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john brown was weaned on militias that this was something that was part of his life well john brown was literally weaned on abolitionists sentiment his father alton brown was a strict calvinist unlike other strict calvinist he help trudeau jonathan edwards dictum that slavery was a sin against an angry implacable caught and not only were people of that faith called upon not participate in slavery they were called upon to actively rebel against the institution of slavery john brown grew up in a household that was throughout his childhood a station of the underground railroad john brown saw fugitive slaves coming and going from his father's store every day of the week for years on end he was
so secret status john brown was literally weaned on anti slavery sentiment john brown's father alton brown was a strict calvinist and as such he held true to jonathan edwards' dictum that slavery was a sin against an angry implacable got kelvin this were called upon not just to stay away from slavery as an institution not just to refuse to participate in slavery they were called upon to fight slavery and to work for slavery is and owen brown's household was a stop on the underground railroad john brown as a child in that household grew up seeing seeing fugitive slaves come and go every day of the week for years when the abolitionists college oberlin
was founded owen brown was a trustee of that institution it's interesting in a way the one john brown was only really his father's son to my mind in his inheritance of that abolitionist tradition you know or the way did john brown resemble his successful a stylish father where the father did very well in business john brown did not with a father met his debts and kept his family safe economically john brown did not or could not but the one area of the one piece of train but father and son shared was this abolitionist sentiment that was true for both of them and the calvinist it spin on that abortion sentiment that it was the wrath of an angry god that was going to
descend on those who perpetuated the peculiar institution of slavery his father was jewish colin browne john brown's father set himself on at least one occasion that he thought he was not their emotional and for john and for his other children as he should have done he chalks this up to the fact that he was always away on business always off making a living trying to do working out more ways to to get more money for the family he was on the road a surveyor he was our founding terry is he was off being successful which meant he wasn't home and
we get a sense i think that john brown philpot substance greatly you see it in john brown's life later in the midst of all his work for abolitionists in the midst of all this fighting well for the cause of the slaves he tried to be a good father to his children again and again and again that's what he had so many children and he really was a family man he wasn't a very successful family man but he was a family man and he tried to take care of his family in the best way he could often to the detriment of his anti slavery work brown goes on this is the first year is he was living with his father when he squares off at a very young age and
so religion to see the seeds of this person under when john brown was a young man starting a new world order like many young men at that time he started working for his father and his father's business which was a cannery in hudson ohio he remained at the towering as an employee for about six months and his character which you brown's character made it very hard for him to take orders from anyone else to work for anyone else john brown had it kid by his nature seem to need to be the person in authority so he worked for his father for only about six months and then went into business for himself quite nearby to hutson in a cannery competing with his father's business
this did not go well or last long at the cannery failed and rather short order in part we see from the correspondents of the time because of browns taciturn way of dealing with all people whether they'd be employees or customers john brown would not hear a good model for a modern management peter drucker would not you consider john brown a good example of how to mobilize or inspire the workforce or how to drum up business well it was just going to plead with his father it was probably i don't know if there's any real deep psychological element to john brown leaving his father's business to go and to business with his
father there's a problem i'm not sure that there's a real big psychological element to john brown leading his father's business to then compete with father's business some aspects of this were probably simply a practical matter this was the area the region that he knew this was also the business that he knew tanning and so from that perspective i'm not sure there's much to be read into this but from him but the thing we see in this episode very early in brown's career is this basic unwillingness to take orders from anyone one of his contemporaries said he was a man against whom there was no rising up another contemporary one of brown's soldiers in his little anti slavery militia soldier who managed to avoid the altercation at harpers ferry and
thus lose to have memories of john brown and his hand them down to us said that his old commander you sign up ms brown so you know what no one of john brown's contemporaries in fact one of the soldiers from his little abolitionist militia george kill who was smart enough to avoid the old tradition of harpers ferry and therefore lived to tell tales of brown that we now have said that his old commander was essentially vindictive in character
