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John Brown: Fanatical Idealist and “Warrior for God”

John_brown.JPG

                                                        John Brown

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

October 16th is the anniversary of John Brown’s attempted seizure of the Federal Armory at Harpers Ferry. He was executed after trial on December 2nd 1859. Brown was  a man who had a righteous cause, but surrendered the moral high ground because of his fanaticism. Justice Robert Jackson wrote:“[I]n our country are evangelists and zealots of many different political, economic and religious persuasions whose fanatical conviction is that all thought is divinely classified into two kinds — that which is their own and that which is false and dangerous.” John Brown was a fanatic who in his desire to achieve his goal was not above committing murder as he did in Kansas, and insurrection as he did at Harper’s Ferry. There are many people in this country who harbor similar beliefs. John Brown serves as a warning to all of us. Violent means in service of a honorable or righteous cause often make things far worse.

This article is part of my draft book Mine Eyes have Seen the Glory: Race, Religion, Ideology and Politics in the Civil War Era. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

In the North there too existed an element of religious fanaticism. While “the restraining hand of churches, political parties and familial concerns bounded other antislavery warriors,” [1] and while most abolitionists tried to remain in the mainstream and work through legislation and moral persuasion to halt the expansion of slavery with the ultimate goal of emancipation; there were fanatical abolitionists that were willing to attempt to ignite the spark which would cause the powder keg of raw hatred and emotion to explode.

Most prominent among these men was John Brown. Brown was a “Connecticut-born abolitionist…a man with the selfless benevolence of the evangelicals wrought into a fiery determination to crush slavery.” [2] His father was an early abolitionist who helped later found Oberlin College. In his early years Brown “formulated a certitude about divine intervention against sinners, starring himself as God’s warrior against slaveholders.” [3] As early as 1834 John Brown was “an ardent sympathizer the Negroes,” desiring to raise a black child in his own home and to “offering guidance to a colony of Negroes on the farm of the wealthy abolitionist Gerrit Smith at North Elba New York.” [4]Brown regarded moderate free Staters with distain and though he was a fanatical Christian he never joined any church, and “obeyed only his conception of God’s unbounded command.” [5]

Brown “ridiculed Republican’s mainstream tactics. He disparaged even Yankee extremists for deploying too non-violent a strategy.” [6] After a series of failed business ventures the militant Brown went to Kansas and set about to change the equation through the use of terror. After the sack of Lawrence, Brown and a company of his marauders set upon and slaughtered the family of a pro-slavery settler at Pottawatomie Creek. [7] Brown and his son’s entered the house of one family, “dragged three men outside, shot the father through the head, and hacked and mutilated his two sons with broadswords.”[8] Two years later Brown went to Missouri where he “murdered a slaveholder, seized eleven slaves, and led the new freedmen 1100 miles to Canadian sanctuary.” [9]

The example of John Brown provides us with a good example to understand religious extremism, especially when it becomes violent. The counterinsurgency field manual notes in words that are certainly as applicable to Brown as they are to current religiously motivated terrorists, that “Religious extremist insurgents….frequently hold an all-encompassing worldview; they are ideologically rigid and uncompromising….  believing themselves to be ideologically pure, violent religious extremists brand those they consider insufficiently orthodox as enemies.”[10] 

Brown was certainly “a religious zealot…but was nevertheless every much the product of his time and place….” [11] Brown was a veteran of the violent battles in Kansas where he had earned the reputation as “the apostle of the sword of Gideon” as he and his men battled pro-slavery settlers. Brown was possessed by a zealous belief that God had appointed him as God’s warrior against slaveholders. He despised the peaceful abolitionists and demanded action. “Brave, unshaken by doubt, willing to shed blood unflinchingly and to die for his cause if necessary, Brown was the perfect man to light the tinder of civil war in America, which was what he intended to do.” [12]

Brown attempted to gain financing from wealthy abolitionists for a new expedition to seize the Federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry Virginia, and most would have nothing to do with his scheme. When they “touted their pacific antislavery societies, Brown responded that “your methods are perfectly futile; you would not release five slaves in a century; peaceful emancipation is impossible.” [13] After hearing William Lloyd Garrison and other abolitionist leaders plead for peaceful abolition he remarked: “We’ve reached a point,” I said, “where nothing but war can get rid of slavery in this guilty nation. It’s better that a whole generation of men, women, and children should pass away by a violent death than that slavery should continue to exist.” I meant that literally, every word of it.” [14]

Following that meeting, as well as a meeting with Frederick Douglass who rejected Brown’s planned violent action, Brown went about collecting recruits for his cause and set out to seize 10,000 muskets at the Federal armory in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia in order to ignite a slave revolt. Brown and twenty-one followers, sixteen whites and five blacks moved on the arsenal. As they went, Brown:

