John Brown–from business failure to terrorist and media hero

March 2012
by Al Benson Jr.

Much has been written about John Brown of Harpers Ferry, Virginia fame over the years. And much of it is historical and political goop. In the North he has been portrayed as everything from slavery emancipation messiah to national hero. In parts of eastern Kansas, to this day, the unwritten commandment is “Thou shalt not take the name of John Brown in vain.” I have never forgotten a “conversation” I had with a woman in eastern Kansas several years ago as she tried to inform me that John Brown was a hero while Jeb Stuart was a terrorist. Yes, folks, that’s the way it is in parts of eastern Kansas even today. You talk about skewed history! Why do you suppose that Obama went to Osawatomie, Kansas to give that speech awhile back? That’s John Brown territory and Obama knows it. He was identifying with the crowd that thinks John Brown was the greatest thing since sliced bread.

In actuality, John Brown was never much good at much of anything until he tried his hand at terrorism–and even in that occupation he had lots of help and support from other would-be Yankee terrorists who wanted him to do their dirty work so their hands would stay clean–and even that didn’t quite work out.

Historian Otto Scott, back in the 1970s, wrote a biography of John Brown which was reprinted in 1987 by the Foundation for American Education under the title The Secret Six–The Fool As Martyr. Scott detailed much of Brown’s life and took note of his inept business practices. On page 20 of the book he observed: “By 1851 an avalanche of lawsuits had fallen on Brown and his partner, Colonel Perkins, and Brown had to move his family back to Akron, Ohio, where he remained dependent upon his partner’s kindness and support. Perkins was his only defense against an army of creditors.

For the next several years Brown was either in court or preparing to appear, making depositions or listening to them, traveling to one judicial arena or another, arguing or hearing arguments. How he escaped punishment for his incredibly inept commercial dealings, his numerous violations of contract, and his cavalier handling of other men’s money and goods remains a mystery.” I don’t know if you could categorize Brown as an outright crook, but at the least, he was “sharp” in his business practices.

J. C. Furnas in The Road to Harpers Ferry  noted much the same thing in regard to business that Otto Scott did. At one point Brown operated a tannery in Pennsylvania, but that business did not suit him. Furnas observed that” “Tanning in Pennsylvania did not suit. His schemes seldom did. He returned to Ohio to farm and speculate in land. He and other Browns contested suits over land titles…He and two of his sons once spent some days in jail–mere formality maybe–for violently resisting a foreclosure. As often happened to his contemporaries to, he fell into bankruptcy with some flavor of dishonesty.” This on page 11 of Furnas’ book. I’ve known people over the years that followed every “get rich quick” scheme that came down the pike. None of them ever panned out and it seems as if Brown was almost in that category.

I have also read, over the years, some comments by writers who actually considered people like John Brown and Thaddeus Stevens to be Calvinists! Where they came up with such flights of fancy I have no idea–maybe from the same people who blithely inform us that Abraham Lincoln was a Bible-believing Christian. One is as equally ludicrous as the other. But that seems to be the trend today. Demonize Christian Southerners and try to make agnostic and apostate Northerners look like Christian crusaders.

Awhile back, historian David S. Reynolds wrote a book called John Brown–Abolitionist.. According to writer Michael Tomasky tells us that: “David S. Reynolds, in contrast, asserts that Brown was a hero. He reminds us that Emerson, Thoreau and Douglas were among Brown’s greatest champions, and that Brown’s historical stock has tended to rise during more progressive eras. He thinks Brown should be posthumously pardoned.” In other words, during more “porgressive” (socialist) times, Brown’s reputation seems to get better. But I guess, with some “progressives” (socialists) a terrorist is not a terrorist unless they say he is. With such mentalities, a member of the Tea Party faction carrying a sign at a peaceful demonstration would be considered a terrorist while someone like Che Guevara or Obama’s friend Bill Ayres of the Weather Underground would be considered  glorious freedom fighters, worthy of emulation. You can see why John Brown looks so much better when socialists are running the country.

As far as Emerson and Thoreau supporting John Brown, were we to do a little homework we would come up with the fact that both of these mental giants were Christ-denying Unitarians–quite typical of those that supported Brown.

Tomasky ends his little diatribe with “…while the terrorist label applies in the technical sense, I don’t think it holds in any moral sense. No one today doubts that his cause was right.” In other words, its okay to do something horrendously wrong, like hacking people to death with swords, provided you do it for the right reasons. So the end justifies the means. Sound Marxist thinking!

Furnas also noted of Brown that: “He put up with his sons imitating his prejudice against organized religion to the point of agnosticism…” Otto Scott noted on page 250 of his book that: “…John Brown had been described as a modern Puritan; a man of firm biblical faith, clean-living and high-minded. A Rev. D. H. King sought him out to try to ascertain exactly where he was coming from, which turned out to be not an easy task.” King stated: “I tried to get at his theology…but I could never force him down to dry sober talk on what he thought of the moral features of things in general…For him there was only one wrong, and that was slavery…If any great obstacle stands in the way, you may properly break all of the Decalogue to get rid of it.” Again, the end justifies the means. If Christianity gets in your way, then don’t hesitate to break all of its tenets to accomplish your ends. This belief was most prevalent among abolitionists and their views “bore very little resemblance to Christianity.” So much for Brown’s “Puritan” mindset. Author Tony Horwitz noted that Brown was a terrorist, but then turned around and likened him to a “bearded fundamentalist.” Really??? Pardon me if I disagree here–bearded terrorist yes–bearded fundamentalist no. Let’s don’t try to tar the Fundamentalists with John Brown’s brush. That’s grossly unfair to them. Otto Scott’s comments about Brown’s theology, or lack thereof, show that Horwitz was off base on this point.

