Critics & Crusaders: A Century of American Protest

By Charles A. Madison | Go to book overview

JOHN BROWN
A FANATIC IN ACTION

THE PHENOMENON of John Brown remains, after nearly ninety years, as exciting and inexplicable as it was when his lifeless body first swayed from the hangman's noose. The perpetrator of the Pottawatomie massacre and the desperate leader of the Harpers Ferry raid, the scourge of the Border Ruffians and the terrible saint of the Abolitionists, Brown became a legendary figure at the very outset of his anti-slavery activity. Men failed to see him as he was: they either condemned him as a fiendish criminal or revered him as "God's angry man."

One cannot fully appreciate his activity during the last four years of his life without a sympathetic understanding of his abomination of slavery. Born in 1800 of a family of pious and hardy pioneers, named after his grandfather who had died in the Revolutionary War, brought up in the primitive and challenging environment of the Ohio frontier, he early acquired a hatred of human bondage which in the end inflamed every fiber of his being. His father and their neighbors both in Connecticut and in Ohio worked for Negro emancipation as part of their Christian duty. Like so many youths of his day he grew up with a determination to love God and obey His commandments, and human equality was an essential part of them. He studied the Bible with such zeal that in time his speech and writing acquired the flavor of the Old Testament. As a youth he became a teetotaler, shunned dancing, and scorned card-playing; he did not hunt or fish because these sports tended to develop lazy

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