John Brown Martyr or Madman?
John was not a large man - John Brown Martyr or Madman? introduction. As he stood towering over this sniveling coward he felt ten feet tall. This was his moment. It was time to take a stand and do what was right. His life had been a series of failures, please God, don’t let this be one too. This was his one chance to do the right thing. With one of his sons beside him, he was empowered. He could make a difference. He would set an example that his sons and daughters would look up to. He took a deep breath, swallowed hard, and prayed that his God would not let him falter. Then with deliberate precision, he pulled the trigger.
He had done it. He had finally done something right. Maybe his life would not be a failure after all; he now had purpose and a path on which to walk. John Brown was born in 1800 to a God fearing man. His father, who was a tanner by trade, raised him in the wilderness of Ohio. These early years would give no indication of the turmoil and battles yet to be fought. At the age of sixteen John traveled to New England to study for the ministry. He returned home after only a few months. He clung to his Calvinist beliefs of the Old Testament. His God was an angry God who believed in “an eye for an eye”.
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John left home at seventeen to start his own tannery shop that would be in direct competition with his father’s. This would become the first of what would be a long list of failures. John married at the age of 20 but lost his wife after eleven years of marriage. He soon remarried and fathered twenty children, but only eleven of them lived to adulthood. These were trying times for John and he often questioned his purpose in life. But he had sons. This would be his legacy, his purpose, his overwhelming need to do something right and make a difference.
John Brown wanted to be a success. He learned sheep breeding, opened another tannery, bought and sold cattle. Every venture was a failure. He was borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. He was a “jack-of-all-trades” and “master of none”. With every setback his desire to prove himself grew. His sons were watching. He needed a purpose, and it would come along in the early 1850’s. During the years from 1849 to 1854 John was living in a black community in North Elba, New York. He was hearing talk of slavery being made legal in Kansas and Nebraska. How could this be?
Didn’t they realize that the Missouri Compromise said slavery was forbidden north of Missouri? Who was this Senator Douglas who wrote the Kansas-Nebraska Act? This just wasn’t right. John knew deep in his heart that all men were meant to be free men. This could be something he could do to make a difference, to make his sons proud of him. Why he could be like Moses, and lead these people out of slavery. What a grand idea! He took up the torch and his sons followed in his footsteps. What a proud man he was right now. He had a purpose and he had his family.
The path of righteousness seemed clear to him. The events that would shape his destiny however, were already underway. Men were swarming into the Kansas-Nebraska area to vote on the issue of slavery. Most were congregating in a little town on the Kansas border called Lawrence. It had even gotten a nickname of “Yankee Town”. Five of John’s sons were in Lawrence to preach against slavery. It was during this time that hundreds of Missouri “Ruffians” rigged local elections and intimated the abolitionists. John Jr. needed his daddy’s help.
They needed guns and ammunition to fight back against these pro-slavery zealots. John Brown traveled from New York to Kansas, gathering guns as he went. When the “Ruffians” attacked Lawrence, Kansas and not one single abolitionist fought back, John was outraged! Three days later, John, John Jr. and six other men went on a mission. He knew exactly were to find these cowards. It was time to put action behind his words. It was time for “an eye-for-an-eye”. And he had done it! He had not faltered. That sniveling, little James Doyle had gotten what he deserved.
And John Jr. had been right beside him to witness it all. Why, in all his life, he had never felt more proud and accomplished than he did right now. When word spread of his actions, he was regarded as a hero. This is what he had been striving for his entire life. If he died tomorrow, he would not be remembered as a failure, but as a man of principle, a hero. Well, John Brown did not die the next day but was captured three years later as he and a group of 20 men tried to rob an armory. They were going to liberate four million souls from bondage.
In the end only 5 men survived to stand trial on charges of inciting a slave insurrection and treason. John Brown conducted his own defense. The jury deliberated for only 45 minutes before finding him guilty. There was talk of a jail-break, but John wanted no part of it. He wrote, “I am worth inconceivable more to hang than for any other purpose”. John was hanged on December 2, 1859. One might ask about Kansas. Well, after several attempts to vote it finally voted to be a free state. John Brown began the war that ended American slavery and made this country a free Republic.