“believed that we would probably fail at the Ferry, would probably die. But I believed that all we had to do was make the attempt, and Jehovah would do the rest: the Heavens would turn black, the thunder would rend the sky, and a mighty storm would uproot this guilty land, washing its sins away with blood. With God’s help, I, John Brown, would effect a mighty conquest even though it was like the last victory of Samson.” [15] 

After initial success in capturing the armory, Brown’s plan was frustrated and Brown captured by a force of U.S. Marines, led by Colonel Robert E. Lee and Lieutenant J.E.B. Stuart. Brown was tried and hanged, but his raid “effectively severed the country into two opposing parts, making it clear to moderates there who were searching for compromise, that northerner’s tolerance for slavery was wearing thin.” [16]

It now did not matter that Brown was captured, tried, convicted and executed for his raid on Harper’s Ferry. Brown to be sure was “a half-pathetic, half-mad failure, his raid a crazy, senseless exploit to which only his quiet eloquence during trial and execution lent dignity” [17] but his act was the watershed from which the two sides would not be able to recover; the population on both sides having gone too far down the road to disunion to turn back.

Brown had tremendous support among the New England elites, the “names of Howe, Parker, Emerson and Thoreau among his supporters.” [18] To abolitionists he had become a martyr “but to Frederick Douglass and the negroes of Chatham, Ontario, nearly every one of whom had learned something from personal experience on how to gain freedom, Brown was a man of words trying to be a man of deeds, and they would not follow him. They understood him, as Thoreau and Emerson and Parker never did.” [19]

But to Southerners Brown was the symbol of an existential threat to their way of life. In the North there was a nearly religious wave of sympathy for Brown, and the “spectacle of devout Yankee women actually praying for John Brown, not as a sinner but as saint, of respectable thinkers like Thoreau and Emerson and Longfellow glorifying his martyrdom in Biblical language” [20] horrified Southerners, and drove pro-Union Southern moderates into the secession camp. The Richmond Enquirer wrote in its editorial, “The Harper’s Ferry invasion has advanced the cause of Disunion, more than any other event that has happened since the foundation of the Government; it has rallied to that standard men who formerly looked on it with horror; it has revived, with ten fold strength the desire of a Southern Confederacy…” [21]

The day that Brown went to his hanging he wrote his final missive. This was written once more in apocalyptic language, but also in which he portrayed himself as a Christ figure going to his cross on the behalf of a guilty people, but a people whom his blood would not atone:

“It’s now December second – the day of my hanging, the day the gallows become my cross. I’m approaching those gallows while sitting on my coffin in the bed of a military wagon. O dear God, my eyes see the glory in every step of the divine journey that brought me here, to stand on that platform, in that field, before all those soldiers of Virginia. Thank you, Father, for allowing an old man like me such might and soul satisfying rewards. I am ready to join thee now in Paradise…

They can put the halter around my neck, pull the hood over my head. Hanging me won’t save them from God’s wrath! I warned the entire country: I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away, but with blood.” [22]

Brown’s composure and dignity during trial impressed Governor Henry Wise of Virginia who signed Brown’s death warrant as well as that of fire-eater Edmund Ruffin. In his diary Ruffin “praised Brown’s “animal courage” and “complete fearlessness & insensibility to danger and death.” [23]

UBrown’s death was marked with signs of mourning throughout the North, for Brown was now a martyr. Henry David Thoreau “pronounced Brown “a crucified hero,” [24] while through the North, Brown’s death was treated as a martyr’s death. Even abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison who had condemned violence in the quest of emancipation praised Brown’s actions, while throughout the North:

“Church bells tolled, black bunting was hung out, minute guns were fired, prayer meetings assembled, and memorial resolutions adopted. In the weeks following, the emotional outpouring continued: lithographs of Brown circulated in vast numbers, subscriptions were organized for the support of his family, immense memorial meetings took place in New York, Boston and Philadelphia…” [25]

Future Confederate General Lafayette McLaws spoke for many Southerners in the army when he wrote: His diary entry for February 27th 1860 noted:

“Debates in congress show no mitigation of sec. feeling…. I think it would be better not to be so fanatical on any subject, the extreme pro-slavery man is as bad as that type as that type of anti-slavery, John Brown. I do not consider slavery an evil by any means, but I certainly do not think it the greatest blessing.” [26]

But in the South there was a different understanding of Brown’s assault on Harper’s Ferry. Despite official denunciations of Brown by Abraham Lincoln and other Republican leaders, the message proclaimed by Southern newspapermen, ministers and politicians was that the North could not be trusted.  Brown’s raid, and the reaction of Northerners to it “was seized upon as argument-clinching proof that the North was only awaiting its opportunity to destroy the South by force….” [27]

Of course that was not the feeling in much of the North, but Brown’s actions and words were seized upon by the Southern versions of Brown to make Civil War inevitable once the political balance changed, and they neither controlled the Presidency, House, or Senate.

