John Brown Trial
HIST 310 April 27, 2010 Trial And Execution of John Brown Was Not Fair. John Brown led a raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia) with his eighteen followers, whites and blacks, in October 16, 1959. Occupying the federal armory, he intended to arm his other followers and black slaves in Virginia to free slaves in the Southern. At that time, many abolitionist in the Northern insisted emancipation of slavery only with words and theory rather than act. On the contrary, Brown believed that only strong act could set slaves free in the Southern.
Within thirty-six hours, Brown’s raid on the Federal armory at Harpers Ferry had ended as result of a strong and well-planned Federal troops and Marine. In addition, Brown lost his two sons and most of his followers were killed or scattered at Harpers Ferry in the counter attack of the federal troops. He was captured by the federal troops and transferred to Charles Town, Virginia to have a trial. During Brown’s trial, the Virginia government quickly worked on his case to prevent agitation/animosity by the Southern slaves of Virginia.
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Brown’s case was not treated fairly even though he had several attorneys and juries. As a result, he was executed on December 2, 1859, two months after his trial. I believe that John Brown would not have fair trial. These were a number of reasons why Brown’s case was not treated fairly. From the beginning, John Brown was not give a proper attorney to defend his case. In Brown’s trial, Lawson Botts, a prominent Virginia attorney, was appointed to be Brown’s defense counsel by the Virginia Court members.
However, Virginia assistant prosecutor, Hunter, emphasized that Virginia Legislature tried to treat Brown’s trial fairly. Hunter said that Virginia state court appointed “able and intelligent counsel had been assigned to them here, and … there was but little reason to expect the attendance of those gentlemen from the North who had been written to” for being fair (Document #5). Let us think about Lawson Botts (Document #5). Botts was an attorney in Virginia and he was a Southerner who may have owned a number of slaves. Although Botts may have tried to be unbiased, he might ave been a bit prejudice towards Northerners as most Southerners were during the time. Moreover, Botts would also be slave master and Southerner. As slave master and Southerner, Botts might need to consider the public and his position in Virginia. As a result, it may have been tough for Botts to be neutral towards Brown’s trial or actively advocate John Brown and his parties. According to Mr. Hunter’s dialog. “What does he mean by wishing for delay for the purpose of having a fair trial… In regard to the telegram read, we know now who this Mr.
Lewis is; we know no whether he is to come here as counsel for the prisoner or …” (Document #6), John Brown asked the court to delay his trial because he believed that he/his case wasn’t treated fairly. In addition, Mr. Botts also felt that Brown and his parties were not treated fairly according to Document #5 that states, “Mr. Botts added that at present the excitement was so great as perhaps to deter Northern counsel from coming, … the prisoners were to have a fair and impartial trial, he presumed that they would come and take part in the case” (Document #5).
However, the Virginia Court did not accept the Northern attorney’s request, “or … wants to head a band of desperadoes to rescue the prisoner…” (Document #6). Secondly, not enough time was spent reviewing his case. His trial only took over a week, which begin on Tuesday; October 25, 1859 and concluded on Wednesday; November 2, 1859 (Document #7). One month later, he was executed at Charles Town on the morning December 2, 1859 (Document #17). How was it possible to take only one week to make a decision?
It should have taken more than a month because they needed to gather critical evidences, testimonies, proper juries selection, and a defense counsel from the Northern rather than Southern since he was a Northerner. As the assistant prosecutor, Hunter, claimed, Virginia Court did not want to give any possible chances to the Northerners who may have wanted to “rescue the prisoner with a band of desperadoes” (Document #6). After his first trial in Virginia, the Virginia Court did not give Brown’s case to the Supreme Court to be against the decision of the Virginia Court.
For this reason, I believe that they intentionally did not want to give John Brown a fair trial. Third, Virginia Court or Virginia prosecutors did not consider John Brown’s body condition even though they mentioned that they would consider his injuries. Brown attended the trial in critical conditions, since he had suffered multiple saber wounds when captured (Document #6). Lawson Botts, who was appointed by Court as defense counsel, said, “Brown …. is mentally and physically unable to proceed with his trial at this time. ”(Document #5). In Document #5, “The prisoners were compelled to stand during the arraignment – Capt.
Brown standing with difficulty and Stevens being held upright by two bailiffs, the reading of the indictments occupied about twenty minutes” (Document #5). Additionally, Brown kept claiming his unfair trial by saying “as I have been promised a fair trial, I am not now in circumstances that enable me to attend to a fair trial, owing to the state of my health, I have a severe injury in the back.. ” and “ … which enfeebles me very much, but … I only ask for a very short delay of my trial…” (Document #5). So, he asked the court to delay the trial for two or three days.
Furthermore, Brown complained about his hearing because of his wounded head. Brown said, “[My] hearing is impaired … in consequence of the wounds I have about my head… I could not hear what the court has said this morning” (Document #5). If his claim was true, then he could would have not been able to properly hear the prosecutor’s nor attorney’s questions. However, Virginia Court concluded that although he was injured, it was not serious to keep his trial from delaying. The prosecutor claimed that he did not have any physical body problems and the court should not accept his -request.
