John Brown’s 150 Years of Martyrdom
Commentary by Steve Scroggins, 10/16/09
"History in Burckhardt’s words is ‘the record of what one age finds worthy of note in another.’ The past is intelligible to us only in light of the present; and we can fully understand the present only in light of the past. To enable man to understand the society of the past and to increase his mastery over the society of the present is the dual function of history." —Edward Hallett Carr, from What is History?, p.69.
It’s appropriate that we remember the events of 150 years ago and observe how their interpretation has developed since then in light of history before and since.
America’s "War Against Terrorism" is certainly nothing new. Americans have been fighting terrorism in one form or another since our independence from Great Britain, and historically America’s only successes have come through the use of overwhelming force.
American sailors were taken captive and enslaved and had their ships and cargoes seized by the Barbary pirates beginning promptly after the Treaty of Paris in 1783 when Great Britain ceased paying tribute (protection money) for her former colonies. Given its lack of naval power, America continued paying tribute to the Pirates of Barbary from 1785 until 1815 when enough force was finally deployed to convince the pirates to leave American shipping and sailors alone. The US Marine Corps hymn recounts those early Marine actions in Africa, "…to the shores of Tripoli" in what is known as the first and second Barbary Wars.
"The Policy of Christendom has made Cowards of all their Sailors before the Standard of Mahomet. It would be heroical and glorious in Us, to restore Courage to ours. I doubt not we could accomplish it, if we should set about it in earnest. But the Difficulty of bringing our People to agree upon it, has ever discouraged me." —John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 1786, expressing distaste with tribute to Barbary pirates
"Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute." –Rep. Robert Goodloe Harper, (Federalist, SC), 1798
The other European powers (referred to as "Christendom" by Adams) had long found it expedient and perhaps cheaper to pay off the pirates rather than suffer seizures of ships and cargoes, ransoming of crews and so forth — or putting enough naval force in place to defend their shipping. After American independence was established, the U.S. initially fell into the same habit of paying off the thugs. Though Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson recommended war instead, Washington and later Adams continued to pay the tributes and ransoms because Congress wouldn’t raise the money for an adequate navy. The sums demanded as tribute were almost fifty percent of the total federal budget. As president, Jefferson sent naval power to the Med, but it was not enough to permanently stop all the Barbary pirates. In 1815, President James Madison finally sent enough naval force (after the War of 1812) to convince the pirates. The British and European powers soon followed suit and stopped paying tributes as well. [ Source: Jewett, Thomas, "The U.S. Wages War Against The Barbary States" ]
Piracy, it should be noted, was a significant risk justifying the need for a stronger navy and it certainly weighed on the minds of the Founders when they considered the need for a stronger central government in the mid-1780’s ( the Constitution ) that could raise sufficient revenues and focus the diplomacy and resources of the united States.
A final note on Piracy. If the Southern Poverty Law Center had existed in 1815, we can be reasonably certain they would have issued a special report, most likely entitled, Xenophobe/Racist Americans Crush Livelihoods of Barbary Entrepreneurs. We’re somewhat surprised that the SPLC hasn’t yet issued a report entitled Racist U.S. Navy attacks Somali Good Samaritans. We know they’ve been busy working with the DHS and the FBI and mailing fundraising letters, perhaps they’ll address anti-Somali hate soon.
Unlike the SPLC, we are NOT expanding the definition of Terrorism. On the contrary, we are limiting it here for the purpose of discussion.
For purposes of discussion, I’m excluding the hostilities between white settlers and native Americans. The French and later the British found it expedient to incite conflict and raids between natives and white American settlers in their efforts to win dominance in North America. Eventually, Americans themselves set about removing the Indians by containment or genocide, completing the dirty job in the early 20th century. [Sidebar: Would the SPLC have called the Indians "nativist racists"? No, of course not, only whites can be true SPLC ‘Hate Groups.’]
In addition to the so-called "Indian wars" that spanned well over a century, I’m excluding the actions of Sherman’s looters and others of the yankee barbarian horde in uniform. The debate over their war crimes against civilians is a discussion for another time.
