"[John] was one of the most controversial figures of his time,
and his name continues to provoke both anger and admiration, though he
was executed shortly after the raid.
Historians routinely use such words as 'fanatic' and 'murderer'
to describe him, but use no such words to describe the slave owners
and slavery supporters he fought. What is it about John Brown that
continues to arouse such passion, when the cause for which he gave his
life--the destruction of slavery--was achieved just a few years after
Today, by looking at Fiery Vision: The Life and Death of John
Brown by Clinton Cox, we're going to complete a trilogy of historical
figures we didn't learn enough of in school. Like Eleanor Roosevelt
and Rosa Parks, John Brown was a much more complex and nuanced human
being than you'd learn from brief high school history mentions.
Cox doesn't deny that Brown and his followers, after a great
deal of planning, captured the Harpers Ferry armory. What he does is
put this action into historical context. Much like today, a lot of
violence was going on and government was on the side of the oppressors.
In 1859 slaves were considered property. White owners could do
whatever they wished, much as you can do what you want to with your
car or truck (as long as it doesn't involve vehicular man[sic]
slaughter). Beating to death or cutting off limbs were within the
owners' rights. Slaves had value ratings like your vehicle's blue
"The reporter said babies 'are esteemed worth to the master a
hundred dollars the day they are born, and to increase in value at the
rate of a hundred dollars a year till they are sixteen- or seventeen-
years-old, at which age they bring the best prices."
You put a monetary value on items you may sell. And sell the
planters did. Slave families were routinely torn apart, often with no
opportunity for bereaved families to even say goodbye. Imagine coming
home from work to learn that your children were sold and shipped to an
unknown location. You would probably never see them again.
Brown was a deeply religious man who was troubled by the way
fellow humans created in the image of God were treated. Additionally
the powers and principalities represented by the government were
coming down on the side of the oppressors. The fugitive slave act
mandated that residents of free states capture and return runaways.
And in the Dred Scott case:
"Chief Justice Roger Taney, a slave owner (as were four other
members of the Supreme Court) [reviewer's note: can you say conflict
of interest?], ruled that no black man, woman, or child could ever be
a citizen of the United States or have any rights 'which the white man
was bound to respect.' Taney also ruled that Congress had no power to
prohibit slavery anywhere in the country, thus outlawing the Missouri
You know what they say about desperate times calling for
desperate measures. Read the book and you will realize that fanatic
and murderer apply a lot more aptly to society at that time than to
the man who tried to do what he could to change things.
On a personal note, today was the Veazie Town Wide Yard Sales. The
weather was not propitious, featuring clouds galore and light mist
with heavier rains imminent. This is probably why there weren't many
sales. But I found a few and was able to buy 9 DVDs, some jewelery, a
fancy pizza cutter, and a couple of adorable snowman wicker containers
perfect for my embroidery floss. I paid $1 for one that had a $34.99
tag on it.
I am trying to persuade myself that I'll get all I need to done by
fall semester. But it seems to be coming up so fast!
A great big shout out goes out to the hardy folks who didn't let the
weather get in the way of their having yard sales and my husband who
gave me money to spend at them.
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