The Enigmatic John Brown–Villain or Martyr?

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John Brown (1800-1859)

Introduction:

John Brown (1800-1859) was an American abolitionist who believed in and advocated armed insurrection as the only means to end slavery in the United States.
John Brown lived as he died; as an enigmatic character in our American history. His enigmatic personality was described as, ambiguous, equivocal, and double edged. Added to this a wicked, haughty, and obstinate temper, and you have John Brown the man. The question that begged to be answered– was he a villain, or a martyr?

John Brown 1856

The Inquiry:

Did John Brown use Christianity to politically masquerade his use of violence? In general, did Brown and the slave owners use the moral authority of the Bible to serve their agendas? More specifically, was John Brown a type of Machiavellian leader (where the ends justify the means)? Putting things into a historical context gives the story of John Brown a better understanding.

Historical Context:
John Brown’s place in history was amplified by the chaotic times in which he lived. A brief background of the times follows. The country and its people struggled with questions surrounding slavery and secession. Briefly, it was about the abolition of slavery and the right of states to use slave labor to fuel their economy. In the following paragraph, opposing perceptions of Brown described the polarizing attitudes of many Americans.
To the people living in the North or South; John Brown was known as either as a hero or a villain, as a crusader or a madman, or as a liberator or a traitor. In his own mind, he desired to be remembered as a martyr who fought against the sins of slavery.
Legally, he was remembered as a criminal of the state. He was charged with treason against the state of Virginia, where he sat in prison and waited his fate.
Furthermore, while awaiting his trial and sentencing, news of his violent raid on Harper’s Ferry and insurrection against the government had spread like wild fire across the country.

If you stare into his eyes, he appears to be smiling; but in you stare at his mouth, you see his anger. Therein lies the truth.

The Pulse of the Nation:

Clues to the country’s future Civil War were unfolding, as evidenced by colliding social and political forces. For example, the fear of future slave uprisings in the South, coupled by the religious fervor against slavery in the North had reached a fever pitched crescendo. In addition, unbridled words of protest from lawmakers created a loss in the public’s faith in government. The lost faith was due to a political impasse and no agreed upon compromise over slavery. Finally, the war of words became—words of secession!

John Brown’s Sentencing:

Consequently, it was his time to die, about 11:00 a.m. on December 2, 1859, in Charles Town, Virginia (Now West Virginia). Brown led an armed insurrection against the institution of slavery, he was captured and found guilty of treason, and was sentenced was to be hanged by the neck until death.

Harper’s Ferry, Virginia

The Flawed Plan:

He and twenty –one other men launched an attack of the Federal Arsenal at Martin’s Ferry, Virginia in hopes of triggering a violent liberation to free the slaves. He believed that slavery would only be abolished through violence, destruction, blood, crime, and sin. He had hoped that wide spread killing and violence would produce enough suffering and misery to give cause to an insurrection against slavery.
His plan failed for two reasons; first, he was unable to recruit enough slave participation for the raid, and second, his holding of the engine house was attacked and stopped by the U.S. Marines quickly and decisively.

A Revealing Letter –The Early Years:

Below is a letter of self- examination from his early years which offers some clues into his enigmatic personality and his growing self-importance.
Brown described his early years in a letter written by John Brown to Mr. Henry L. Stearns, dated 15th of July, 1857. Below are a few highlights, as he described himself in the third person:
“…quite skeptical he had always by turns felt much serious doubt as to his future well- being; & about this time became to some extent a convert to Christianity & ever after a firm believer in the divine John had been taught from earliest childhood to “fear God and keep his commandments;” & though authenticity of the Bible.”
Later in his adult life his strict following of his Christian upbringing became confused by his egotistical ways. He admitted to his egotistical defects of character as he wrote “….he came forward to manhood quite full of self-conceit; & self-confident; notwithstanding his extreme bashfulness.”
In the later years to come, he developed an unbridled sense of self-importance that played to his sense of martyrdom.
His personality was affected by his first marriage about the age of twenty. He settled down and was greatly influenced by his wife and her excellent character. He wrote,” her very consistent conduct… kind admonitions had the right effect; without arousing his haughty obstinate temper.”
With an honest desire for your best good, I subscribe myself,
Your Friend, J.Brown.

 

Frederick Douglass was against Brown’s plan, he refused to join in the raid.

A Life Changing Moment:

John Brown’s early life did not foretell his eventual infamous deeds or legend. His life took a turn as his wife, Dianthe Lusk, who bore him seven children died in 1832. A year later, he remarried Mary Ann Day, who gave him 13 children. His life was unstable, as he moved his family around the northeastern United States experiencing financial difficulties and working odd jobs.
Upon hearing of the murder of abolitionist, Elijah P Lovejoy, Brown dedicated his life to the destruction of slavery. He joined the Stanford Street “Free Church,” founded by Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth. Brown felt that he had found a purpose for his life—the abolition and destruction of slavery. His views were supported by Douglass who believed that slaves had the right to rise up and kill their masters. He sympathized with Brown, yet he refused to join him at the raid on Harper’s Ferry. Douglass told Brown that his plan was ill-conceived and foolish.

