|Tragic Prelude by John Steuart Curry, mural at the Kansas Statehouse, Topeka. (Source: Kansas Historical Society)|
My students will tell you that I am not a fan of John Brown. I don't let my opinion of historical subjects be known that much but I can't mask my feelings for John Brown. He was one the right side of an issue but determined that 'right' was more important than 'life'. Several students have taken on Mr. Brown in their research. They want to prove he wasn't a domestic terrorist in my mind. I love the challenge they undertake. The have forced me to reconsider Brown each year. While they haven't weakend my feelings for John Brown, they have tempered my off-handed disgust. Brown is important for reasons beyond the Pottomatomie Massacre.
One thing which has challenged my interpretation of John Brown is his oration at his trial after Harpers Ferry. An except follows:
"[T]he New Testament teaches me that all things whatsoever I would that men should do to me, I should do even so to them....I have endeavored to act on that instruction. I am yet too young to understand that God is any respecter of persons. I believe that to have interfered, as I have done,...in behalf of His despised poor, is no wrong, but right. Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood farther with the blood of my children and the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I say let it be done."
I am slowly warming to the idea that I can still think him a terrorist but can also acknowledge why Thoreau would plead for Brown's life and Benet would, using some of Brown's own words, memorialize his death:
"Now if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit mylife for the furtherance of the ends of justice and mingle
my blood further with the blood of my children
and with the blood of millions in this slave country
whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and
unjust enactments, I say, let it be done."
|Harpers Ferry (from near the Engine House)|
|Engine House at Harpers Ferry|