[Marxism] Wilentz on John Brown

Mark Lause MLause at cinci.rr.com
Sun Nov 13 09:59:08 MST 2005

I don't know that H-CivWar ever posted this, but these were my initial
shoot-from-the-hip comments on the subject.  

What John Brown and his comrades accomplished needs little argument for
anyone who was paying attention over the previous 40 years.  The
Southern ruling class that sought to destroy the United States simply
because of Lincoln's election wasn't about to permit the Radical
Abolition interpretation of the U.S. Constitution to prevail.


-----Original Message-----
From: Mark Lause [mailto:MLause at cinci.rr.com] 
Sent: Thursday, October 27, 2005 10:38 AM
To: 'H-Net US Civil War History discussion list'
Subject: RE: New Republic, Wilentz on Reynolds, John Brown, Abolitionist

There's much to say about David Reynold's book and this review by Sean
Wilentz.  I'll confine myself to a few brief points.

The distinction between advocates of moral suasion and of electoral
action seems very sharp from William Lloyd Garrison's office in Boston,
but the lines blurred with distance and time.  The assistance rendered
runaways had begun to involve the use of physical force and arms.
During the conflict in Kansas, free state settlers took up arms and
regularly rendered runaways protection and assistance.  In places,
prominent Republicans were already engaged in armed conflict with
slaveholders to assist runaway slaves.

John Brown and his views on slavery, race or armed struggle were never
as isolated or as singular as he is portrayed by Reynolds and others.
His image as a singular firebrand, in part, reflects the subsequent
attempt of prominent northern abolitionists to distance themselves from
that raid.  There were many more, black and white, across the North and
in Canada bearing arms because of the slavery question.

So, also, the assertion that Brown's action tended to threaten the
success of the Republicans at the ballot box is just not persuasive.  It
is hard to disentangle Republican growth from the sectionalized
responses to the violence in Kansas.  I would suggest that Southern
reactions to Harpers Ferry most likely accelerated that that growth,
making the election of Abraham Lincoln all the more likely.  

Mark Lause
U of Cincinnati

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