John Brown’s terrorist activity in Kansas before he went to Harpers Ferry, Virginia seemed to catch the fancy of the Abolitionist elite, especially in New England.  Bronson Alcott, father of Louisa May Alcott of Little Women fame stated: “Our best people…contribute something in aid to his plans without asking particulars…such confidence does he inspire.” I can well imagine some of the ivory tower elites in New England didn’t want too many “particulars” about what Brown did in Kansas and how he did it.  That way they could contribute to his terrorist schemes and not feel too uncomfortable. Had they had to be on hand in Kansas and stand with the wives and children of those he and his men hacked to death with broadswords in the middle of the night, they might have gotten a tad bit squeamish about what their money was going to support–but then, maybe not.

One wonders how Brown became so well accepted in New England anti-slavery circles. Funras told us: “For some years he thus beglamored antislavery groups in Chicago, Cleveland, New Haven, Worcester, as well as Alcott’s Concord.” He even got to speak before a committee of the Massachusetts legislature that was debating over sending money to aid the abolitionists in Kansas.  So how did Brown become so well-known that all these people across the Northeast were clamoring for his attention? How did a man who was a total flop in business until he turned his hand to murdering Southern folks in Kansas gain so much national attention? Again, Furnas informed us: “He owed much of this special renown among Abolitionists to the imagination of James Redpath, a young Scottish-born journalist with a ‘total disregard of facts’ whose heavily anti-slavery dispatches to eastern papers made Old Brown sound like an ascetic Robin Hood.” In other words, the “news” media took special pains to “spin” Brown into the figure most northeastern abolitionists thought he really was. How different was this from much of what goes on today? We are fed political candidates who promise us “hope and change” but we really know almost nothing about them, are not able to find out anything of substance about them, and the media refuses to give us any information about them except what fits their agenda.  Do you detect a trend here?

Otto Scott, in his definitive work on Brown, has noted some things that biographers and “historians” usually leave out. He has told us that two of Brown’s men in Kansas were refugees from the failed 1848 socialist and communist revolts in Europe–the revolts  that furnished the sainted Mr. Lincoln with so many of his Major Generals. See Lincoln’s Marxists (Pelican Publishing) for more information on that. How many other “history” books have you read that in? Not too many, I’ll wager. I recently picked up a fairly new biography of John Brown which was on sale at a good price and I looked in the index to see if the two forty-eighters were there. They aren’t even mentioned.  Why am I not surprised? But, then, the man that wrote this latest biography was no Otto Scott..

Speaking of the bloody violence Brown perpetrated in Kansas, Scott noted: “The appearance of such deliberate and coordinated violence, however, could not have been possible, nor could it have proceeded  without a covering legend by northern newspapermen, who shrouded its significance from the nation. That legend was woven and spread by a small coterie of rabidly abolitionist journalists in the territory…” Little has changed. During the Communist conquest of China after World War 2 many news media people covered up what Mao Tse Tung really was, a bloody butcher and they constantly referred to him as an “agrarian reformer.” By the time America found out the truth Mao had savaged China and no one ever called lying media people to account for their falsehoods. The more things change the more they stay the same it would seem.

Scott went on to tell us how Redpath met Brown in his hideaway camp, and he told us also how Redpath was also a friend of good old “Mad Dog Jim Lane.” Anyone who has ever studied the history of either the War of Northern Aggression or the preceding Missouri/Kansas border wars already knows who Jim Lane was, so I won’t go into that here except to note that Mr. Redpath could not have found a more unscrupulous friend. Jim Lane was the kind of person of whom you could truthfully say “He was so crooked you could screw him into the ground.”

A bit later, Redpath, himself, wrote a book about his meeting with Brown in which he described Brown as “…both a Cromwellian figure, all biblical quotes and stern rules for clean living and high thinking, as chief of noble outlaws sequestered in the forest.”  In more plain language he was a terrorist and murderer hiding out from the authorities. If Brown were such a “noble outlaw” that he had to be in hiding, how did Redpath find him? And what did they talk about when he did find him? You can bet the media will never tell. So who turned Redpath onto Brown’s trail? Obviously someone who wanted to make sure Brown got lots of media attention without too high a regard for accuracy.

Yet another “news” media figure involved was Richard Hinton, a correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. As an abolitionist he was a friend of Redpath’s and Otto Scott has told us that he filed an account of the horrific work Brown did at Osawatomie, murders and all, that was much help to the Free State Movement. Yet more spin!

All of this should go to show you that no matter how much of a murderer or terrorist someone may be, when the media gets through sanitizing him he will resemble John the Baptist’s second cousin or a little old lady who teaches Sunday school. The media, and their friends, in this case, had a vested interest in making sure a Yankee terrorist looked good to the folks up north, while at the same time they took great pains to demonize the people of the South. Does any of this sound familiar to you?

Folks, nothing has changed in the last 150 years with either the media or the politicians except the names. Over  the years the Marxists have told us all they really wanted was “power to the people.”  And the media dutifully bought into that lie with great abandon and sought to pass the lie along to us. They neglected to tell us that what the Communists really wanted was “power for their people” not us. The Communists told us they wanted “peace” when what they really wanted was absence of resistance to their agenda.  The media didn’t bother to explain that to us either. Now we are inundated with Cultural Marxists–the bastard grandchildren of “reconstruction.”

We have been lied to about everyone from John Brown to Abraham Lincoln to Obama by the “news” media. They are nothing more than paid prostitutes for the establishment that wants to lead us down the garden path into a New World Order. If they lied to us about John Brown the terrorist, shouldn’t we be asking who they are lying to us about today???

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