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as that's because when you think about kansas i think it's important to know that there are a number of forces that are competing in kansas you have your pro slavery forces that are filtering up from missouri into kansas trying to make sure that they have a substantial portion of the power the political power in that territory you've got any slavery forces were generally filtering down to western europe ohio may be coming in from the new england trying to make sure that the anti slavery forces have but a substantial portion of the power but then you have a lot of people who are who call themselves free soil workers these are people who want to block the expansion of slavery but we're not doing it necessarily for the advantage of blacks they're doing it for their own advantage what they're trying to do is to make sure that the land in the territory which incidentally is seen as america's future it's reserved for
free labor they want to block the incursion of slavery but they don't want free blacks coming in there either it's very interesting that that the free soil movement was able to sell to white working class people in urban cities of the east the notion that if you vote for us you vote for people who will protect the frontier the territories america's future for you we'll make sure that you will inherit america's future that it is not inherited by slave holders or slaves and this is also important or free black people so the free soil movement complicates all this there are people who are there to make sure the kansas respond remains free and white citizens of
texas as kansas at the way there is a tradition that puts kansas in context the tradition is that as american experience each time it expands it has to deal with the recurring issue of slavery if you bring texas into the union you have to understand that you're bringing in a state which condones slavery when you move west how will this new land fit with the whole notion of the contest between slave labor and free labor you know by the end of the eighteen fifty the south is pushing to expand into cuba is pushing to expand into a variety of places
in the caribbean why because they think that that is one way of expanding slavery explain and shane really during his period becomes a key the notion is that if a society cannot expand the dice when the south reacted to the election of lincoln it was reacting in part not to the fact that lincoln was going to do better things going to abolish slavery in the south where it exists in fact lincoln said over northern oregon he would not lincoln was willing to stand for constitutional amendment which would guarantee the right of slave holders the whole slaves for ever in the places where slavery existed but lincoln was committed to contain the institution of slavery to not allowing to expand and from the standpoint of the south to contain slavery to keep it out of the
territory said differently to keep it out of america's future that is where america's future was in the territories was to condemn it to death so from the standpoint of the south slavery had to be continually expanded in order to keep slavery to live that ultimately is what kansas's about cannes is about the effort of the south to continue to expand slavery kansas is about the effort of a variety of forces in the north to contain slavery some for the purpose of abolishing slavery some for the purpose of maintaining this land for free white labor but that's what campbell's represent it is the battleground on which the notion of the expanding boundaries of slavery are for not what is john brown is one of those who comes a kansas for lofty ideological reasons syria have john
brown isn't one of those who comes to kansas for lofty ideals what he's trying to do is the fighting insistence to show slavery see slavery as evil he sees that not only a disadvantage but the danger of allowing slavery to expand into the territory they are for expanding its power there for expanding its influence on the whole nation and he's determined that slavery is not going to expand into kansas he is willing to go to war that's what literally happened we were talking about your career in kansas he is willing to go to war to stop expansion of slavery well says raul me john that so there is that forces
john brown is pushed ever further along the road of war on slavery in part as a result of what's happening in the early fifties we got the passage the fugitive slave law you've got the rising influence of slavery at all levels of government you've got the attack on slavery when charles sumner is attacked on the floor of the senate and in the attack is applauded by slave palace you know preston brooks who attacked sumner with a cane brokers came in and in the process of bidding summer he has sent hundreds of genes to replace his broken cain now does might've been fighting to sell what for example the people in massachusetts they said we we take each
blow it minister to our senator as a blow upon the body of massachusetts and all of its inhabitants and john brown didn't take it as day amusing event either he saw the serious and in part he saw himself as a beijing the attack by slave holders and prose slaveholding parties on on the north and specifically an abolitionist john brown was going to know that he's not the first to go on his son's leave before it was kansas yeah i think that you know that you read
about these romantic descriptions of john brown being baptized by foul fire in kansas by being reborn as a result of the violent confrontations in kansas is certainly his resolve was strengthened as a result of his experience in kansas i am it seems to me that kansas is the most difficult aspect of john brown's career for most of us here at the end of the twentieth century to come to grips with john batchelor people straight out and murdered people straight out you don't wanna i certainly do not want to condone that but by the same token it is i think relevant to argue that there was a war going on there when he killed all those pro slavery people he was doing so true binge an attack on but any slavery forces in which large numbers of people have until
killing never justifies killing i'm not a person who is committed to warrant any regard but it does seem to me that we need to be clear that this was not a war that john brown was engaged in for personal gain he was not in it for land or money isn't the principal by in some ways it's made him a radical i don't excuse what he did but i think i understand why that doesn't make it right but as people living a hundred years later one of the most important things we can do is to try to understand the past can change and we don't need to justify it but i think we should try to understand the people
