Monday, July 12, 2010

The Portent: John Brown's Raid in American Memory


The Portent: John Brown's Raid in American Memory  is an nice site from the Virginia Historical Association. It describes Brown's raid and explores its immediate aftermath in American politics and its meaning over time.

From the site:

Throughout the twentieth century and during the past decade, apologists for John Brown have turned out imagery and biographies while his detractors have not been active. It has mattered little—the imagery and biographies have changed few opinions. Americans remain as divided over Brown now as ever.


To this day mention of the name John Brown brings powerful feelings to the surface. His violent attack against slavery continues to inspire debate about issues of liberation, justice, vigilantism, and terrorism. Do individuals ever have the right to carry out violent acts based on conscience? Does society have the right to protect itself by any means from such acts of violence and the fear they engender? If John Brown believed that he would succeed in what he saw as his God-directed assault on slavery, does the precedent of his attempt give anyone so inspired the freedom to pursue whatever course seems appropriate to carry out his or her righteous (or self-righteous) aims? If he believed he would ultimately fail but launched the attack anyway in an effort to make himself into a martyr, is Brown so different from the bombers of today—from Oklahoma City to Iraq—who attempt to galvanize public opinion and in that way incite political and social change? Do fanatical individuals ever have the right to put the lives of others at risk?

3 comments:

Tom Gunnells said...

Interesting Read! I find John Brown fascinating, although I see how he can be a polarizing figure.

MR. DAVIS--HISTORY said...

I currently teach American history; you bring up an interesting point in drawing a parallel between the "crazy" Brown and modern terrorists.

William Thomas said...

John Brown acted out of conscience and if it had not been him it would have been another person. Slavery had been banned in UK since 1930 and the slave trade well before that. It was only a matter of time when slavery would be banned in the United States