Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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BROWN, John, was born in Torrington, Conn., May 9, 1800, and was hanged at Charlestown, Va., Dec. 2, 1859. He had lived in Essex county, N. Y., in "John Brown's tract," until 1851, when he removed to Akron, Ohio, and in 1855, without his younger children but with his four older sons, settled in Kansas, where he soon became known as "John Brown, of Osawatomie," one of the foremost leaders in resisting Missouri border ruffian violence by force. He at last began the forcible liberation of Missouri slaves, and rewards were offered for his arrest by state and federal authorities. In January, 1859, he left Kansas for the east, to fulfill his life-long ambition of beginning a forcible, not a political, opposition to slavery by renewing the liberation of slaves on a far larger scale. In July, 1859, he settled near Harper's Ferry, Va., with some of his Kansas associates, and began preparations. Late on Sunday evening, Oct. 17, with 17 white and 5 colored men, he seized the United States arsenal at Harper's Ferry "by the authority of God Almighty," and spent the next 18 hours in freeing slaves, cutting telegraph wires, preparing defenses, and making white prisoners, of whom he secured nearly 50. His intention was to retreat at once, with his negro recruits, to the strongholds of the mountains, and keep up a guerrilla warfare, with the Alleghanies from Alabama to Maryland as his base, but he delayed until he was too late. By noon of Monday militia began to pour in, and before evening 1,500 soldiers, of all arms, had surrounded the armory engine house, which was Brown's last refuge. Early on Tuesday morning the United States marines, using a ladder as a battering ram, burst in the engine house door, and the Harper's Ferry insurrection was over. Eight of the insurgents had been killed, one was dying, and three had already been captured, two of them mortally wounded. The prisoners in the engine house were brown, three other whites, and half a dozen negroes. John Brown's trial was fair, but his conviction was inevitable, and he was executed as above stated. Four of his associates, Cook, Coppoc, Copeland, and Green (a negro), were hanged at Charlestown Dec. 16, and two others, Stevens and Hazlitt, on the 16th of the following March. His sons, Watson and Oliver, had been mortally wounded, and died during the conflicts at the armory Owen Brown, Barclay Coppoc, Tidd, Merriam, and Anderson (a negro), escaped.


—The political importance of the Harper's Ferry insurrection was twofold. In the north it forced the slavery question upon public attention, and put the abolitionists (as distinguished from the republicans) in an entirely new light. Opinions, in a democracy, are always more respectfully considered when their holders are ready to die in their assertion, and, though the north almost unanimously condemned the whole insurrection, John Brown's steadfast life and death, for most northern men, laid the foundation of a kindly reception of the emancipation proclamation only three years afterward. In the south the officeholders and slaveholders, who had hither to found it a work of much difficulty to convince other southerners of the general wickedness of the north, had now a clear opening for the lever. An abolitionist rising had taken place, and the north, while condemning it, had failed to do so with the heat which was natural to southern men, whose homes, wives and babes were at stake in such a struggle. The charge of complicity in John Brown's undertaking was urged angrily and persistently against many persons and associations in the north who were identified with the abolition movement, and the desire for a separate commonwealth, separated by national lines from the abolitionists of the north, grew steadily stronger in the south until the election of 1860 offered a pretext for secession.


—See 1 Greeley's American Conflict, 280; Redpath's Life of John Brown; Webb's Life of John Brown; Report of Congressional Committee on Harper's Ferry Insurrection; and later authorities under SECESSION.


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