|JOHN BROWN HAS A FEW WORDS TO SAY ABOUT HIS DEATH SENTENCE
JOHN BROWN WAS A KILLER WITH A CAUSE. In the clashes in Kansas between Free Soilers and pro-slavery partisans (called border ruffians), “Osawatamie Brown” led a party that killed five men in the name of abolition.
Eastern liberals, including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, admired this man of action, who set himself up in 1858 as “commander in chief’ of a nebulous army to seize power and property from slaveholders; he gained fame as a rebel in a raid in Missouri to free a group of slaves, whom he took to Canada and freedom.
Brown rented a farmhouse in Maryland, fifty-five miles north of the nation’s capital, in 1859; his plan was to strike across the Potomac River at the arsenal in Harpers Ferry. Virginia. With a band of thirteen whites and five blacks, Brown seized the town, killing several citizens, including a free Negro; he let news of the raid go forth in the hope of raising an army of insurrection. Federal troops under the command of Colonel Robert E. Lee and Lieutenant J. E. B. Stuart arrived and demanded his surrender; Brown and his band, including two of his sons, holed themselves up in the firehouse and chose a suicidal fight. Seven of Brown’s men, his sons among them, were killed; the rebels took the lives often of the U.S. troops.
To what end? Abraham Lincoln at the Cooper Union a few months later dismissed Brown as a monomaniac whose insurrection ‘~ends in little else than his own execution,” but abolitionist orator Wendell Phillips believed that emancipation began at Harpers Ferry. Southerners used him as evidence of the North’s intent to seize their property by force and violence, but most northerners—who did not like slavery but did not favor its abolition in the South—saw him as fanatic if not insane. He was mythologized in song, to the tune of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” sung by Union soldiers in the coming war: “John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave, but his soul is marching on.”
In prison and on trial, Brown felt the attention of the nation on himself and his cause, and comported himself with dignity, On November 2, 1859, following his conviction and sentence of death, he made these extemporaneous remarks, printed here in their entirety, The powerful evocation of the Christian message would have gained even greater force without the last three, self-serving paragraphs, ending on “I say let it be done.” but excess was in his nature.
I have, may it please the court, a few words to say.
In the first place, I deny everything but what I have all along admitted: of a design on my part to free slaves. I intended certainly to have made a clean thing of that matter, as I did last winter, when I went into Missouri and there took slaves without the snapping of a gun on either side, moving them through the country, and finally leaving them in Canada. I designed to have done the same thing again on a larger scale. That was all I intended. I never did intend murder, or treason, or the destruction of property, or to excite or incite slaves to rebellion, or to make insurrection.
I have another objection, and that is that it is unjust that I should suffer such a penalty. Had I interfered in the manner which I admit, and which I admit has been fairly proved—for I admire the truthfulness and candor of the greater portion of the witnesses who have testified in this case—had I so interfered in behalf of the rich, the powerful, the intelligent, the so-called great, or in behalf of any of their friends, either father, mother, brother, sister, wife, or children, or any of that class, and suffered and sacrificed what I have in this interference, it would have been all right. Every man in this court would have deemed it an act worthy of reward rather than punishment.
This court acknowledges, too, as I suppose, the validity of the law of God. I see a book kissed, which I suppose to be the Bible, or at least the New Testament, which 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 re member them that are in bonds as bound with them. I endeavored to act up to the instruction I say I am yet too young to understand that God is any respecter of persons. 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. I did not wrong but right.
Now, if it is deemed necessary that l 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 say let it be done.
Let me say one word further. I feel entirely satisfied with the treatment I have received on my trial. Considering all the circumstances, it has been more generous than I expected. But I feel no consciousness of guilt. I have stated from the first what was my intention, and what was not. I never had any design against the liberty of any person, nor any disposition to commit treason or incite slaves to rebel or make any general insurrection. I never encouraged any man to do so, but always discouraged any idea of that kind.
Let me say, also, in regard to the statements made by some of those who were connected with me, I hear it has been stated by some of them that r have induced them to join me. But the contrary is true. I do not say this to injure them, but as regretting their weakness. Not one but joined me of his own accord, and the greater part at his own expense. A number of them I never saw, and never had a word of conversation with, till the day they came to me, and that was for the purpose I have stated.
Now I have done.