oh we tell the story of the week in the process a lot of this is how you know we were lost it seems there's a world john brown i think it appealed to a wide range of people and in some ways he become symbolic of the more wide variety of motivations that brought people to anti slavery in some ways he came to any slavery out of religious conviction in some ways he came to any slavery out of commitment too lofty philosophical principle equality freedom liberty in some ways he came to any slavery because i the emotional impact of
being where slavery existed watching slaves and what happened to slaves in his youth i think that motivated him to it is very interesting i think to look at the range of motivations and to come to the realization that blacks and whites often ahead similar but different motivations for fighting in slavery i think white people were more likely to come to the fight against slavery from or less a direction of john brown some more one element in the other but most principled stand against slavery most reacting to some personal involvement with least witnessing of some incident that changed their viewing the way they looked at the us to show slavery for black people i think they're all though the philosophical commitments there were the religious commitment certainly
but in addition to all that i think there were some very personal reasons that black people uphold slavery and took personal steps against institution i guess one of the best examples is going to feel newly dangerfield newbie who goals with john brown to harpers ferry that if only we had the same kinds of commitments to freedom and equality the same kind of religious commitments against the deprivation of human rights but he had some other very personal reasons for copying john brown his wife was being held in that area his wife and his children and his wife had written him a letter saying that she was about to be soul south of the area she was afraid if she had been seoul's south that she and the children would never ceding to feel again and she writes to an i mean it just it did it make your heart beat here to hear her words when she says i'm afraid that if you don't come so
i will never see you again and i will be sold away and you will never be able to reach now you know under the circumstances short your commitment to philosophical commitment to be really strong religious commitment obviously very very strong but here is a personal reason for you to be with john brown at harpers ferry at that moment you are in the truest sense of the term answering the most personal calls and when you think about what people go to war ultimately they go to war to protect the people that live so under those circumstances you can understand what if you notice when asked says down with john brennan loy south because for him this is a personal journey a personal commitment is what is what does it say
that you know i think that for frederick douglass answering the question of should i should i not go southward with brown was really really difficult for godot was by this time had a personal commitment to striking a blow insulation but i think that he thought that john brown's strategy his program his plan i was doomed to failure because i don't think that he believed that john brown had worked out the details i don't think that he believed that john brown truly appreciated the military might of this institution called slavery it is i think instructive to know that frederick douglass having spent so many years of his old life in slippery head things having spent so
many years of his own life in the south understood only too well how strongly entrenched how well guarded slavery was and i think that he just believed that john brown was too optimistic about what he thought he could do with a relatively small band quickly enough to be able to get in and get out before major military force could be brought to bear against i think for frederick douglass this was a decision which was a very practical decision very difficult one from to make but a very practical decision he just didn't think john brown's plan would work i think it all came down to that he would like to have thought it would work but i think he just didn't believe that work this is
big i says yeah i think that brown was crushed on some levels i think that brown was severely disappointed not to have for to dance with him i think freddy was an inspiration to well and i think that it was like going into battle having lost your your chief called shin strategist and and inspire or i think that brown thought that his whole movement was weakened by not having frederick douglass a part of it but he couldn't the most ridiculous do we couldn't convince to come along and so they'll put brown decision of either going i'm not going but it became clear that the fed was was not going to join and in some ways i think what we get is the john brown less spirited that he might have
been with frederick douglass but wasn't open a day for dose of right and obviously his three beers about that that this particular movement at this particular time especially given the split second decisions that john brown mate was not going to be successful it does and it doesn't and when they want one thing you have been suppressed why get pieces was one of all the seasons i think that he is going to harpers ferry because as with its arsenal is because as waiting to receive weapons and those weapons he can use to equip slaves
in the area to help encourage uprising the question becomes is he going to ultimately to make up himself a martyr you know at the end of his life and he's about to be hanged he says you're worth more as martin and i am a life i don't think that he at this early point sees himself as a person who was doing all that us and to commit a kind of suicide for the cause i think later on it becomes clear that he's not going to make it that he's going to be captured or killed i think that point he becomes resigned but i think that the that his martyrdom is more resignations were just talking that was official ball is i think his initial golden going into hardest for is to re the arsenal get the guns get the other equipment that can be used to
