John Brown (abolitionist)

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These men are all talk; What is needed is action — action!

John Brown (9 May 18002 December 1859) was an American abolitionist who advocated and practiced insurrection as a means to the abolition of slavery.

Quotes[edit]

  • I bring you one of the best and bravest persons on this continent — General Tubman as we call her.
    • Introducing Harriet Tubman to Wendell Phillips, as quoted in The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom (1898) by Wilbur Henry Siebert, p. 185

1850s[edit]

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!
I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land can never be purged away but with blood.
I believe that to have interfered as I have done as I have always freely admitted I have done in behalf of His despised poor, was not wrong, but right.
All persons known to be of good character and of sound mind and suitable age, who are connected with this organization, whether male or female, shall be encouraged to carry arms openly.
Slavery, throughout its entire existence in the United States, is none other than the most barbarous, unprovoked and unjustifiable war of one portion of its citizens against another portion, the only conditions of which are perpetual imprisonment and hopeless servitude, or absolute extermination, in utter disregard and violation of those eternal and self-evident truths set forth in our Declaration of Independence.
  • These men are all talk; What is needed is action — action!
    • Remarks at the New England Anti-Slavery Convention (May 1859), quoted in William Lloyd Garrison by Wendell and Francis Garrison.
  • I am gaining in health slowly, and am quite cheerful in view of my approaching end, — being fully persuaded that I am worth inconceivably more to hang than any other purpose.
  • I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land can never be purged away but with blood. I had as I now think, vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed, it might be done.
    • This was written on a note that he had at his execution (2 December 1859), most sources say it was handed to the guard, but some dispute that and claim it was handed to a reporter accompaning him; as quoted in John Brown and his Men (1894) by Richard Josiah Hinton, p. 398.
  • This is a beautiful country.

Provisional Constitution and Ordinances (1858)[edit]

Provisional Constitution and Ordinances for the people of the United States (1858)
  • Whereas slavery, throughout its entire existence in the United States, is none other than the most barbarous, unprovoked and unjustifiable war of one portion of its citizens against another portion, the only conditions of which are perpetual imprisonment and hopeless servitude, or absolute extermination, in utter disregard and violation of those eternal and self-evident truths set forth in our Declaration of Independence. Therefore, we, citizens of the United States, and the oppressed people who, by a recent decision of the Supreme' Court, are declared to have no rights which the white man is bound to respect, together with all other people degraded by the laws thereof, do, for the time being, ordain and establish for ourselves the following Provisional Constitution and Ordinances, the better to protect our persons, property, lives, and liberties, and to govern our actions.
    • Preamble.
  • Persons convicted of the forcible violation of any female prisoner shall be put to death.
    • Article XLI.
  • The marriage relation shall be at all times respected, and families kept together, as far as possible; and broken families encouraged to reunite, and intelligence offices established for that purpose. Schools and churches established, as soon as may be, for the purpose of reli­gious and other instructions; for the first day of the week, regarded as a day of rest, and appropriated to moral and religious instruction and improvement, relief of the suffering, instruction of the young and ignorant, and the encouragement of personal cleanliness; nor shall any persons be required on that day to perform ordinary manual labor, unless in extremely urgent cases.
    • Article XLII.
  • All persons known to be of good character and of sound mind and suitable age, who are connected with this organization, whether male or female, shall be encouraged to carry arms openly.
    • Article XLIII.

Prison interview (1859)[edit]

Prison interview (19 October 1859)
  • I acknowledge no master in human form.
  • You had better — all you people at the South — prepare yourselves for a settlement of this question, that must come up for settlement sooner than you are prepared for it. The sooner you are prepared the better. You may dispose of me very easily, — I am nearly disposed by now; but this question is still to be settled, — this negro question I mean; the end of that is not yet.

Speech to the Court (1859)[edit]

Speech to the Court at his Trial, after his conviction (2 November 1859)
  • In the first place, I deny everything but what I have all along admitted, the design on my part to free the slaves... [The Bible] 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 believe that to have interfered as I have done as I have always freely admitted I have done in behalf of His despised 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, also, a word in regard to the statements made by some of those connected with me. I hear it has been stated 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... Now I have done.

Quotes about Brown[edit]

