John Brown is a man of great debate. He has been demonized, idolized, rationalized, and, for the most part in this day and age, forgotten.
Brown was a man of great devotion. He was said to have memorized the entire Bible, and taught his children scripture from the earliest of ages. He was a working man, a sheep farmer and a partner in business. Like many he struggled to succeed and made ends meet as best he could. He was a father, owned property, and pursued a life of fulfillment.
Having all of those things, though poor to many standards, John also had a deep devotion and sense of justice, belief in God’s natural order, and in the supremacy of God’s Will. Not only did he believe in God’s word, he believed in answering the call. No matter what it cost him on this earth.
John Brown answered the call to justice; to lead those in bondage to relief and freedom. To stand in the face of ugly injustice and wrongdoing. Yet this man fought with more than just strength of arms, he fought with conviction and passion. He galvanized with words, with action, but most of all, stunningly, with sacrifice.
At Harper’s Ferry, John Brown never fired a shot. He did not struggle when the Federal troops took him, and I for one believe that was his design all along.
What follows is his last statement to the court room. He is found guilty, and sentenced to hang. Even with death certain there is no fear, there is only resolve in this man’s words.
“I have, may it please the Court, a few words to say.
In the first place, I deny everything but what I have all along admitted, the design on my part to free the slaves. I intended certainly to have made a clean thing of that matter, as I did last winter, when I went into Missouri and there took slaves without the snapping of a gun on either side, moved them through the country, and finally left them in Canada. I designed to have done the same thing again, on a larger scale. That was all I intended. I never did intend murder, or treason, or the destruction of property, or to excite or incite slaves to rebellion, or to make insurrection.
I have another objection; and that is, it is unjust that I should suffer such a penalty. Had I interfered in the manner which I admit, and which I admit has been fairly proved (for I admire the truthfulness and candor of the greater portion of the witnesses who have testified in this case), had I so interfered in behalf of the rich, the powerful, the intelligent, the so-called great, or in behalf of any of their friends, either father, mother, brother, sister, wife, or children, or any of that class, and suffered and sacrificed what I have in this interference, it would have been all right; and every man in this court would have deemed it an act worthy of reward rather than punishment.
This court acknowledges, as I suppose, the validity of the law of God. I see a book kissed here which I suppose to be the Bible, or at least the New Testament. That teaches me that all things whatsoever I would that men should do to me, I should do even so to them. It teaches me, further, to “remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them.” I endeavored to act up to that instruction. I say, I am yet too young to understand that God is any respecter of persons. I believe that to have interfered as I have done as I have always freely admitted I have done in behalf of His despised poor, was not wrong, but right. Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I submit; so let it be done!
Let me say one word further.
I feel entirely satisfied with the treatment I have received on my trial. Considering all the circumstances. it has been more generous than I expected. But I feel no consciousness of guilt. I have stated from the first what was my intention and what was not. I never had any design against the life of any person, nor any disposition to commit treason, or excite slaves to rebel, or make any general insurrection. I never encouraged any man to do so, but always discouraged any idea of that kind.
Let me say, also, a word in regard to the statements made by some of those connected with me. I hear it has been stated by some of them that I have induced them to join me. But the contrary is true. I do not say this to injure them, but as regretting their weakness. There is not one of them but joined me of his own accord, and the greater part of them at their own expense. A number of them I never saw, and never had a word of conversation with, till the day they came to me; and that was for the purpose I have stated.
Now I have done.”
And before he was hanged, he was said to have handed a note to his guard with these last prophetic words scribbled upon the paper.
“I, John Brown am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.”
This statement looks to a bleak and sorrowful future, as John Brown’s hanging will incite the public, and give even more spirit to the abolitionist movement. Not long after Brown gives himself to the gallows, feeding his devotion to a great cause, our nation’s greatest war and harshest judgement befell us.
Lincoln, looking at that judgement from the other end makes this statement in his second inaugural address.
“Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
We must look around us and try to see what grave injustices we are allowing to take place in our society. What innocent blood our we allowing to be spilled out, and what wealth are we building from that foundation of blood?
Are the cries of the innocent to go unheard? Listen and you will hear, though their voices never came into this world; do you not think that their creator heard them from the first? Will He not judge and lay punishment upon all of us who allow injustice?
Brown’s devotion and belief in righteousness lead him and gave him the strength to sacrifice his life for others. We must ask ourselves, “Who today will sacrifice himself for righteousness in this unrighteous nation? Will I? Do I have faith enough, devotion enough? Can I let go of my own life, for the lives of others unseen?”
If we have become so lukewarm that we cannot even stir our hearts to hate injustice, plain as day and glaring injustice, and devote ourselves to its defeat, what good are we, who do we truly serve?