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that he was brown's notice certainly going to court to court has painted the prices business failings and yet the country itself is mobilizing into is a greater sense of radicalism that's developing and he's not because it's a perception that we are seeing people i'm sure at the time at the time that john brown was least able to give time to abolition activities were talking early age and fifties here when he was so preoccupied with a winding up his business concerns trying to straighten out the financial mess that was his life about point during that period the northeastern
abolitionist movement took a turn toward more radical approaches one occasion this that was the main cause of this was really a compromise meeting fifty and the law the much despised a wall that was a part of that great compromise which was the fugitive slave law and this law said that any fugitive slaves could be captured in the northern free state by a bounty hunter or federal marshal or any other authority and returned south to bondage for many nor eaten for many northeastern abolitionists this was the final proof that the constitutional
process in the united states that was floored that the constitution was a ford documents in that it allowed the cancer of slavery to spread through the mechanism of the fugitive slave law into supposedly free states in the wake when the fugitive slave law many abolitionists states in the wake of the fugitive slave law many abolitionists in remote northeast began to lobby for succession from the union and me in particular in massachusetts people like thomas wentworth higginson and we and lloyd garrison was saying listen we won out we don't want to be a part of the country where there is slavery and where slavery is allowed to spread
and we we feel we have to isolate this and like any other cancer the treatment is they said we feel we need to isolate this like any other cancer of the treatment for the cancer of slavery is amputation we want to be taken out of the union we don't know so they weren't so the northeast so the northeastern abolitionists were really in a radical state of mind after the compromise between fifty and the dawn of the fugitive slave law and nonviolence although garrison and a few others still clung to that credo was fast going by the boards as a practical solution in
the minds of many leading abolitionists you need to do you know is just is to talk about how he's invested so than it was on top of the you know all of the men who serve you know someone who's a misleading figure in sports i'm trying to i'm going to record these times are saying people often actually you know that's something that you know most of us don't realize i'm sure he's leading citizens in a way there was really no device by which one could passively resist the fugitive slave law it was impossible you could stand up and make a stand and just make a speech or sing a song or below and make it right in editorial but as a practical
matter if you wanted to stop deportations of fugitive slaves from northern states back down into the south you were forced to step in in a violent manner and rescue of the fugitive slaves from custody it was the only practical solution so in a way the fugitive slave law forced a new breed of radicalism on to the northeast and abolitionists and we see this with thomas wentworth higginson in may of eighteen fifty four here we have this upstanding member of the community a descendant of the first colonial governor of new hampshire they make up a cousin of cabinets and walls a graduate of harvard we administer in western massachusetts and we see him leading a riot a mob
to the courthouse in boston the federal courthouse and attacking the courthouse with pipes and guns and an end to any instrument of violence they could find and attempting to break into the courthouse and rescue the fugitive slave anthony burns who is due to be deported back to the south and in fact was deported back to the south just a few days later in the course of this riot one federal marshal was killed higginson and the other people involved in this altercation the state and but some were brought up on charges all this is happening while john brown is in various courts of wall in ohio and pennsylvania and new york settling lawsuits and trying to untangle his financial affairs this must have been very frustrating for brown the the in a
way the movement was catching up with brown and his modus operandi for radical violent abolitionism but he was too preoccupied with other matters to join the fracas the way things are happening by these local conservative care for these pillars is the least likely to get yeah probably laurie a credit that this appointment watching when he was like i remember being there
and yet trump is true you're a bug brown emotional way than if you read the letters he was riding on the end rita recounts of conversations he was having with frederick douglass other people long before brown began violent activities and in long before brown began practicing violence in the name of anti slavery he was talking about practicing violence man of anti slavery when frederick douglas matt brown in the mid eighteen forties brown told douglas that slavery would not end in the united states without a bloodbath this was brown's few brown believed from very early on that
eventually the only way to cleanse away the sin of slavery would be with the blood of the white man that was what brown's not just blood but the blood of the white man with the blood of the culprit in the great crime of slavery but it's interesting because as you say it was very very frustrated of the abolitionists in that there was this wave of self empowerment was growing and there was a sense that there was nothing left to do when you're an abolitionist but ultimately to take action on end says he'll use that word for the american people physically doing yes yeah of course
