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z's when i think about john brown and his attack on slavery i'm always reminded of the founding fathers and they're vile that they would not be the slaves england is there anything a choice words here these are slave holders when they use the word slave they know what they're talking about they didn't say we will not be the oppressed people are being wounded and say we would not be the second class citizens and when they said we will not be the slaves of england and the reason that they use that term slaves because they were talking about the most extreme deprivation of human rights imaginable now if you think of it that way then think about what john brown was trying to do he was trying to free people and a whole region and ultimately a nation from the most extreme deprivation of human rights possible in the cinders real sense the terror john brown was fighting for what america said it was founded on and that is the principle of human freedom
songs like this one thing john brown saw himself very much in the tradition of those freedom fighters that we proudly call revolution there as john brown was a revolution or it's very interesting the way america remembers john brown in a very different way than they remember those revolutionary switch recall patriots if you think about what they had dedicated themselves to these patriots dedicating themselves to the principles which brought america into existence tried bruna dedicating himself to those same principles he's trying to expand those principles to apply to all the people of america not just to those who have the political and economic power in american society to make their freedom except in
the news the gravitas he says is all that hit in the series arose in five slavery but also working to reduce emissions and he says that struggle for the city well now this is the thing we always have to remember that abolitionists also had a job that day is generally abolitionism did not pay a living wage generally and so abolitionists were always people who had there work the work that they depended upon the feed their family and they did this in addition it seems to me that that makes them even more extraordinary than we might think because i'd john brown and other abolitionists really struggled in many ways to just do the basic things that we have to do to get through
each day but in addition he did things like bill's special sellers in his basement so i could hide fugitive slave yourself how dangerous it was to do not only for him but for his family especially after eighteen fifty four an abolitionist a taken a fugitive slave put that abolitionists and their families in jeopardy at the hands of a federal government you could be fined heavily you could be imprisoned for a year or more for helping the fugitive slave or even for refusing to help authorities to capture the disorders we have all kinds of examples of abolitionists who became involved in underground movement and spent years of their lives in confinement being punished for helping a person to seek freedom calvin for banks for example spent sixteen years of his life
in prison for helping fugitives escaped so that this underground were road this abolitionist movement this interracial cooperation in the name of freedom of which john brown was part two really heavy tolls on individual lives on individual relationships and so you really had to be committed to this before you would do the things that abolitionists did almost routinely to push and push against the institution of slavery think of the hitter is here is that there is a law that was like you know what was what's the role of supporter like brown sure one of them one of the important things you had to learn about the underground railroad that you remember about that reset
that one of the important things we have to remember about the underground railroad is the fact that it was a railroad did it run aground but it also do not tend to be as organized as we sometimes imagine certainly there were groups that was set up specifically for aiding fugitives and certainly those groups are very important but generally speaking those groups are located in your northern urban areas in places like philadelphia new york and cincinnati in boston if a fugitive reach those places generally that fugitive could count on some help from organized groups that don't forget it is a war or war from outside of charleston to philadelphia and the fact is that to make that journey you're generally on your own you depended upon other slaves to help you you depended upon the few free blacks there were unknown south to help you you depended upon sympathetic whites to help you and often these
people that helped him especially the white were not generally people who would have said in an interview i guess i'm anti slavery and yes i believe in the underworld because often we talk about the under armour of what we're talking about is one human being in need confirming another committee and often whites reacted to blacks as human beings in need of help and so those whites who never would've gotten any slavery movement never would have spoken out against slavery or willing to help this individual because as a real person and israel person was indeed well in a variety of ways through the most innovative personal strategy's of sealed yourself in a box in an ailing yourself to freedom or pretending to be somebody to war using other people's papers trying in a variety of way slaves were able to move themselves towards freedom but they also depend upon people just ordinary
people who were sympathetic to another human being in need is helping them with this help they recorded actually reach philadelphia or some city with an organized anti slavery and the government was that happen they could've been a lot more organized help but up until that point your approach on their own is it we are one of the things that day and makes john brown so important is that he was one of those people that would ever see the slave a fugitive would've taken that person in this ever practical things a person needs they need clothing the north it's cold they need food they need a way to support themselves for the length of time that they're in this one place before they move on farther north to another place and so work and money and medical attention and a variety of things that the fugitive
need needed these the kinds of services that are john brown might have facilitated he might've been able to provide them with a place to live with food to eat with warm clothing and he might have been able to pass them on to other people who could help them as they continue their trip north where john brown becomes important bills personally we also becomes important symbolically because it was important for black people to know that there were white people who were willing to go out on a limb for them or willing to to put their their lives and the property in jeopardy for them think about this if you're a slave you know the injustice of slavery it is very easy for you to assume given your immediate surroundings on the plantation every white person supports the institution of slavery the presence of the john brown or when war between
