“We’re Gonna Fight For Freedom With Captain John Brown”

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12 thoughts on ““We’re Gonna Fight For Freedom With Captain John Brown”

  1. jfe

    When I was reading his blog he got quite upset a couple of times over folks who were, in his opinion, “celebrating” John Brown.

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  2. Larry Cebula

    It is really interesting to see John Brown being–not rehabilitated, exactly, but taken more seriously as a (largely) rational actor, rather than as the Thomas Hart Benton/Raymond Massey image of the unhinged bloodthirsty Old Testament fanatic.

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    1. Kevin Levin

      That's right. His actions will continue to be debated, but the tendency to brush him off as psychologically unbalanced is a non-starter and prevents us from understanding Brown as well as the broader reform movement of which the abolitionist movement was part.

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  3. Bob_Pollock

    This is great, even if I do have problem with Brown hacking people to death.

    I have ancestors who lived in Ashtabula then moved to Indiana and Michigan. My great grandmother attended Oberlin just after the turn of the century. I never knew her, but the house she was born and raised in is in northern Indiana and is featured on a couple underground railroad websites. I found a copy of her 1901 HS commencement program online. She gave a speech entitled “Not so Black as They're Painted.” I would love to know the text of that speech!

    Regarding RGW, a while back I had a discussion with him about Brown seizing a federal arsenal and secessionists doing the same thing. He doesn't see the similarities. Somehow secessionists are to be celebrated but not Brown.

    Is this a period song or did these folks just write it?

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  4. Bruce Miller

    That song is from the album by Magpie, “John Brown: Sword of the Spirit”. I really like the whole album. I find John Brown an endlessly fascinating and challenging character. He clearly understood his personal mission of fighting slavery as fulfilling God's will as he understood it in his Calvinist Christianity. Ironically for those who attack Union leaders because none of the major players during the Civil War held 21st-century ideas of racial equality at the start of 1861, John Brown actually did take such a view. He was also notable in having an unusually egalitarian view of women's rights.

    His actions as a guerilla fighter, including the “Pottawatamie massacre”, are a persist challenge to anyone who looks at the situation seriously. As the mini-civil-war in Kansas showed, the slaveowners were willing to use violence and break the law on a massive scale to expand slavery. Other than rigid legalism or actual pacifism, I find it very difficult to find reason to condemn his actions as an anti-slavery fighter, even on tactical grounds. At the same time, because people today looking for excuses to commit violent acts for some fringe cause point to Brown's example, I also think it's important to understand the very real threat to freedom and democracy he was confronting.

    The notion that he was “insane” just doesn't hold water. (Ironically again, some of those hoping to have his life spared after the Harper's Ferry raid promoted the notion in hopes of having him pardoned or at least not executed.) I have seen one essay by Bertram Wyatt-Brown making a plausible case – tricky as psychohistory is – that Brown suffered from depression. It could help explain some very particular mysteries, like why he delayed so long in evacuating Harper's Ferry with the captured weapons. But it can't explain his political actions and decisions, much less does it make them “insane”. And it certainly can't explain why he actions had such a lasting impact and why he is still a powerful symbol of freedom.

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