The Path to Violence:

According to Brown’s biography, between 1849 and 1850, two events occurred which put him on the path to the insurrection and the raid at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. One was a failed attempt to compete with large wool producers that bankrupted his business and the other was the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act. The law imposed penalties on those that aided runaway slaves and mandated that authorities in” free states” must return slaves who tried to escape. In response, John Brown formed a militant group dedicated to prevent slaves’ capture.

The U.S. Marines use a fire house ladder to breakdown the door and caputure John Brown.

The Last Hours of the John Brown Raid:

David H. Strother, an eyewitness in part to the raid, had his narrative printed in Harper’s Weekly on November 5, 1859, just a short time after the actual raid of October 16 of the same year. A few highlights of the raid will follow showing its destructive use of violence.
Strother wrote…during the day of the 16th, four townspeople were killed, including the mayor.

On the morning of October 18, Colonel Lee sent Lt. J. E. B. Stuart, serving as a volunteer aide-de-camp, under a white flag of truce to negotiate a surrender of John Brown and his followers. Brown refused to surrender, soon after, Lt. Greene led a detachment of Marines in an attack of the engine house, the fort of Brown. Greene found a wooden ladder, and he and about 10 Marines used it as a battering ram to force the front doors open.

The capture of John Brown and his near death experience.

Violence Comes with the Irony of Surprise:

Lieutenant, Greene later recounted the events:  Quicker than thought I brought my saber down with all my strength upon [Brown’s] head. He was moving as the blow fell, and I suppose I did not strike him where I intended, for he received a deep saber cut in the back of the neck. He fell senseless on his side, then rolled over on his back. He had in his hand a short Sharpe’s cavalry carbine. I think he had just fired as I reached Colonel Washington, for the Marine who followed me into the aperture made by the ladder received a bullet in the abdomen, from which he died in a few minutes. The shot might have been fired by someone else in the insurgent party, but I think it was from Brown. Instinctively as Brown fell I gave him a saber thrust in the left breast. The sword I carried was a light uniform weapon, and, either not having a point or striking something hard in Brown’s accouterments, did not penetrate.

The scene of John Brown having a near death experience resulting from the use of violence is truly ironic justice.

John Brown admitted his guilt and acquiesced to his punishment. He chastised the prosecutor for his support of slavery.

The Trial:

As a result of being captured, Brown was taken to the court house in nearby Charles Town for trial. He was found guilty of treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia and was hanged on December 2. His execution was witnessed by the actor, John Wilkes Booth, who would later assassinate President Abraham Lincoln.

“How do you justify your acts?” demanded Virginia senator James Mason.
“ I think, my friend, you are guilty of a great wrong against God and humanity, replied Brown… and it would be perfectly right for anyone to interfere with you so far as to free those who willfully and wickedly you hold in bondage.” Beyond his self -importance, Brown had little insight into the effect his actions had on his family.

Brown’s Family Suffered Greatly:

Brown lacked the wisdom to understand the pain and suffering that came to his family. Brown’s execution threw his large family into turmoil. He left behind a total of eight children, four by his widow Mary Ann Day Brown and four by his first wife, Dianthe Lusk.
The honor and glory that members of the family saw in their father’s work did not fill the aching void that was left in their hearts after losing their loves ones to death.
Consequentially, the collateral damage to the Brown family was unimaginable, due to of the loss of family. Of his three sons who participated in the Harper’s Ferry attack, Watson was mortally wounded, as was Oliver, while Owen managed to escape.
His entire family suffered from the notoriety of his conviction and execution.

Abraham Lincoln & Jefferson Davis in Agreement:

At the time, Brown’s death, it was necessary for the restoration of the rule of law because the dangers from abolitionism remained – of which had many opinions were aired. Two of the more important opinions came from future presidents.

Abraham Lincoln stated that Brown was wrong for two reasons:
One reason, was that  Brown’s method was against the law. The second reason was that the raid was useless as an attempt to get rid of a “great evil.” He called Brown a man of “great courage,” and “rare unselfishness,” but ultimately concluded that Brown was “insane.”

Jefferson Davis, a Mississippi senator, called Harper’s Ferry “a murderous raid,” and “a conspiracy against a portion of the United States, a rebellion against the constitutional government of a State.”

Lincoln and Davis were in relative agreement on the incident, excepting that Lincoln believed that the raid was an isolated incident while Davis worried that the Harper’s Ferry Raid was a sign of more slavery uprisings to come.
In the South the heightened level of fear over future slave uprisings may have rushed states to secede from the Union.