and was possessed of a huge ego and i think that says a lot about who ground was and how we deal with people so you do you can we see this and say john roberts opened standard charges over the salaries really the st john brown the receiver kansas where you think it's going to do you think the seeds of this person an assistant us throughout his career we see john brown insisting on taking the lead in all things and when he is not permitted to do so we see him rebelling and leaving when he first got to kansas he and his songs enrolled in the free soil militia in kansas and lasted a matter of hours
literally before john brown refused to take a direct order and refused to allow his songs to take a direct order from the commander of the militia he said his songs answered only to himself and to god and later the same would be true of any man under brown's to mount fathers orders later in his career when he had powerful in northeastern backers paying his bills substantial mills ahmad he really did not allow the northeastern abolitionists were sending so much money to give him any instructions whatsoever he told them what he was going to do and when they tried to you circus plans to revise his plans are appointment of the directions or even just give him
advice he read but had them loudly and angrily again and again and again in key in kansas and ultimately he just didn't want our other people's army is with this but even if we couldn't agree with them politically what what was it that kept him from the interview and others i think i think john brown was killed capable joining with others so long as others did what he wanted to do it wasn't so much that he wanted to work in isolation from other abolitionists it was that he simply couldn't take orders he could not bend his will to the will of other people and we see this again and again and again with advisors and and compatriots in the anti slavery fight when
frederick douglass was apprised of john brown's plan of attack so called at harpers ferry douglas said to him this is a steel trap of what's called douglas said look at the map look at this armory it's surrounded by heights it's on a peninsula at the confluence of the potomac and the shenandoah rivers it's completely indefensible you will be killed this will not work what does john browne said tuesday that makes sense that's logical know he says the plan will work because it was inspired by god to transact god's business and god will make it work brown with his moses like certainty
that he brought to this project and all projects simply could not be debated with brown always operated on the premise that he was acting under decline inspiration which was something you did not negotiate and it was a very interesting combinations hear each other and different man thinking about their first weeks of the difference they you know when they first get to get an idea of rancid this point nobody's that's douglas is someone obviously very impressive figure but you know even in the
us army brown and douglas were an odd couple in many ways they were eating arabic an abolitionist movement in that sense and there were also opposites in their their personal lives and the personal tastes and their ambitions frederick douglass had a great appreciation for the finer things in life and frederick douglass dedicated himself to the cause of the pollution yes but frederick douglass also did that in a way that allowed him to supply a quite a high standard of existence for himself and his family his house in rochester was large all his songs played violin study classical literature the furnishings of the place for ground when douglas
first met john browne it was in the eighteen forties i believe and douglas' was ana speaking to lauren had stopped in springfield massachusetts to give a talk and wound up having dinner at john brown's house in springfield douglas wrote let it later that the furnishings of the house would satisfy the tastes of the spartan that was leno was nothing their coach futures couple tables and and really no ornament whatsoever was very clear that you were puritans and it's been despite the difference in their personal styles they of course both brown and douglas had this immense dedication to the abolitionists movement
but there in that dedication that single minded dedication that they shared they parted ways again as douglas was very pragmatic and ritual douglas had a keen sense of reality in general and political and military reality reality in particular and douglas understood the public relations aspects of this movement that he and john brown were in and this was another argument that douglas had with brown's plan for harpers ferry douglas said not only is this plan going to fail but you are going to alienate you john brown are going to alienate huge sectors of the american public if you in the name of abolitionism
attack a federal installation and take hostages and let loose a punitive slave insurrection in which many diane douglas knew that this harpers ferry and devore would backfire immediately and brown and anyone who is foolish enough to go with him and overtime against the anti slavery movement itself that was douglas says other argument against johns john brown's adventure of harpers ferry but yet layer of this with you know in hindsight because the last year absolutely sympathetic that considers peanuts and interesting shane transformation