That being said, let’s turn our attention to the 19th century and the period leading up to John Brown’s infamy as a terrorist (or martyr) and eventually to the "irrepressible conflict."
Fear of a violent uprising among slave populations was ever present among all nations holding a significant population of slaves. Keep in mind that only five percent of the 12-13 million African slaves sold out of Africa came to North America (1440-1780); the rest were taken to Spanish, French, English and Portuguese holdings in the Caribbean and South America.* The Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804, in which the slaves slaughtered their white (French) masters (whom they outnumbered ten to one), made these fears all the more real. The idea was reinforced by the Virginia rampage of Nat Turner in 1831 (55 murders). *[ Sources: Thomas, Hugh: The Slave Trade; Sobran, Joseph: "Slavery in Perspective" ]
A large part of the rancor slave-holding planters (and many neutral observers) held against the radical abolitionists was not that they favored abolition, or used slanderous rhetoric, but that they advocated abolition by way of a murderous uprising or by "any means necessary." Many radicals were encouraging such an uprising. Certain wealthy abolitionists (the "Secret Six" et al) even funded madmen and terrorists like John Brown to commit violence for their cause. Their actions severely curtailed abolitionist sentiment and expression in the South, and were clearly counter-productive.
The mid-1850s were a violent time in Bleeding Kansas and Brown was right in the middle of it. Brown himself acknowledged his approval of the murders of several Kansas families committed by his associates. Brown was also known for his less famous (but still murderous) raid into Vernon County, Missouri. There were radical abolitionists and then there were RADICAL (and murderous) abolitionists like John Brown.
Brown sought funding and support for his Harper’s Ferry plan more than a decade prior to 1859 from such noted figures as Harriett Tubman and Frederick Douglass. Brown’s plan to end American slavery by murdering all slave holders didn’t end there. He went on to draft his own version of a provisional Constitution, which presumably would be ratified after all the evil had been purged from the United States.
Despite the murder and terrorism committed by Brown and his followers, he was lionized by black leaders and many white abolitionists in the North. In their minds, one surmises, they saw the killing of slave owners and their families as some form of moral "justice." Brown was lauded by yankee poets such as Thoreau and Emerson. There are memorial parks named for Brown (Kansas), statues erected in his honor (Kansas) as well as memorial plaques placed by the NAACP and W.E.B. DuBois in Harpers Ferry. Commissioned artwork of Brown depicts him in the pose of Moses with a Bible and a rifle. [Source: www.wvculture.org/history/jbexhibit/jbchapter14.html ]
"The Saint, whose fate yet hangs in suspense, but whose martyrdom, if it shall be perfected, will make the gallows as glorious as the cross." —Ralph Waldo Emerson, describing terrorist John Brown in a lecture at Tremont Temple, Nov. 11, 1859.
A well-known tune was even adapted to a song to praise the murderous Brown as a "martyr" and to condemn "the evil south" which the author’s lyrics referred to as a serpent. The worst part, the outrage, is that it’s sung in many churches across America (north and south) to this day on the pretense that it is "Christian" and "patriotic." Perhaps you’ve heard it: The Battle Hymn of the Republic (by Julia Ward Howe, wife of Secret Six member Dr. Samuel G. Howe). Jeff Davis wrote a commentary entitled, The Battle Hymn: Its Falsehood Marches On, a few years back which includes a number of references and links. Laurence M. Vance referred to the Battle Hymn as Blasphemy In Song. Judge for yourself.
Brown’s Infamous Raid
October 16, 2009 marks the 150th anniversary of what is arguably the best known instance of domestic terrorism in America in the 19th century (again, excluding the Indian wars and Sherman’s crimes). I am writing, of course, of the infamous Harper’s Ferry Raid led by fanatical terrorist John Brown. Fortunately, the body count was lower in total than Brown’s raids in Kansas and Missouri or even the Nat Turner rampage in Virginia.
Starting around 11pm on the 16th, John Brown led a small group of 15 or so white men and five blacks to seize the federal armory in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia (now the illegal West Virginia). After seizing the armory itself and its guard, Brown and his men took about forty citizens of Harper’s Ferry as hostages during the wee hours of October 17th and into the next day. Though Brown’s raiders had cut the telegraph wires, they released a passing railroad freighter which sounded the alarm upon its arrival at Baltimore, notifying the governor of Virginia and President James Buchanan.
