John Brown’s Raid on Harper’s Ferry Essay

John Brown was one of the most ardent abolitionists who dedicated a larger part of his life to the struggle for the elimination of slavery and liberation of slaves. His ideas became very popular in the USA, though his radicalism frightened his contemporaries as well as many abolitionists who refused to accept his revolutionary ideas. At the same time, John Harper was also influenced by progressive ideas of leading European philosophers, who developed the concept of natural rights and natural law, in accordance with which people were supposed to be equal. In such a situation, John Harper could not remain indifferent to sufferings of slaves who were treated by their masters as commodities. In this respect, his education and influence of his religious family on the formation of John Brown’s identity was also very significant in the formation of his abolitionist views. As a result, John Brown could not afford social injustice that ruled in the American society at the epoch and he could not afford the attitude of whites to slaves. Thus, he grew more and more confident in the importance of the radical change of the existing social order. Hence, by means of revolution he supposed to liberate slaves and make all Americans equal.

The League of Gileadites was one of the first manifestation of the public opposition to slavery and one of the first public organizations which aimed at the assistance to slaves. In fact, the League of Gileadites stood on the abolitionist ground and naturally John Brown was inspired with the activities and goals of this organization. Basically, the League of Gileadites assisted to slaves, who escaped from their masters. One of the primary goals of the organization was the provision of escaped slaves with shelter, nourishment and, what was more important, the League assisted slaves to escape further to Canada, where they could not be returned from. In such a way, the League attempted to save slaves and liberate them from bounds of slavery. However, the overall goal of the organization was the abolition of slavery, but John Brown was apparently dissatisfied with the implementation of this goal because the League of Gileadites stood on the ground of gradual evolution of American society and did not fully accept revolutionist ideas of John Brown. In such a way, the League of Gileadites aimed at the overall abolition, but the raid on Harper’s Ferry did not fully meet this goal, because such a step was too radical for the League. In fact, the raid was a challenge to the existing social order, it was a revolution, which the League could not accept. In this respect, it is possible to speak about the League of Gileadites as a moderate abolitionist organization.

The Kansas-Nebraska act contributed to the outbreak of the guerilla war in Kansas, which were known as the Bleeding Kansas. The guerilla war caused the confrontation between abolitionists and supporters of slavery, but the overall outcome of the war was numerous casualties among the local population from both parties, abolitionists and supporters of slavery. In such a context, the account of Mahala Doyle and Louisa Jane Wilkinson perfectly illustrate the extent to which the guerilla war affected the life of ordinary people. In fact, people faced a constant threat to their life and health not only because they took part in military actions, but simply because of their beliefs or involvement of their relatives in the confrontation. As a result, many innocent people were killed because they were suspect in collaboration with abolitionists or, on the contrary, because they were believed to support southerners and slavery. At the epoch, laws did not work during the wartime that make it practically impossible to defend the life and property. The only way to protect one’s life and property was the enrollment in the regular army, local militia or revolutionary movement. In this regard, it is worth mentioning the fact that casualties were significant among abolitionists as well that makes accounts of Mahala Doyle and Louisa Jane Wilkinson similar to that of John Brown.

Osborne Anderson describes the raid on Harper’s Ferry from the perspective of a participant of the attack. His evidence is very important because it uncovers the atmosphere within the guerilla army and shows their enthusiasm before the attack. At the same time, Osborne Anderson also reveals idealism of the revolutionary army. They viewed the raid on Harper’s Ferry as a turning point in the war, but they did not come prepared to a long and bloodthirsty battle that took many lives of guerillas. Their enthusiasm eventually faded away as their forces were running out and their resistance to the regular army grew weaker. Eventually, the guerilla army was practically paralyzed by the shock after its defeat and it could not recover, regardless of all the efforts made by John Brown to unite his army and continue the organized struggle.

John Brown viewed the raid on Harper’s Ferry as a strategically important, if not to say determinant point in the war against the ruling regime and supporters of slavery. The main goal of the raid on Harper’s Ferry was the arsenal which John Brown expected to use to arm his troops and newcomers. To put it more precisely, he expected that former slaves or liberated slaves would join the army and they would help guerillas to defeat the regular army and militia. Obviously, to create a large and powerful army, John Brown needed weapon which he supposed to find in Harper’s Ferry. Thus, taking the arsenal was a short-term goal, while the use of the arsenal to create a large army with the help of which he could win the war was his long-run goal.

Petersburg, Virginia Daily Express did not support John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. In fact, this attack was not understood by media as well as by the American society at large. His abolitionist ideas were supported neither by media nor by the majority of the population. At the same time, Petersburg, Virginia Express viewed the attack on Harper’s Ferry as an attempt to overthrow the government and to rebel against the people of the USA. In fact, this attack was viewed as a threat to the independence of the USA. Thus, media did not support John Brown and the problem was that they failed to understand his motives and goals and, what is more, media did not share his abolitionist ideas.

Nevertheless, the progressive part of American society perfectly understood the ultimate goal of John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry and the goal of the guerilla war. In this respect, it is worth mentioning David Thoreau who actually supported and justified the attack headed by John Brown on Harper’s Ferry. The goal of the attack and ideas of John Brown were close to ideas of David Thoreau, although the latter was not as radical in his views as John Brown. David Thoreau believed that people should have natural rights, while slavery oppressed rights of slaves. Therefore, the idea of the liberation of salves was supported by David Thoreau and the revolutionary action of John Brown could be justified by the ends he expected to meet.

Thus, John Brown was an extremely controversial figure in American history. On the one hand, he was an ardent abolitionist who sacrificed his life for the sake of liberation of slaves and abolition of slavery. On the other hand, his radicalism and methods of his struggle made him a subject of severe criticism to the extent that he is viewed by many as the father of American terrorism. In actuality, it is hardly possible to idealize this person, but it would be wrong to stigmatize and condemn him as a terrorist. In fact, he made a great contribution to the abolition of slavery and democratization of American society. However, the methods he used were radical, but they were essential at the epoch to make people confident that the situation could not remain unchanged forever and that there is the power in the country that is ready to change the social order and put the end to slavery. Hence, John Brown was a precursor of the Civil War, but his methods and ideas proved to be too radical for the time being because society was unprepared to the revolution. In fact, if he started his revolution a few decades later, he would definitely become a national hero.

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