Final Thoughts:

In conclusion, the enigmatic John Brown thought that his violent means justified his moral ends. This idea appeared to have dominated his purpose, thoughts, and actions leading up to his execution. For example, he became a villain hoping to be heralded as a martyr. His misguided intentions produced ambiguous outcomes which contributed to his blurred legacy.

Most of all, John Brown’s seemingly absurd or self- contradictory behavior may give reason to compare and contrast him with today’s politicians– and their Machiavellian ideas.

It is hoped that this view of American history may serve as a way of seeing today’s political environment through the historical character of John Brown.

As our past history effects our present times, may we remember a famous quote: “There are no accidents in my philosophy. Every effect must have its cause. The past is the cause of the present, and the present will be the cause of the future. All of these links in the endless chain stretching from the finite to the infinite.”—Abraham Lincoln.

Abraham Lincoln: A Caricature of His Time

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Lincoln: A Cartoon Caricature

Lincoln and the Press

Introduction

Abraham Lincoln believed that with public sentiment nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed. He had a strong appreciation for the power of the press to influence public opinion. He manipulated public opinion and the press; as he leaked private letters to various editors which helped to create a personal loyalty with them. His strong attachment to the press wasn’t better exemplified than on the night he was mortally wounded at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.   Newspaper clippings were found in the wallet he carried in his pocket.

A Team of Rival

Lincoln had a favorite expression, “if you can’t lick’em, join’em.” He followed his own advice; as he managed his relationship with the newspapers by recruiting the loyalties of newspaper owners, editors, and reporters on a grand scale. After recruiting members of the press, Lincoln would offer jobs in his cabinet, or at the White House in exchange for favorable news reporting. For their loyalty, they were rewarded with positions like; ambassador, port inspector, revenue collector, postmaster, and White House staffer. Since this strategy was effective, during his presidency, “dozens and dozens of the ink” were brought in to save the Union.

Satirical Illustrations

President Abraham Lincoln enjoyed humor, and many Americans enjoyed poking fun at him, some good-natured and some politically charged. One of the most widely published in Harper’s Weekly was humorist and cartoonist, Thomas Nast. His satirical illustrations gave a voice to the feelings, emotions, and thoughts of the American, newspaper reader. Below are some examples of political cartoons that illustrated the life and times of President Lincoln’s presidency.

Lincoln’s First Inaugural viewed by North and South

This cartoon foreshadowed the “Lady of Liberty” becoming the “Caesar of War,” just months after his Presidential Inauguration. Lincoln’s powers as president were in question by many, just as the “War of the Rebellion” was to begin.

 

 

Copperheads

 

Copperheads were Northern sympathizers, dissenters of the war, who supported a truce to end the conflict. Hence during the election of 1864, they supported former General George McClellan for president as he ran against Lincoln.  Their influence inconsequently  waned with the ebb and flow of the Union’s success against the South. Furthermore, his detractors were not limited to Southern critics;  Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd said, the constant attacks caused him, “a great deal of pain.”

New York Draft Riots, July 13-16, 1863.

The significance of the riots was that it showed the anti-war attitudes of many protestors. Most noteworthy were the Irish immigrants, who violently protested being drafted into a war whose cause was the emancipation of slaves.

England’s View of Lincoln’s Problems

The United Kingdom’s press viewed the fragmented republic as being a failed experiment.  The cartoon showed a foreshadowed society of civil disobedience  with a disregard  for law and order. Foreign governments watched and hoped that the American people would lose faith in their government and  consequently weaken their democracy.  Foreign governments used the newspaper to spread divisive propaganda while they attempted to gain political influence by manipulating  public opinion.

 

Lincoln’s Last Card

Lincoln’s shown playing cards with a southern soldier.  He raised his last card which showed the racist image of a black man.  The card game sat on a barrel of gunpowder–that raised questions about whether the military draft instituted by the president was a real card or just a bluff.

 

 

 

Columbia confronts Lincoln

Columbia was the Goddess of Liberty, which stems from classical symbolism. She is the country’s conscience talking: “Where are our sons?  Who is to blame?”  As an aside, Columbia was the unofficial national anthem, sung and hummed by soldiers from both north and south.  It originated around 1796. Due to the overwhelming number of fallen soldiers  the will of the people to wage war was severly tested.

 

Lincoln’s Dream

Because it was known that Lincoln believed in the prophetic importance of dreams.  A newspaper  cartoon  depicted him dreaming about the past failures of various battles and the decapitation of members from his cabinet.  His dreams tormented him, causing him great pain and suffering, as a result he suffered some form of depression.  This illustration predicted that good times were coming.

The cartoons depicted the rowdiness of democracy; and the political abuse inflicted upon President Lincoln.  Throughout the war, saving the Union at all costs was his primary goal.  He united the nation against racism, hatred, and bigotry.