Brown’s purpose was to seize the weapons of the armory arsenal and to spark a murderous slave uprising in Virginia and across the South by arming the slaves. He had hoped that many if not most slaves in the area, upon hearing of Brown’s raid, would join his group and seek freedom by way of the violent deaths of their masters. President Buchanan dispatched Colonel Robert E. Lee and a force of U.S. Marines to deal with Brown’s raid (local militia were already on the scene surrounding the insurgents). A portion of Lee’s after action report is posted below.
Brown’s raiders were overpowered and most of the hostages were rescued. The surviving raiders including Brown were put on trial and convicted. John Brown was hanged for his Harper’s Ferry crimes Dec. 2, 1859, or as Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, Brown’s martyrdom was "perfected" making the "gallows as glorious as the cross." Most of Brown’s Harper’s Ferry accomplices, apparently not quite deities of Brown’s stature, were hanged with less fanfare within a month.
Frederick Douglass suggested later that Brown did not fail in his purpose; that he gave his life for it, that he brought on the war that ended slavery. I contend that Brown’s bloody approach was the worst that could be taken. It hardened the antagonism between the sections and convinced the southern states that radical abolitionists would not stop until they had incited mass murder and widespread violence. Hence, the southern states believed they were safer out of the union.
Brown’s raid undermined the chances that peacemakers of both sides could negotiate a peaceful settlement (including most importantly a compromise on tariffs) to prevent the "irrepressible conflict." Slavery was doomed by the 1850s; its end in America was inevitable. No other country in the world required war to end it. I won’t say that Brown caused the war— he did not — but he galvanized the southern states in their resolve to secede for tax relief and safety.
Lincoln had the option to let the southern states go in peace; instead, he chose war (and 650,000 American deaths) as preferable to losing the tax revenues paid by the southern states (75+% of the total). Lincoln, seeking election support when the raid occurred, characterized Brown as a "delusional lunatic justly hanged."
"The principle is not that a human being cannot justly own another, but that he cannot own him unless he is loyal to the United States." –The London Spectator, 1863, describing the political war measure known as the Emancipation Proclamation
Super Power Status and Terrorism
Prior to and during WWII, Americans knew there were formidable foreign threats of conquest or attack. We emerged from WWII as a world superpower and from the Cold War as the world’s only superpower. No sane nation or entity would attack us in the open. Terrorism and guerilla insurgency became the only practical way to attack or oppose the United States.
Prior to the latter half of the 20th century in America, acts of terrorism were relatively uncommon but not rare. Since 9/11 of 2001, terrorism is a word or concept that we encounter almost daily, due in part to reality (our worldwide interests and adventurism) and due in part to the alarmism and sensationalism to today’s mass media. Mencken’s maxim of practical politics holds especially true in today’s America. It’s essentially identical to Morris Dees’ maxim of fundraising.
"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." –H.L. Mencken, from In Defense of Women, 1918
Attention Spans and News-based Memory
Jacob Burckhardt once wrote that "history is the record of what one age finds worthy of note in another." By the same token, "news" can be said to be what most news editors find worthy of note in current events. Obviously, events that capture more news coverage and generate more controversy are generally more likely to be deemed "worthy of note" by future historians.
If an event like the Harper’s Ferry Raid occurred today (a seizure of weapons for a violent political cause), would people remember it 150 years from now? Would they remember it in context?
As a test of this query, a brief quiz: How many airliners were hijacked to Cuba in the 1970s and why? What happened at Ruby Ridge? Why were The Branch Davidians in Waco incinerated? What happened at Columbine? What motivated the D.C. Snipers? Were McVeigh and Nichols the only terrorists in the Oklahoma City bombing? Will these events of the 1980s and 1990s be remembered in 50 or 100 years?
If such a Raid happened today, we can be fairly certain that it wouldn’t be widely or deeply reported, much less condemned, by selective and biased "watchdogs" such as the Southern Poverty Law Center. It would be a backpage story in less than a week.
