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Portrait of John Brown.

John Brown, No.1 Enemy of Slavery


This courageous man confronted the army in 1859, accompanied by only eighteen men, to defend every man’s right to freedom.

On December 2nd, 1859, Walt Whitman, the singing poet of democracy, was dumbfounded when he attended the execution of abolitionist John Brown. We can imagine his rage before the injustice that was being committed: the libertarian hero was hung as a vile criminal.

John Brown was born in 1800, in the bosom of a family with profound religious convictions. Native to Torrington, he made a living in different trades, such as surveyor or wool merchant, while he made keen observations about his countrymen’s lives. A man of Spartan customs, as Thoreau reminds us in Plea for Captain John Brown; he was flawed by the intolerance of injustices, even when these were founded on the opinions of the vast majority and the immovable laws of the State. Four million slaves were a good enough reason to make his libertarian blood set fire to the lands of East Virginia.

In 1855, Brown’s children solicited his help to confront a pro-slavery group that wanted to take over the Kansas territory. Brown aided them with his magnanimous presence and thus the territory was liberated. As a consequence, a price was put on his head and, from then on, he became a forager that lived out in the open. In absolute poverty and in poor health, hiding in swamps and aided only by Native Americans and a reduced number of whites, Brown never gave up on ending the atrocity of slavery.

It was during the raid on Harper’s Ferry that John Brown put his fate on the line. With only eighteen men, among whom where his children, Brown took control of East Virginia. His men were few because he believed there were few men of honor for him to choose from. “Give me men of good principles —God-fearing men— men who respect themselves, and with a dozen of them I will oppose any hundred such men as these Buford ruffians,” he said. Surrounded by the army, Brown’s small and valiant group was defeated and ten of his men were killed, among them were his children. Brown was wounded and arrested.

While he awaited his sentence, Thoreau proclaimed himself in his defense. He knew his death was inevitable; he knew the ignorance and hypocrisy of his countrymen, and the stubbornness of the laws of a State whose sovereignty he did not recognize. His defense was that of a man who was going to die, and who could do so because he had truly lived. Before those who accused him of being insane, Thoreau rose to remind them that his madness had been that of carrying out a brave act of humanity: to give hope to the oppressed and to selflessly render his life for his cause.

Some eighteen hundred years ago Christ was crucified; this morning, perchance, Captain Brown was hung. These are the two ends of a chain which is not without its links. He is not Old Brown any longer; he is an angel of light.


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