A Message from the President

Much as he was ridiculed, Lincoln was also praised during his presidency for his part in the Civil War.  Lincoln’s words during his first inaugural address were most revealing: “…we are not enemies, but friends… through passion we may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection…”

 A History Lesson

What can be learned from this time in our history?  During Lincoln’s presidency the country had consequently lost faith in its democracy;  and therefore,  it  turned to division and violence in a self-destructive manner.  It was due to the  greatness of Lincoln that our nation was saved.  Today, we face similar challenges that have divided us.

Lincoln’s Greatness

Most of all, Abraham Lincoln demonstrated a strong character with purpose, vision, and truth.  He took ownership of an emotional nation while he self-regulated his emotions, thoughts, and behavior.  His social awareness and self-awareness provided him with wisdom to govern.  He used reflection, introspection as he contemplated his military and political decisions.  Most especially, his social awareness showed respect, compassion, and positive communication to all Americans regardless of their support for him.  As he demonstrated these qualities with a moral compass; he became known,  as the president of all Americans, both North and South.

 

 

The Children of Lincoln

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Wedding Day: November 4, 1842, Parents of Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd – excepting Ann Parker.

 

The Lincoln Family consisted of Abraham Lincoln and his  wife, Mary Todd, and their four sons in order of birth; Robert Todd (1843-1926), Edward Baker (1846-1850), William Wallace (1850-1862) and Thomas, “Tad,” III  (1853-1871).

Robert Todd Lincoln, 1843-1926

Robert Todd Lincoln was Abraham and Mary’s oldest son and the only one to survive into adulthood. After completing his undergrad degree, he received a commission as a captain in the U.S. army, serving in U.S. Grant’s personal staff. He didn’t see much combat, although he did get a view of history, Robert was present as part of Grant’s junior staff at Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House.

The most incredible series of events in Robert’s life were difficult for him to understand. He questioned:  why was I connected to all three events?    He was connected to  the assassination of three U.S. Presidents. In 1881, he became Secretary of War to newly inaugurated James A. Garfield. He stood and witnessed the shooting of President Garfield by one Charles Guiteau. Twenty years later in 1901, Lincoln traveled to Buffalo at the invitation of President William McKinley to attend the Pan Am Exposition. Robert was on his way to meet the President McKinley when anarchist Leon Czolgosz shot the president twice at close range.
Finally, and  most traumatic, Robert was invited in April of 1865 to Ford’s Theater to see “Our American Cousin,” of which he declined.   Robert Todd did not witnessed the shooting of his father, although he was at his father’s bedside until he passed away the next morning.

On the brighter side, he was appointed as Secretary of War under Garfield and Chester A. Arthur,  and had a four year term as minister to Great Britain under President Benjamin Harrison. He made his fortune as general counsel to the Pullman Palace Car Company, and later became its president. He lived out his life living in Manchester, Vermont.

Edward Baker Lincoln-1846-1850

Little is known about the Lincoln’s second son, Edward “Eddie” Baker who died a month before his fourth birthday. Using modern medical knowledge, it is suggested that he died from thyroid cancer. Eddie’s thick, asymmetric lower lip is a sign of the cancer. Eddie was buried at Hutchinson’s Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois.

 

 

William Wallace Lincoln, 1850-1862

William Wallace, “Willie” Lincoln was the third son of the Lincoln’s. He was named after Mary’s brother-in-law, Dr. William Wallace. Willie and Tad became ill in early 1862 while in the White House. Willie’s condition worsened, he had contracted typhoid fever from drinking contaminated water from the Potomac River. Willie gradually weakened, as his parents spent endless hours at his bedside. On Thursday, February 20, 1862, at 5:00 p.m. Willie died. Abraham said, “My poor boy. He was too good for this earth. God has called him home. I know that he is much better off in heaven, but then we loved him so much. It is hard, hard to have him die!”

Thomas “Tad” Lincoln III, 1853-1871

Thomas “Tad” Lincoln III was the fourth and youngest son of the Lincoln’s. Tad was born with a form of cleft lip and palate, causing him speech problems throughout his life. He had a lisp and delivered his words rapidly and unintelligibly. For example, he called his father “Papa Day” instead of “Papa Dear.” During the time his father was alive, Tad was impulsive, unrestrained, and did not attend school, numerous tutors for Tad quit in frustration.

After the death of his father, Tad said, “…Pa is dead. I can hardly believe that I will never see him again….I must learn to take care of myself now. … I am not a president’s son now… ”

On Saturday morning, July 15, 1871,  Tad Lincoln died at the age of 18. The cause of death has been variously referred to as tuberculosis, a pleuristic attack, pneumonia, or congestive heart failure. Lincoln’s death occurred at the Clifton House hotel in Chicago.
The Lincoln’s made an unforgettable impression on the American people by being a living  example of a kind, loving, and considerate family.