  • While I cannot approve of all your acts, I stand in awe of your position since your capture, and dare not oppose you lest I be found fighting against God; for you speak as one having authority, and seem to be strengthened from on high.
    • Letter from "Christian Conservative" in West Newton, Mass., quoted in the Annual Report of the American Anti-Slavery Society (1861)
  • I looked at the traitor and terrorizer with unlimited, undeniable contempt.
  • One of the most marked characters, and greatest heroes known to American fame.
  • His zeal in the cause of freedom was infinitely superior to mine. Mine was as the taper light, his was as the burning sun. Mine was bounded by time. His stretched away to the silent shores of eternity. I could speak for the slave. John Brown could fight for the slave. I could live for the slave. John Brown could die for the slave.
  • His zeal in the cause of my race was far greater than mine - it was as the burning sun to my taper light - mine was bounded by time, his stretched away to the boundless shores of eternity. I could live for the slave, but he could die for him.
  • That new saint, than whom nothing nothing purer or more brave was ever led by into conflict and death, — the new saint awaiting his martyrdom, and who, if he shall suffer, will make the gallows glorious like the cross.
  • It is possible that the execution of John Brown might consolidate slavery in Virginia, but it is certain that it would shatter the whole American democracy. You save your shame, but you destroy your glory.
    • Victor Hugo, open letter (2 December 1859) quoted in a biography by his daughter Adèle
  • You charge that we stir up insurrections among your slaves. We deny it, and what is your proof? Harper's Ferry? John Brown? John Brown was no Republican, and you have failed to implicate a single Republican in his Harper's Ferry enterprise. If any member of our party is guilty in that matter, you know it or you do not know it. If you do know it, you are inexcusable for not designating the man and proving the fact. If you do not know it, you are inexcusable for asserting it, and especially for persisting in the assertion after you have tried and failed to make the proof. You need to be told that persisting in a charge which one does not know to be true, is simply malicious slander. Some of you admit that no Republican designedly aided or encouraged the Harper's Ferry affair, but still insist that our doctrines and declarations necessarily lead to such results. We do not believe it. We know we hold to no doctrine, and make no declaration.
  • If our moral duty is to come to the aid of victims of criminal assault, if we are able to do so, then the moral duty of northerners was to come to the aid immediately of enslaved human beings in the south, just as John Brown and Frederick Douglass originally thought. But if it was the duty of true abolitionists to take up arms, it would be perverse not to do so just because the political rationale at large was otherwise somewhat morally confused. Thus, even if other Northerners fought to 'save the Union' rather than to free the slaves, that could have been accepted, as it was by Douglass, as sufficient for the commission of the proper purpose.
  • Ideas made the opposite impact in the Confederacy. Ideological contradictions afflicted the slave system even before the war began. John Brown knew the masters secretly feared their slaves might revolt, even as they assured abolitionists that slaves really liked slavery. One reason his Harpers Ferry raid prompted such an outcry in the South was that slave owners feared their slaves might join him. Yet their condemnations of Brown and the 'Black Republicans' who financed him did not persuade Northern moderates but only pushed them toward the abolitionist camp. After all, if Brown was truly dangerous, as slave owners claimed, then slavery was truly unjust. Happy slaves would never revolt.
  • He done more in dying, than 100 men would in living.
    • Harriet Tubman, as quoted in Bound For the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero (2004), by Kate Larson.
  • If John Brown were still alive, we might accept him.
    • Malcolm X, when asked if white people could join the Organization of African Unity. [1]

John Brown's Body[edit]

  • There are many versions of this song, all to the tune later used for Battle Hymn of the Republic

    John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave,
    John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave,
    But his soul goes marching on.

    Chorus:
    Glory, glory, hallelujah,
    Glory, glory, hallelujah,
    His soul goes marching on.

    He's gone to be a soldier in the Army of the Lord,
    He's gone to be a soldier in the Army of the Lord,
    His soul goes marching on.

    Chorus:

    John Brown's knapsack is strapped upon his back,
    John Brown's knapsack is strapped upon his back,
    His soul goes marching on.

    Chorus:

    John Brown died that the slaves might be free,
    John Brown died that the slaves might be free,
    His soul goes marching on.

    Chorus:

    The stars above in Heaven now are looking kindly down,
    The stars above in Heaven now are looking kindly down,
    His soul goes marching on.

    Chorus:

  • John Brown by William W. Patton

    Old John Brown’s body lies moldering in the grave,
    While weep the sons of bondage whom he ventured all to save;
    But though he lost his life while struggling for the slave,
    His soul is marching on.

    John Brown was a hero, undaunted, true and brave,
    And Kansas knows his valor when he fought her rights to save;
    Now, though the grass grows green above his grave,
    His soul is marching on.

    He captured Harper’s Ferry, with his nineteen men so few,
    And frightened "Old Virginny" till she trembled through and through;
    They hung him for a traitor, themselves the traitor crew,
    But his soul is marching on.

    John Brown was John the Baptist of the Christ we are to see,
    Christ who of the bondmen shall the Liberator be,
    And soon throughout the Sunny South the slaves shall all be free,
    For his soul is marching on.

    The conflict that he heralded he looks from heaven to view,
    On the army of the Union with its flag red, white and blue.
    And heaven shall ring with anthems o’er the deed they mean to do,
    For his soul is marching on.

    Ye soldiers of Freedom, then strike, while strike ye may,
    The death blow of oppression in a better time and way,
    For the dawn of old John Brown has brightened into day,
    And his soul is marching on.

    • Some versions, instead of "nineteen men so few" sing "nineteen men so true." Some versions sing "themselves the traitor crew" as "themselves the traitorous crew." Some versions sing "with its flag red, white, and blue" as "with its flag o' red, white, and blue" and some read "of" instead of "o'". The word soul is sometimes replaced with truth. [3]

External links[edit]

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