Since Brown was white and professed to be a Christian, he thus meets the intitial SPLC litmus test as a hate group. However, since he was critical of the South and Southerners and professed that his crimes were for the benefit of blacks, he would get a free pass on having his crimes assigned to "hate." Given all the noise of alarmist warnings and predictions of right wing terrorism coming from the SPLC machine, a Harper’s Ferry Raid today would be little noted.
Why do you think that, Scroggins, you ask? Let’s look at a few examples, shall we? The SPLC looks the other way when real acts of hate are committed against approved targets, that is, people who disagree with SPLC’s agenda. It might be a crime, it’s just not a "hate crime" that interests them. The SPLC has mastered the "art" of smearing its targets using "guilt by association" and rhetorical innuendo as its primary M.O…but while utilizing a group of writers whose anti-American backgrounds are conveniently whitewashed or omitted. The truth would enrage the law enforcement community that assists in distributing SPLC’s propaganda and smears. GHC will be publishing a series on some of these characters and their anti-American backgrounds.
The SPLC didn’t see anything hateful about The New Black Panther Party, when they were intimidating white voters in November 2008 in Philadelphia. No special reports, not even a mention in their volume of publications.
The SPLC writes nothing about the various hispanic hate groups who advocate killing ‘gringos’ but SPLC labels every citizen who might be concerned about illegal immigration a "racist" or a "nativist." The SPLC wants its readers/contributors to believe there are skinheads, klansmen and militia rightwingers lurking behind every weedpatch and bush. SPLC spends all their ink mapping "hate crimes" such as graffiti and literature distributions all the while ignoring volumes of violent urban gang crime (mostly hispanic and black) that is often racially motivated.
The SPLC has picked up the hypocrisy torch where Julia Ward Howe left off. They want to lead the U.S. government (DHS, FBI, etc.) to use its "terrible swift sword" against American citizens who oppose SPLC’s political agenda and preferences. The April 2009 DHS report on "Rightwing Extremism," sourced extensively to SPLC, demonstrates that our national intelligence and law enforcement agencies have been co-opted to serve as propaganda engines and persecution tools of the left.
SPLC benefits in that its fundraising and scare-mongering gain credibility in some quarters and their targeted "enemies" undergo more scrutiny and surveillance at taxpayer expense. Meanwhile, our limited intelligence assets are squandered on witch hunts while the real threats and real hate violence gets little or no attention. Sources:
Honoring Hate and Demagoguery
The University of Alabama Law School and a local law firm selects an annual recipient of the "Morris Dees Justice Award." Ken Silverstein, in his article entitled "The Southern Poverty Business Model" published in Harper’s Magazine Nov. 2007, quotes Atlanta attorney Stephen B. Bright from a letter Bright sent to the Dean of the Law School at the University of Alabama. In the letter, Bright refers to Dees as "a con man and fraud" and to the Dees Justice Award as "another Dees scam." Perhaps the Law School should devise another award and name it the John Brown Peace & Tolerance Award. The first award might go to the leader of The New Black Panther Party or perhaps the head pimp or madame at ACORN, or maybe to SPLC Board Chairman Julian Bond.
Some future Julia Ward Howe may one day write a song about Morris Dees and the SPLC crusades… Morris, Morris, hallelujah! Morris, Morris, hallelujah! Morris, Morris, hallelujah! His dupes are marching on….
Terrorist John Brown has statues, plaques, websites and memorial parks erected in his "honor." He has a popular song that mentions him by name. He met justice at the end of a rope. Smear Merchant and conman Morris Dees has a "Justice Award" named for him and has erected several huge Poverty Palaces in Montgomery. He’s accumulated between $150 and $200 million in the SPLC endownment fund and he has a propaganda machine cranking out smears on a regular basis.
Which one do you think will be remembered most favorably in 150 years?
We can only hope that the future answer is, "Morris Who?" Given a little more time distance from slavery and the civil rights movement, I trust that Uncle Mo will be judged a greedy hypocrite and demagogue and a black eye on the civil rights movement and that history will properly adjudge John Brown more of a fanatical terrorist seeking "justice" through murder and less a martyr of a noble cause.
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