lloyd garrison or some other white abolitionists is living proof of the fact confirmation of your denial of the of the fairness of this institution you're your acceptance of your basic idea that slavery is wrong slavery the evil that slavery is something that no human being should have to endure hear these white people who agree with it and who are willing to fight with you for your freedom and for the freedom of other black people but we do know this one worker shortage of one of the things that makes john brown so important is
not only the things he did personally but what he symbolizes for a slave who knows the injustice of the institution it is really encouraging and supportive to know that there are white people who agree with you that slavery was an evil that no person should have the right to own another person john brown then becomes a symbol of that he and the other abolitionists who or what we more generous than others who didn't stand as a symbol of the fact that the slaves notion that slavery was evil is not a notion limited to those in bondage but there are those in freedom who agree that freedom is something that all human beings desire great personal risk
involved i think john brown is in some ways an example of how a commitment can take over our human life he become so committed to abolishing slavery that it becomes a driving force in his life and he moved from being a businessman who has sometimes successful sometimes not successful being a family man and he's delighted children he moves from that to a point where his fight against slavery comes all consuming everything he does then becomes pointed in the direction of bringing slavery to an end and in that way i think he is illustrative of how a cause can become all consuming any major defining point of one's life and for brown at the end of the eighteen fifties i think anti slavery striking against slavery directly
swiftly and forceful it becomes an all consuming goal he must destroy slavery it in some ways you know it becomes what john brown is a destructive force it's been stations later thought that our puzzle and that is safe that is in paris i mean you talk about that we talk about the nat turner from the standpoint of this notion that john brown must have been insane one of the things that we have to understand is the context within which john brown's operate john brown knew about nat turner's rebellion john brown understood the extent to which a slave and a
small group of followers could wreak havoc on the region and the slave was unarmed think about nat turner with substantial arms thing about nat turner with support coming down from the north with money's provided by prominent abolitionist know from the standpoint of john brown nat turner was a precursor of what was to come it was a perfectly rational and reasonable for john brown to believe that he could come in with the equipment and the support bringing some manpower and encourage slaves to rebel and i think he probably could have i think that it would have been a difficult proposition after all we are talking about a state the state of virginia with its own militia and ultimately the power of the federal government through the armed forces to put down slave rebellion but the fact is that it wasn't
crazy to believe that properly armed slaves could put up a substantial defense of the freedom and who knows what may have happened if the debt but if that defense had been dragged out if it had to lasted for a while over getting a win when america rebelled against the british empire one of the things they counted on was the fact that they had time didn't have to win right away they get dragged out the south's when it secede from the union one of the things that it counted on in terms of winning that civil war was affected had time to get into drag it out if they could make the the united states' tiger oates expenditures of lives and money that eventually they would say ok so go be an independent nation well it is not inconceivable that slays might have put up the kind of defense that over time might have encouraged some people to argue
that they wish you arrive at some kind of agreement which would provide for the end of slavery in ways it wouldn't totally put slave masters in the position of giving in blood would allow for the freedom of those two he's wooing with the help of john brown and others properly equipped to open up a substantial defense of their freedom ninety six when he resisted this story is those trees the west but when when we think about john brown and s the question was he crazy to assume that to he could have encourage slave rebellion we should think about the possibility of nat turner well aren't well equipped
crazy to think that with the proper equipment with a proper support nat turner might have done some pretty amazing things in in northern virginia are industries in all and i don't think john roberts raised i think we should be very careful about assuming that the white man who is willing to put his life on the line for black people is of necessity crazy i don't think that's necessarily true turner says the pure a massive stroke well nat turner and his popularizing really struck fear in the hearts of all all slave holders in the south you know right after his rebellion was
crushed the state legislature virginia debated possibility of ending slavery saw last time it was ever done this was a wakeup call for all those people who thought in terms of loyal slaves that well you know maybe your slaves would not be so on is a throwback to what jefferson feared all along and that was the fact that the continued holding of african americans and slavery would one day result and race war nat turner was a wakeup call here to say that you know maybe this race war was possible and maybe it was coming the interesting thing too is you know we always think of john brown as a spiritual visionary no person and part of the reason that we think of john brown as possibly insane is because of all of his spiritual visions he's had him seeing himself in these kinds of very spiritual terms but we're talking about really is the way that nineteenth century
people talked nineteenth century people talk and very spiritual terms as good nat turner that tourre had visions to nat turner saw himself a very spiritual terms to so that when we think about crazy nat turner or crazy john brown maybe we at the end of the twentieth century have to understand that it would have seemed less crazy if we were living in the cultural context of the mit nineteenth century that i think is so or just these characters in the period it would save lives absolutely yes the people as we look back from the twentieth century that john brown in the
