John Brown - Right, Wrong, and Nothing Else
Abolitionist John Brown delivered his last speech in a courtroom in Charles Town, West Virginia on November 2, 1859. The speech, given one month before his execution, covered his thoughts about his direct action in furtherance of the cause of abolitionism.
I will say this: take John Brown's raid as a lesson in how violence erupts from ideological differences. Those differences translate into conflicts over property, status, and into valuations of life itself. Who's life is more valuable - yours or mine? Civilized people see this as a trick question, as we are all created equal. The South believed it was "civilized" yet it fought the civil war to preserve a white supremacist heirarchy where humans could own other humans as property: buy, sell, hold in involuntary servitude, or kill at their whim.
There is more than one place in the world, not only in the USA, where there is killing over social status and culture: rules for one group not applicable to another. One group in concentration camps, put there by another group with the power. One group subjected to forced labor, put there by another with the power. We humans have not accepted as fact that any of us is a peer of any other of us.
John Brown was a Christian. Not a robe wearing hippie which many of you in readerland envision, nor was he an accelerationist looking for armageddon. John Brown followed those simple lessons taught in the Sermon on the Mount. What's more, he inferred the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. Life was a simple matter of doing the right thing, no matter the temptation of the easy. Life was about doing the right thing, even when there was a severe worldly penalty. There was right and wrong; there was nothing else. Indeed, MLK gave a modern warning that acceptance of a little injustice threatens all justice - everywhere and for everyone, without exception.
The violence at Harper's Ferry was bound to happen as tensions escalated. If he had the counsel of experts on the topic of violence, John Brown would have been told, "It is possible that there will be a fight when you make your initial show of force; likewise, there may be a fight to end your raid or block your escape. Your adversaries have no intention of giving up their slaves." Indeed, the raid did turn bloody. Brown's crew was either killed or captured, and the survivors put on trial. Convicted of not only murder, but insurrection, he gave this speech on November 2nd, 1859 and was executed about one month later:
I have, may it please the court, a few words to say.
In the first place, I deny everything but what I have all along admitted: the design on my part to free slaves. I intended certainly to have made a clean thing of that matter, as I did last winter, when I went into Missouri and took slaves without the snapping of a gun on either side, moved them through the country, and finally left them in Canada. I designed to do the same thing again, on a larger scale. That was all I intended. I never did intend murder, or treason, or the destruction of property, or to excite or incite slaves to rebellion, or to make insurrection.
I have another objection, and that is: it is unjust that I should suffer such a penalty. Had I interfered in the manner which I admit, and which I admit has been fairly proved (for I admire the truthfulness and candor of the greater portion of the witnesses who have testified in this case). Had I so interfered in behalf of the rich, the powerful, the intelligent, the so-called great, or in behalf of any of their friends -- either father, mother, sister, wife, or children, or any of that class -- and suffered and sacrificed what I have in this interference, it would have been all right. And every man in this court would have deemed it an act worthy of reward rather than punishment.
The court acknowledges, as I suppose, the validity of the law of God. I see a book kissed here which I suppose to be the Bible, or at least the New Testament. That teaches me that all things whatsoever I would that men should do to me, I should do even so to them. It teaches me further to "remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them." I endeavored to act up to that instruction. I say, I am too young to understand that God is any respecter of persons. I believe that to have interfered as I have done -- as I have always freely admitted I have done -- in behalf of His despied poor, was not 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 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 submit; so let it be done!
Let me say one word further: I feel entirely satisfied with the treatment I have received on my trial. Considering all the circumstances, it has been more generous than I expected. I feel no consciousness of my guilt. I have stated from the first what was my intention, and what was not. I never had any design against the life of any person, nor any disposition to commit treason, or excite slaves to rebel, or make any general insurrection. I never encouraged any man to do so, but always discouraged any idea of any kind.
Let me say also, a word in regard to the statements made by some to those conncected with me. I hear it has been said by some of them that I have induced them to join me. But the contrary is true. I do not say this to injure them, but as regretting their weakness. There is not one of them but joined me of his own accord, and the greater part of them at their own expense. A number of them I never saw, and never had a word of conversation with, till the day they came to me; and that was for the purpose I have stated.
Now I have done.