American Experience John Brown’s Holy War

Here’s the American Experience episode covering John Brown.  It’s not bad.

I’ll post more about John Brown sometime in the future.  In the meantime, where do you stand?  Was John Brown insane or was he sane?  Was he a hero or a villain?



  1. Trying to start a war here? 🙂

    I’ve found Brown to be one of the most divisive figures in American history. A lot of white Southerners simply cannot conceive of anything being good about the man, while black Americans understandably have a different view. But, of course, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, the most famous example of this dichotomy being Menachem Begun of Israel.

    I found Tony Horwitz’s bio of Brown, Midnight Rising, to be very good. Based largely on that book, I think Brown saw himself as a soldier in a cause, so the events in Kansas, while certainly horrific by peace-time standards, were simply acts of war on a battlefield to him. Given the many errors and foolish decisions made in connection with the Harpers Ferry raid, I think it is very likely that Brown was deliberately looking for martyrdom.

    An interesting reflection on Brown is on my website:

    1. I agree with that, Jim. I think Brown was in a war in Kansas. What made him particularly scary to the proslavery folks was the fact that he used their tactics. Shortly before the Pottawatomie Massacre, a free soil settler whose name, ironically, was also John Brown, was hacked to death by proslavery people and his body thrown in front of his cabin for his wife to find.

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