It’s easy to think of the slavery conflict in America as an event that lasted from 1861 to 1865. But the truth is, racial discrimination was a hot topic long before 1861 – and long after 1865. The United States saw many anti-slavery protests, both peaceable and non-peaceable long before the War Between the States. John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry is one of the non-peaceable ones.
John Brown was born in 1800. Over the course of his life he worked fervently for the Underground Railroad, helping runaway slaves escape to Canada. When the Kansas-Nebraska act opened up new states for settlement – and to decide on the slavery issue – John Brown moved to Kansas with several of his sons and fought in a frenzy against the slave owners, even taking violent action against some of them. In retaliation, they waged attacks of their own, killing his son, Frederick. This cemented Brown’s fanaticism even more permanently.
Brown developed a vision in which he would free and empower the slaves. It all began with the seizure of a small town named Harpers Ferry where a US government weapons factory was located. Brown planned to surprise the town, seize control of it, and distribute arms to discontented slaves from it. They in turn would carry the raid farther south. This would be the beginning of the war against slavery.
But Brown’s plans were doomed. He successfully captured Harpers Ferry but foolishly allowed news of that capture to spread through a passing train. Soon United States soldiers poured in, defeating Brown’s small force. Brown himself was captured alive, tried for treason and hung upon conviction of that treason. And so ended the life of a singular man.
The Story of John Brown’s Raid on Harper’s Ferry reads differently from any other Cornerstones of Freedom book I’ve read. I think the main reason is that it is about a much more serious / violent topic than most of the Cornerstones. Mr. Stein reports honestly on the kind of violence that was involved – shootings, hangings, and hackings.
Mr. Stein pointed out several ironies involved in the story of John Brown. One is that the first person killed by Brown’s men was Shephard Hayward, who was himself a freed slave who had found a life beyond slavery. Another is that when John Brown was hung, J.T.L. Preston, militia colonel, called out, “So perish all such enemies of Virginia! All such enemies of the Union! All foes of the human race!”
Conclusion. Still a good book – more sober than other Cornerstones.
Review © 2015 Laura Verret