown liberated small slave groups in Missouri and saw them off to Canada (2,1). Up to this point, there was no violence or bloodshed involved in Brown's actions (2,1). All the while he was involved in these small movements, Brown was creating a greater plan of attack(2,1).

Eager to help in the abolition movement, Brown traveled to Kansas, where five of his sons were (2,1). In May of 1856, news spread of a pro-slavery attack on the town of Lawrence, Kansas (3, 94). Before Brown could reach Lawrence with his militia group, the pro-slavery group had attacked and looted the town (3,94). As the action was dying down, Brown heard that five anti-slavery settlers had been killed in Lawrence during the attack (3,94). Believing in "an eye for an eye," Brown and his men set out to kill five pro-slavery settlers (3,94). On their way, they heard news that pro-slavery Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina had beaten abolitionist Senator Charles Summer of Massachusetts with a cane on the Senate floor (3, 95). This news increased the abolitionists' furies and that night they hacked James Doyle and his two sons to death (3,96). Continuing on their rage, they split Allen Wilkinson's skull and stabbed him in the chest (3,96). Needing one more victim, Brown and his men slashed at and killed William Sherman on the banks of the Pottawatomie River (3,97). Brown's group then washed off their bloody swords and headed home on the dead men's horses, completely satisfied (3,97). Pro-slavery newspaperman Henry Clay Pate, in hearing about the Pottawatomie massacre, organized a gang and became determined to bring justice to John Brown (3,97). When free-staters found out about Pate's intent, 28 men stood up in defense for Old Brown (3,97). Brown put together a mini-army and trapped Pate's gang for several hours (3,97). The pro-slavery men eventually surrendered to Brown's group and were later released by U.S. Army troops (3,97). Brown remained untried for the Pottawatomie massacre and left Kansas to come up with a larger-scaled assault on slavery (3,97).

Brown's first step was to acquire sponsors for his attack. Wealthy easterners were willing to supply him with financial aid and sometimes weapons because they saw potential for Brown (3,97). He dressed the image by wearing frontier clothes, carrying a Bowie knife in his boot, and bringing his letters of recommendation from well-respected men around with him (3, 97). Nationally renowned men, such as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Salmon Chase, hosted Brown in their homes and toasted to his attempt (3, 97) . Although Brown had physical support, his monetary support provided the bare minimum for him and his men (3, 97). With his meager funds, Brown hired an English military advisor to train his supporters and bought pike heads for weapons (3, 98). When Brown returned to Kansas, he was brutally rebuffed. The anti-slavery forces had already taken charge of the region's government and refused to fight for something they had reached via politics (3, 98). Brown's plans were disregarded by many and feeling rejected, Brown retired to Tabor, Iowa to let his supporters in on his well thought-out plan (3, 98). "It matters little whether we begin with many or few," Brown told his men, giving confidence to his loyal followers (2,1).

Brown planned on freeing slaves in Virginia by means of a massive raid (3, 98). Brown and his troops would then set up a fortress in the Allegheny Mountains, prepared to halt any endeavor of re-enslavement (3, 99). Brown refused to believe anyone who thought his plan was not a wise idea (3, 99). Frederick Douglass had many objections to the plan but Brown would not hear it (3, 99). He obtained six famous easterners, who came to be known as the "Secret Six, " to fund his plot (3, 99). These men were New Englanders George L. Stearns, Thomas Wentworth Higginson,



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