encourage slave uprising i mean this was a place where you could find such equipment where and he was right in this point you know it was relatively easy to break into it was heartbreak hotel but the point is that his goal of getting equipment that could on the force that could encourage slave uprising i think that part of a plan worked on the study to all why didn't he stay as long as he did why didn't he leave earlier when he might well have gotten away we'll never know this one of those answers to historical questions that we'll never know at this point i don't know people say well he had this more complex i think this is a bit early for the more complex but i'll have to say i can't answer the question i do not know why he stayed as long as he did course we don't know what might have happened had he left earlier but certainly he would've been worse off than he was nice day
it was scary people is one of the one of the things grace this year was this little strange changes you know thank you somewhat and raid itself changes is somewhere does anybody talk about the impact of this raid on the south
well we were in prison in assets really important as essentials that from the standpoint of the south this raid is living proof of that willingness all of the north and i'm not just talking about the fringe north because what they point out is not that this man named john brown as staging this raid but that this man is supported by influential and affluent northern businessman people in a variety of walks of life that this for the south is a symbol of the willingness of the north not just of john brown not just an abolitionist but the north to strike against them to strike against its delicious flavors from their standpoint this is the argument that makes their point slavery is not safe so long as the north is
free to send its men than among us but in his day if they really need to see john brown as a madman but they see him as the madman who is the instrument for men who were not all bad who were injected and striking against a self especially against slavery as incriminating evidence all right well i think that there's an argument for saying that john brown saw his purpose as more than just a single worried and that if you believe that then it does give you at least an argument that maybe he left behind incriminating evidence so that it would be it would become
clear that his action was not the action of a small group that his action was evidence of a larger willingness to strike against is to show slavery and i think that if he believe that's such a belief would drive a deeper wedge between slavery and on slavery forces between north and south but he would have done that because ultimately that's what john brown was about i think he was less concerned with his own personal survival of this raid that he was of this raid really making an impact and widening the gap between those who would defend slavery and those who would attack it's more i think the heart of the reagan office had a raid with that was supported by the secret tricks
you know in some ways john brown becomes the symbol of the american complexity that is our commitment to freedom and our difficulties in dealing with the notion of slavery of human bondage being so much a part of our history john brown who strikes against slavery is doing what every american would ultimately defend that is striking against that institution which deprives people of their god given rights to be human beings to be full human beings but there's another part of this
and this is part of the complexity of the american identity really and that is but john brown is a working as a white person against white people for the benefit of black people race is really at the core of america's contradiction a joy and brown stands as one of the symbols of this core contradiction in our american character that's why john brown is so difficult to deal with the initiative john brown was doing almost anything else if he had almost any other cause if you could find a way of substituting slavery for the liberation of children if you could find a way of substituting slavery for bringing human
freedom to down downtrodden workers could see these children and these workers are black and they're being held by not only white people but people who have themselves committed to notions of liberty and freedom but so in this way john brown symbolizes are most difficult national contradiction a contradiction that has the nation brought into being by the proposition that all men are free and equal being the nation that tolerates the worst form of the denial for that freedom and equality
American Experience
John Brown's Holy War
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Interview with historian James Horton, 4 of 5
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WGBH (Boston, Massachusetts)
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Martyr, madman, murderer, hero: John Brown remains one of history's most controversial and misunderstood figures. In the 1850s, he and his ragtag guerrilla group embarked on a righteous crusade against slavery that was based on religious faith -- yet carried out with shocking violence. His execution at Harpers Ferry sparked a chain of events that led to the Civil War. Horton talks about Kansas -pro - slavery vs. free soil forces, Slavery Expansion - Lincoln contain, Kansas is battleground, Kansas - John Brown determined to stop expansion, Sumner - attack, Brooks sent 100s of canes, serious, Pottawatomie - accepting that John Brown killed, did so for principle, Newby - letter from wife, personal commitment to be w/ John Brown, Douglass - thought plan doomed, John Brown naive about military might, Douglass - John Brown disappointed not to have him along Martyr - resignation Plan - breaking in easy, but he stayed too long, Southern fear - raid a symbol of North's willingness to strike, Raid - evidence more important than his own survival, Icon - symbol of complexity of US, race at core of contradiction
Race and Ethnicity
American history, African Americans, civil rights, slavery, abolition
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Chicago: “American Experience; John Brown's Holy War; Interview with historian James Horton, 4 of 5,” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed July 21, 2024,
MLA: “American Experience; John Brown's Holy War; Interview with historian James Horton, 4 of 5.” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. July 21, 2024. <>.
APA: American Experience; John Brown's Holy War; Interview with historian James Horton, 4 of 5. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from