"A couple of the panelists on the John Brown session waxed somewhat romantic in their defense of the radical abolitionist, stimulating a useful exchange about what constitutes justifiable revolutionary violence." ~ Professor David Blight commenting on the Sesquicentennial seminar held recently at the University of Richmond.
Along that same line of thought . . .
"The picture of John Brown that has come down through time is largely that of a madman, a fanatic. The leader of the failed 1859 raid on the U.S. arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, who hoped to touch off a massive slave rebellion, was deranged, a violent psychotic, “a brutal murderer if ever there was one,” wrote the historian Bruce Catton in 1961. But Evan Carton, an English professor at the University of Texas, argues otherwise in his thoughtful, well-researched new biography of Brown, Patriotic Treason: John Brown and the Soul of America. As Carton sees it, Brown was no psychotic but rather an immensely principled activist, a revolutionary whose dedication—whose sacrifice of his life—to the cause of freeing America’s slaves has much to teach a morally relativistic, ethically relaxed age."
Of course, not all professional historians are of the same mind when it comes to John Brown:
"John Brown was, in effect, a terrorist. Whether you agree or that what he was doing was right or not. There are people in the Taliban who believe what they're doing is right." ~ Gerry Gaumer, spokesman for the Park Service in Washington, D.C.
And . . .
"The fifth victim floated nearby as John Brown and his men washed blood from their swords in Pottawatomie Creek. Brown said that the killings had been committed in accordance to "God’s will," and that he wanted to "strike terror in the hearts of the proslavery people." ~ From PBS' American Experience
So, what you think? Are the first two comments reflective of an objective, careful analysis, and "sophisticated" approach to historiography? Or, are they similar in sentiment and motivation to what many academics accuse "Lost Causers" of?
And, just for some drama and shameless self-promotion, here's what I wrote about Brown's hanging in my book about Stonewall Jackson and his black Sunday school class:
On December 2, 1859, a largely military crowd in Charlestown looked on with vindication as the radical abolitionist John Brown was hanged. The only noise heard was the creaking of the wooden gallows and strained hemp as Brown’s “struggles continued, growing feebler and feebler at each abortive attempt to breathe.” When Brown’s body mercifully stilled at last, slowly “swayed to and fro by the wind,” there was a long, pained silence. Preston [John Thomas Lewis], present with the VMI cadets, cracked the icy air with his booming voice, uttering the words, “So perish all such enemies of Virginia! All such enemies of the Union! All such foes of the human race!” He later wrote of the incident, “So I felt, and so I said, with solemnity and without one shade of animosity, as I turned to break the silence, to those around me.”
Yes, I know this controversy is nothing new but it (the sentiments expressed by the first two quotes) does appear to be evolving into a more acceptable interpretation and school of thought. But is it good history?
Hmmm . . .