these violent acts that were popping up in the eighteen fifties in the early eighties and fifties in the wake of the fugitive slave law we're violent acts of opportunity in a sense you know you could work to free a fugitive slave until one didn't actually been captured and install them in jail somewhere so there was no organized theater a violent rebellion against what the slave power authority as the northeast and abolitionists often called perhaps we don't know perhaps if there had been a fugitive slave incarcerated in springfield massachusetts where brown was spending most of his time at that point perhaps brown would have taken up arms to free fugitive slave but these events at that point in time tended to be fairly instantaneous a black man has been captured he
you know he's been thrown in jail he'll be deported in two days we must act now there was an instantaneous aspect to all these affairs such as the anthony burns affair and may have at fifty four another rescues as they were called that took place across the northeast these rescue doesn't help radicalized seriousness and that they were ready to go in effect of their lives online so i need the rescues that were occasioned by the fugitive slave law were the instances we know that the rescues occasion by the fugitive slave law were the instances which occasioned the leading northeastern abolitionists of the day to step over the line into violent rebellion against the authority that would empower and enable slavery
that's where they crossed the line yeah exactly what once they crossed the line in nearly eighteen fifties with the rescue years after that it was almost inevitable that a john brown not necessarily the one we're talking about but a john browne was going to rise up at some point and some water shelter et also saw mortar shell and after the rescues or occasion by the advent of the fugitive slave law it was inevitable that hey john browne was going to rise up not necessarily the john brown that you are talking about right now and that's
some watershed event not necessarily the harpers ferry fiasco was going to occur that the violent rebellion against slavery was going to reach some sort of crescendo such as a tutor corpus for the west talk about living in rebel he's finally moved into this house just like that it's hardly of his sons have left is the radio off and finally some levels is thinking before telling the story about his son's going
he doesn't go bananas ready to move into this house to ease the white house john brown had long lived with the conflict the tension between his family life which he cherished and his anti slavery activism which he also church throughout his life one had prospered at the cost of the other i think in going to your cell blow in going to the farm in the black community there he saw and hoped for an opportunity to to marry these two conflicting agendas at nortel what i believe he hoped to start a prosperous farm and become a prosperous farmer and provide
an adequate sustenance for his family while at the same time helping the blacks in the area in the community there to develop their forms an established their community and at the same time as well play a key role in the underground where on your fellow was strategically located as far as being a jumping off point for the canadian border so i think he was hoping to dovetail all these interests that he had and find a permanent home where he could stay and at the same time fuel production have both from a family point of view and from an anti slavery party i think this was really a cherished dream he is in the few letters where he talks about the landscape there are now more see in the distance you that sense of real affinity for the place you feel that he would very
much like to call this place home but of course that doesn't happen he finally gets his financial future's sorted out and gets back up to more available cells into his newhouse that show spin bill spends one night they're gets a letter from his songs his eldest songs who have gone to kansas to join with the pre with anti slavery forces in kansas can try to colonize kansas has a free state and they write him and tell him we need you out here are battles to be fought good people are dying the pro slavery forces are killing us you must come he is has a tent it's clear that he's hesitant to this he almost seems to be
shopping for argument's not to go to kansas he writes to jared smith his benefactor who gave him the form up in north elbow and asks his opinion he knows what europe's smith's opinion is going to be a jerk smith's opinion is going to be stay there and do work but you promised me you would you stay at north although he asks the community leaders in the black town there what they would have come to this that we would have you stay here there is work to be done here we need you here but in the end he discounts those fears and goes to his songs in kansas there was no driving need for john brown to go to kansas john browne was not a high profile figure yet in the abolition movement kansas was not going to rise or former strength of whether
john brown went out there to join the fight so why did he go why did he traded this shot at stability then he headed north elbow for the vagaries of warfare on the kansas front here why did he do that it goes back to john brown and in my view needing to be at the epicenter of action needing to be where things were going on for a long time in the anti slavery conflict there had been no central theater of operations the conflict was across the country the fugitive slave law on the rescues were going on everywhere but in kansas the theater of operations of the war against
slavery fixed on one subtle piece of geography kansas was where the battle was there was no other place that was the focal point and john brown needed to be there it's a village he was this old man reading this settlement in his life when a show about mars and struggling with this decision it's almost like he's read more and it comes and the younger interesting transformation now ah hear the insecurity