Furthermore, the offense counsel; Hunter, claimed the jury that Brown’s intention would delay his trial and it could “likely weaken Southerners’ present position and give strength to their enemies, Northerners, abroad” (Document #5). Fourth, Virginia Court did not – have enough time to prepare a proper defense counsel for Brown’s trial. Mr. Green; a counsel for the prisoners, complained that they did not have any opportunity to consult with the prisoners or to prepare so they could defend (Document #5). Even they did not have enough time to receive answers from the Northern counsel about Brown’s party trial (Document #5).
To have fair trial, Mr. Green asked the Court to give him some time so that he could prepare a Northern counsel for Brown. However, the Court still did not agree to it because they thought, “there was no certainty about their comings” (Document #5). Unable to slow the trial on (appropriate) procedural grounds, and not able to get the unusual indictment thrown out, the defense stressed jurisdictional ambiguities and extenuating circumstances. Fifth, John Brown’s trial was not held at the correct location. John Brown and his party had only ttacked and occupied the sites that were located on the Federal property, not the Virginia state property. However, Governor Wise ordered to transfer them to the Charles Town Court in located in Virginia (now West Virginia) rather than to the Federal Court. As a result, Brown and his men were tried in Virginia in Charles Town, the nearby county seat capital of Jefferson County just seven miles west of Harpers Ferry. By transferring Brown and his parties to Charles Town, it might have been to avert the Northern political pressure on the Federal government, or in the unlikely event of a presidential pardon.
Sixth, his trial began on October 27th, after a doctor pronounced that although he was ill, he was able to still go on with the trial. Brown was charged with the murder of four whites and a black, with conspiring with slaves to rebel, and with treason against Virginia (Document #5). However, all of his charges were not right. The Virginia prosecutor charged him with murder but John Brown had not killed anyone personally during his raid. The murderingon the four whites and a black person were done by Brown’s parties rather than him. John Brown’s order was not to kill anyone (Introduction).
Brown said that he only came to Virginia to free slaves as he took slaves out of Missouri without the snapping of a gun on either side and moved them through the country, and finally left them in Canada (Document #7). We can find other evidences of Brown’s purpose in Virginia in Document #39, testimony of Andrew Hunter, “I was greatly surprised at his statement, so distinctly made, that his sole purpose in coming to Virginia was to run off slaves. … He stated in substance… that his purpose in coming to Virginia was simply to stampede slaves, not to shed blood; that ….
Twelve slaves from Missouri without snapping a gun, and that he expected to do the same thing in Virginia, but only on a larger scale. …” (Document #39). The failure of the raid indicated that Brown had not conspired with slaves. Since no slaves had joined the insurrection, the charge of leading a slave insurrection should be thrown out. Additionally, Brown was not a Virginia resident. In his closing statement, Griswold argued that Brown could not be found guilty of treason against a state to which he owed no loyalty and was not a resident of.
Andrew Hunter; the local district attorney, presented the closing arguments for the prosecution. John Brown’s lack of official citizenship in Virginia was presented as a defense against treason against the State. He denied that he never intended murder, or treason, or the destruction of property, or incite slaves to rebellion, or to make insurrection (Document #7). Seventh, Virginia Legislature was under the pressure of Governor Henry Wise. Governor Wise asked the superintendent of the state lunatic asylum at Staunton, Virginia to examine Brown to determine whether he was “sane, in the legal responsibility of crime. But he cancelled the order later (Document #10). In Document #10C, Governor Wise, sent messages to Virginia Legislature about Brown’s invasion. In his message, Wise argued that the Virginia Legislature should not listen to anything asked or wished from John Brown because Brown was extremely sanity (Document #10C). Wise gave the instructions to the Virginia Legislature on how to treat Brown’s invasion: no plea of insanity, no magnanimity, and the policy of not making martyrs (Document #10C).
In this pressure, how could the Virginia Court keep John Brown’s trial from being neutral or fair? John Brown’s trial was just base on Southerners’ view. The Southerners needed to stop spreading rumors and hope among the slaves because of Brown’s raid. The Southerners would wish to keep their social structure based on the slavery system. The Southerners would worry that if they did not take care of Brown’s raid as soon as possible, the Southerners would experience 2nd Brown’s raid or slave insurrection soon.
That is why even though Brown’s trial was treated unfairly, the Southerners perhaps wanted to eliminate any possibilities such as rescuing him or agitation of slaves in the Southern. Therefore, I believe that John Brown’s trial was treated unfairly. Henretta, James, David Brody, and Lynn Dumenil. America’s History. 6th. Vol. 1. P. 216 – 217. Boston, MA: Bedford/st Martins, 2008. Print. Kehew, Julia. America’s History Lecture note. 2010 The Trial and Execution of John Brown’s document packets, Introduction, document # 5, 6, 7, 10, 10C, 17, and 39.