Essay Sample on John Brown's Harpers Ferry Raid: His Fight Against Slavery and the Impact Today

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  4
Wordcount:  939 Words
Date:  2023-03-12


The article "Why John Brown Still Scares Us", by Tony Horwitz, tells the story of John Brown's methods on his fight against slavery. Horwitz wonders if Brown's tactics were right or wrong. On October 18, 1859, Brown was injured from a battle Harpers Ferry which led to the end of his combat career. Through his own words, Brown believed that he had carried out great ambition of his life, which was to seize the vast federal armory at Harpers Ferry and carry out an anti-slavery campaign in the South. During the battle at Harpers Ferry, many of Brown's rebel soldiers die, and many others wounded. The purpose of this battle was to free slaves who were in bondage. Because of the sudden defeat and the capture of Brown, the few freed slaves in the brief rebellion were brought back into bondage. William Phillips, an anti-slavery journalist for the New York Tribune, lauded Brown's war on slavery, outlining him as an odd, stubborn, repellent, iron-willed old man and of fiery temperament (Horwitz 40).

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Brown, a man of intense ambition and faith, was born in 1800 in Connecticut, where he endured many painful afflictions throughout his life. Both his mother and his first wife died during childbirth. He also lost eight of his 20 children as infants. His first wife and many of his children showed signs of mental illness, which many people would later believe that it also affected him. However, at the age of 56, Brown overcame his trials and became a famous warrior against slavery. Brown's methods of fighting slavery differed from other activists. Brown's tactic was to take up arms and fight in cold blood alongside his soldiers against pro-slavery governments and individuals. Brown's first armed battle was in the Kansas Border. During the war, Brown's method led to the killing of five pro-slavery settlers. He also freed slaves from captivity in Missouri at gunpoint and led them to liberation in Canada.

Brown later formed a small army of gunmen to attack Harpers Ferry, intending to free slaves and arm them. His main goal for this tactic was to establish a provisional government in Virginia. As he drove the idea of anti-slavery in Kansas and Virginia, he was joined by a multi-sector of the society. They included farmers, artisans, attorneys, writers, Jewish merchants, ex-slaves, and other citizens who advocated for the freedom of blacks. They shared the militant commitment of Brown to the destruction of an institution, which they felt was in breach of the nation's fundamental freedom and equality promise. The soldiers who followed Brown's lead to death were not psychotic suicidal fanatics, but individuals who believed on the cause of the fight to abolish slavery. They were idealistic young people who were willing to abandon fields and homes for this cause. Brown's principal financial backers, dubbed the Hidden Six, were business elites, politicians, and reformers, including four Harvard alumni. Brown also received clandestine support from Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and other anti-slavery activists.

After his capture in Harpers Ferry, Brown, a failure in battle, won the fight by the strength of his words, and his disposition to death. Brown admitted freely to what he had done. He declared that his actions were driven to give a voice to the poor and make what was deemed wrong become right. Facing his death, Brown boldly stated that if it were necessary to end his life, then it would symbolize the advancement on the ends of justice. In his sentiments, Brown's blood, through his execution, would be the same with those who have been oppressed through slavery and their rights disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments (Horwitz 43).

As Brown drove the movement against slavery, the Southerners were not worried about his influence. However, after the battle in Harpers Ferry, they became aware of the growing number of the anti-slavery movement. This awareness led to the detention and casual lynching of those who were suspected to be preaching anti-slavery ideologies. Most of those captured were Northerners. Because many victims were from the North, the result of the attack on Harpers Ferry revealed a great division between the North and South. It also led to secession and the civil war. Brown ignited a fuse that lit, as the country was on the verge of devastating war.

Brown's story poses a problem that goes way beyond his ideology and beliefs due to the fact that Americans were willing to kill one another by the hundreds of thousands in the 1860s. His tactics and ideologies also raise a vexing issue. As much as his main objective can be argued to be right, his actions included scenes of genocide. At Pottawatomie Creek in Kansas, Brown's army captured pro-slavery sellers, hacked them to death, and mutilated their bodies and left them in the open. Brown's tactics would be referred to as terrorism in modern days. This tactic, however, sent a cold message to pro-slavery sellers, who began fearing the rise of rebellion from their slaves. At that point, it was evident that nothing but war could settle the issue of slavery in America. Therefore, in his belief, Brown achieved his goal of fighting against slavery. This fight was at the cost of his soldiers' lives and his own life too.

Eighteen months later, a war erupted in America, which took more than 600,000 American lives. In this instance, Abraham Lincoln, saw the war as a fight to save the Union. Brown can be praised as an anti-slavery hero, but the validation of his tactics in this fight to liberate slaves can be questioned.

Works Cited

Horwitz, Tony. "Why John Brown Still Scares Us". American History, 2011, pp. 39-45., Accessed 5 Dec 2019.

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Essay Sample on John Brown's Harpers Ferry Raid: His Fight Against Slavery and the Impact Today. (2023, Mar 12). Retrieved from

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