yet had to come from the local target both of the freedom i know that my publishers said was asked him what reviews are going to put on the back of them a new book and he has a bird she was the quote from publishers weekly publishers weekly at the end of every year they seem to save fatah was not seen by people who served as a visit follows not seen by publishers weekly oh i'm sorry it is the question right oh yes he was you ready to settle in his life and when he does finally make this decision it's almost like he's a reward revitalize by kansas john brown has revitalized by kansas you do get a sense when he's at
north elbow before going to kansas that is almost ready to enter into his dotage he's almost ready to let his older children start to work the foreman he'll be the grand old man and benefactor of the black community and then it's a very different brown that shows up a few months later in kansas he has reinvigorated he does seem more energetic and i think part of the reason for that is that he is answering a visceral need in himself to fight this war i think i think he might have a sense of ground that that he's always been putting off this duty that he felt he had this this calling and he's been putting it off an end and letting the affair is the worldly affairs of of mortal men get in the
way of god's work and now he's ready to put it less relevant heat now he's ready to put human concerns aside in favor of god's work that his mission that he perceives from self too to from kansas on words you really start to get a feeling that brown is has a sense of itself as being on a divine mission that's when it really starts kansas if you look at his room rhetoric before that if you if you look at his actions before kansas you don't have a sense of this messianic fellow that we get to know in kansas and after kansas is the the birth of the
messy ike brown it's the birth of the moses like brown it's the birth of the terrorists proponents the birth of the murderer britten lets you find kansas what is the scene there when john brown arrives in kansas in october eighteen fifty five he goes to a place where his sons have settled its it's a new state new territory of course so when someone settle somewhere they name the place after themselves and this place was called brown station is by a little bend in the pod along the creek and it was destitute it was awful it was a few shacks it was poverty personified it was it was it was
it was desolate it was awful it was poverty stricken it was not a pleasant place there was far less pleasant the north mobile will tell you that and he finds in this desolate place these songs and other he finds in this desolate place his songs and other free state settlers embattled surrounded by pro slavery more orders all fronts and hum an important aspect of brown in kansas is that he is largely defined by what's going on in kansas before he gets there there were a lot of very bad people involved in the wars in
kansas out there was a great violence going on everywhere so brown was not an instigator of this violence he was a mirror reflection of brown was and string to his god in the way he knew best brown's god was an angry god who demanded an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth free soil settlers were being murdered john brown knew what his god would call on him to do in that instance it must've been incredibly frustrating for this man who's at a strong believes all his life to be sitting back and just began seeing his ideals and principles peaceful or an ultimately words when that they aren't enough so partially
perhaps it is about that yeah don't try to understand the the surge of the rage and frustration he was leaving and consequently just fleeing from throughout the early age and fifties i think john brown was very frustrated and i think he felt himself to be very inadequate and that i was not just merely a conflict is pulsing the eighteen forties was failing left and right and business he wasn't being as productive or creative as he thought he should be on the anti slavery front i think he viewed himself as an abject failure and many wires and was a very on fellow i think he was very unhappy with itself in many ways and i was very impressed with himself
American Experience
John Brown's Holy War
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Interview with author Edward J. Renehan, 2 of 4
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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. Renehan talks about Fugitive slave law - final proof constitution flawed, Fugitive slave law - abolitionists lobby for secession, Northern secession - treatment for cancer is amputation, Non - violence - no longer a practical solution, Fugitive slave law - demands violence, Higginson, John Brown in court, Douglass - John Brown told him slavery wouldn't end w/out bloodbath, Burns/Higginson - rescues spontaneous acts of violence, Fugitive slave law - made "a" John Brown inevitable, North Elba - dream, left for Kansas to be at focal point, Kansas - revitalizes John Brown's sense of duty, Kansas - birth of Messianic Brown, Kansas - Brown's station, desolate, awful, poverty stricken, Kansas - John Brown responding to violence, following God , Failure - felt inadequate, frustrated, Kansas - eruption against slavery & his own failure
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American history, African Americans, civil rights, slavery, abolition
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Chicago: “American Experience; John Brown's Holy War; Interview with author Edward J. Renehan, 2 of 4,” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed September 20, 2020,
MLA: “American Experience; John Brown's Holy War; Interview with author Edward J. Renehan, 2 of 4.” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. September 20, 2020. <>.
APA: American Experience; John Brown's Holy War; Interview with author Edward J. Renehan, 2 of 4. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from