middle the nineteenth century sometimes it is too easy for us to hear his words about being the instrument of god to hear about his vision was to hear him speak and release spiritual terms it is sometimes hard for us to understand that this is not necessarily the rankings of a crazy man this is the way lots of people in the middle of the nineteenth century tot that religion and religious visions and they can direct connection to god these were ordinary things people talk like this in ways that they did not talk about their lives hundred years later so it is not necessary for john brown to be crazy to be talking like this that i'm a crazy man who like a nineteenth century man there's bad well again last week
this is the grounds it all fit the whole issue of nonviolence from the standpoint of black people was very complex obviously for the slave on the plantation under the control of the master in a sudden death but also denied it from the standpoint of the slave on the plantation under the control the master the issue of violence is very very tricky very complex you want to resist institution of slavery and most slaves did but most slaves did so in a variety of very imaginative and largely nonviolent ways and this could be done at
all kinds of levels for example slavery wanted to make black family to roll out your ties with your mother and father it wanted to make those irrelevant so you could be sold here in there without making much difference but sleaze refused to allow black family ties to be irrelevant and they maintain memories of people regardless the fact that those people were sold away we have all kinds of examples of father sold away but whose names remained in the family for generations so that you might sell your father away but you named your child after your father there for keeping your father partly with you and that effort to maintain the family was a part of the resistance the determination not to allow slavery to win on this point and in many ways you know slaves defeated slave in not allowing
slavery to make of them what slavery intended to make oh you played the us are latino they they were very two very different men i think is that in many ways douglas by the time he met brown was was the intellectual he was certainly a politically active person he was a heck of a speaker he could overwhelm you with the force of his intellect and john brown was a visionary he was a very forceful speaker but he pressed hardest on your emotions and it's very interesting that these two men would come together and john brown prefer to know what to make of frederick douglass i think he had great
respect for frederick douglass after offer dollars a living legend by this time i'm in and everybody who saw for adults who metrodome was talked about the power of his presence i think john brennan felt that color douglas was also impressed with john brown he was impressed with his sincerity he was calm he was impressed with his commitment to one of things that happens when john browning piano now he's staying at the whole effort that was the write a joint letter to john brown's family in which among other things fred douglas says to john brown's wife that he is a remarkable man that he isn't bar upon a remarkable mission and that he is doing really important things for humankind and i think i think pretty that was really meant that i think for dad was really saw him as a person who was acting beyond his own self interest but really in the interest of humankind and i think that's part
of what gave john brown his force of presence now and it is interesting is that even those who feared john brown how it shows that she should tell a story that letter again or is that it doesn't do you use an hour and he does not over they just are more impressive when these two men met i think is very interesting the impression each had all the other frederick douglass or john brown as is really committed person a person whose presence was informed by his commitment not as a commitment to his to himself and to his own self interest not even a commitment that ended with the slave but a commitment to a kind of abstract
freedom for humankind i think it was really impressive writer douglas i think of john brown wasn't it was impressed with douglas and me he was a man who'd come out of slavery a man who by this time was an accomplished speaker was a real intellectual in terms of the way he presented argument in terms of the way he defended his position john brown was tremendously impressed by this i remember reading a letter that john brown and frederick douglass had written together to john brown's family and in his part of the letter fred douglas had said to john brown's wife this is a remarkable man is on a remarkable mission he should be encouraged because what he is doing is going to benefit all of humankind at a friend that was really believe that what john brown was doing the mission in which he was
engaged would benefit all of humankind it's bad yes ironically because douglas's not receive formal education either douglas has taught himself in some ways douglas was a much more refined manner when he met john brown historian i in some ways douglas was a much more refined man than john browne when the two men met douglas have come out of slavery had not had formal education but douglas had educated himself in remarkable ways and so when he spoke he spoke with a force of intellect he spoke with a force of a warning that's john brown i believe perceived and in some ways found affecting i
think that john brown saw frederick douglass as this voice of reason and voice of intellect and very powerful representative of the voices a slave it was this powerful presence to which john brown react i think that's reason john brown wanted frederick douglass to come within i think he wanted he wanted him as does another body but i also think that he wanted frederick douglass his presence on the raid that he thought that presence would i think inspire the other members of the raid and would be invaluable in terms of inspiring the slaves that they would encounter when they moved into virginia to start to encourage slave uprising
American Experience
John Brown's Holy War
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Interview with historian James Horton, 2 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 Slavery - founding fathers, principle of human freedom, Brown - revolutionary, expanding principles, Abolitionists - had day jobs, underground RR dangerous, Underground RR - symbolic importance of whites (long), Underground RR - symbolic importance of whites (short), Brown - fight against slavery all consuming, driving force, Sanity - Nat Turner, rational to encourage rebellion, Sanity - imagine Nat Turner well armed, not crazy, Turner - uprising struck fear, spiritual visions, Religion - spiritual visions ordinary for 19th century, Douglass/Brown - intellect/emotion, impressed each other, Douglass/Brown - impressed each other, letter, Douglass - refined, powerful, would inspire raiders
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, 2 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, 2 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, 2 of 5. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from