frederick douglass and other abolitionists who were not overly sympathetic to john brown during his lifetime i speak of william lloyd garrison wendell phillips picked up john brown's mantle after he was dead after he became a mortar to this cause and i think rightly and smartly so i think here you see another example of frederick douglass being a shrewd pragmatic politician slash pr man that he was the movement needed a mourner there was john brown glitz and garrison and philips lifted him up it was a smart thing to do it was a flood around which many could rally how many troops went to battle in the civil war singing john brown's body lies a mouldering in the grave millions
well there's john his constitution as he called it for this state of runaway slaves that he hoped to file found in the allegheny mountains and the safety of the allegheny mountains he did so in a bedroom of frederick douglass his home in rochester a very plush comfortable room probably one of the most hopeful rooms john brown had ever spent a night in italy since he was an outlaw and we can imagine the household situation we can imagine the fragrant aroma of bait baking coming out of the uk kitchen downstairs we can imagine the sound of frederick douglass is violin wafting up the stairs as john brown sketched out this constitution in the evenings it took him several days try
that document the constitution because in the evenings you would come down to dinner and tell frederick douglass and the boss's wife of his plan is evolving plan for harpers ferry for what's going to happen there and douglas said later that it made his blood run cold to hear of the revenge that john brown intended to inflict on the slave holders of virginia once he had amassed a large enough group of runaway slaves an arm them appropriately this was not john browne believe that there was some there were deaths to be paid here is retribution to be hired again we see the old puritan the calvinist an eye for an eye this is john brown's gone and this was the argument that john brown had with
garrison and other philosophical other a pat pacifists and the abolition movement garrisons gotten was a new testament humor a gentle god or forgiving got a god who attend to take a dim view of cutting people's heads off with broadswords where john brown's god was an angry implacable calvinist could watch john brown's gone on the other hand was an angry implacable calvinist figure who knew would he inspire john brown and others like him to local people's hands with broad support he says fischer's press relation
interesting the two men the difference between this religion was one area where brown was light years away from frederick douglass and light years away from any other prominent figures in abolitionist circles theodore parker the great unitarian minister who was one of john brown's influential backers in boston and raised a lot of money for brown was haram viewed by brown as nothing short of an atheist john brown was quite sure that theodore parker of the month at the moment the euro parker died he was going straight to hell and i'm sorry for that he prayed for us from that you might see the air in his way is and that he might grasp the true religion of his puritan fathers
many other new england abolitionists were of course associated with new religions with religion with thomas wentworth higginson another of john brown's backers from the boston area was the minister of unitarian church and will stay at the time that he was associated with john brennan again as far as john brown was concerned you know terry doesn't simply was not on the map a religious university has been john brown's profound calvinist faith certainly played a part in his obvious lack of fear of death he did not worry about that one iota and not only for himself before his songs he routinely put his songs in the way of grave danger at harpers ferry
two of his sons died and he showed no remorse all this must've helped brown that this fundamental dead rock faith of his that he was doing god's work must of help around in those last days when he defined himself or redefine himself as a martyr to a cause of abolition and turned his will last great failure in life into his first great success in life in the eighties is ongoing court record is this is because they are fleeing the city
American Experience
John Brown's Holy War
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Interview with author Edward J. Renehan, 1 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 Childhood - underground RR, Owen - John Brown not successful but abolitionist like Owen, Owen - absentee father, John Brown tries to be better father, fails, Personality - needed authority, e.g. tannery, but failed, Personality - always took lead, Kansas free soil militia, Personality - stubbornness, lead by God, Douglas, Douglass/John Brown - yin/yang, Douglass liked finer things, Douglass - thought John Brown's plan would fail, alienate people, Martyr - Douglass etc. picked up John Brown's mantle after death, Garrison/John Brown - religion, pacifism vs. retribution, Kansas, Religion/Kansas - John Brown's God inspired violence, Kansas, Religion - no fear of death, helped John Brown to martyrdom
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 author Edward J. Renehan, 1 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, 1 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, 1 of 4. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from