                                                          Notes 

[1] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume II p.207

[2] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.81

[3] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume II p.207

[4] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.211

[5] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume II p.207

[6] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume II p.206

[7] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis pp.211-212

[8] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.118

[9] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume II p.208

[10] Ibid. U.S. Army/ Marine Counterinsurgency Field Manual p.27

[11] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.197

[12] Ibid. Korda, Clouds of Glory p.xviii

[13] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume II p.208

[14] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.203

[15] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.284

[16] Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory p.xxxix

[17] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.18

[18] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.381

[19] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.375

[20] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.187

[21] ___________ The Harper’s Ferry Invasion as Party Capital The Richmond Enquirer, 23 October 1859 in The Civil War and Reconstruction: A Documentary Collection edited by William E. Gienapp, W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 2001 p.54

[22] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.290

[23] Ibid. Thomas The Confederate Nation p.3

[24] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.210

[25] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.378

[26] Oefinger, John C. Editor A Soldier’s General: The Civil War Letters of Major General Lafayette McLaws University of North Carolina Press, Charlotte and London 2002 p.18

[27] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.119

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After Irene: What happens the Next Time, do we feel Lucky?

Crews working to restore power aboard Camp LeJeune

Irene has left the scene and thankfully for whatever reason, divine intervention or just plain luck Irene lost her groove and didn’t get it back before coming ashore.  There was damage and loss of life but it could have been much worse.  She had weakened and hit New York at low tide had she not weakened and moved fast New Yorkand much of New Englandcould have faced a disaster of epic proportions.  Even still damages are estimated at 7 billion dollars and there were towns which most people in power don’t really give a damn about that were devastated by flooding, storm surge or wind.

In North Carolinawhen I am stationed we took the brunt of the storm.  There was a lot of damage in the communities where she came ashore, the Outer Banks and in low lying inland areas where the building codes are less stringent than on the coast but it could have been much worse.  A big part of the reason is that we have been abnormally dry and so streams and rivers were low and the ground was able to absorb the heavy rain. I have been through worse here and I’m glad that we did not have a repeat of Floyd were the storm was a high category 2 with massive rains inundating a state that had been saturated by two previous hurricanes.

My Island Hermitage is on Emerald Isle and it is better situated than many communities on the Outer Banks.  Despite this I prepared in earnest and thankfully all the damage I had was a bit of wet carpet which happens every time we get a lot of rain.  I’m told that my home inVirginia Beach came through fine although as in every tropical storm or Nor’easter the lakes in my neighborhood overflowed and flooded the streets.  In past tropical storms and Nor’easters we lot power for extended periods of time.   According to my neighbor who was looking after the house there was only a momentary outage.

For us the storm produced some anxiety. As a geographic bachelor and as a part of essential staff at the Naval Hospital I knew that I would be there for the duration. Since Irene was a massive storm I had Judy secure our home and evacuate on Thursday.  We I made the call Irene was expected to hit as a category 3 or strong category 2 storm with both the Island Hermitage and my Old Virginia Home in the crosshairs.  I veer to caution in such situations, it is far better to over prepare and get lucky than to presume upon God or nature depending on your world view.

I rode out Irene in our Naval hospital with our bare bones essential staff, some of their families, patients and families, women in their last weeks of pregnancy and pets of the staff members forced to be on duty.  We did well, my Commanding Officer told the story in this blog post http://navymedicine.navylive.dodlive.mil/archives/501 .  We lost commercial power early on and were on diesel backup generators the duration of the storm.  After the Friday dinner we were reduced to emergency rations which the main courses have an eerie resemblance to MREs and what staff had brought from home.

I ambled about on my gimpy leg the best that I could and had to resort to using my cane to make my rounds as I went about to staff, patients and family members.  Several babies were born on Friday night and Saturday.  It was a good event and thankfully nothing bad occurred.  A lot of people especially those that had never been through a hurricane or had a spouse deployed overseas found it unnerving. But we did our best. We converted the chapel to a TV room for the kids to watch movies since they had little else to do and almost every television were on non-emergency circuits.  We ran an extension cord to an “essential” plug in our section of the building which allowed this to happen and our hospital American Red Cross office supplied us with DVDs as well as coloring books and games for the kids.

As I have written in previous articles the military, particularly the Navy tends to be more of a family than any civilian employer. We are bound together by our shared experiences of deployments, danger and regular moves and family separations.  We pull together in ways that I have never seen in the civilian world.   It is an honor to serve.  I finally left the hospital late this morning since Emerald Isle did not reopen the bridge that links us to the mainland until today.

Since I have come back online I have seen some comments from various critics of Federal disaster assistance or the actions of governors or mayors of states and cities with large numbers of people in the danger zone, about 67 million Americans I think is the number.  The most critical politicians were from the House of Representatives and the biggest mockers when Irene came ashore in a weakened state and did less damage than expected were from the “new” conservative media.  Having been through more hurricanes and major earthquakes than I can count and seen the devastation of these events and the effects on the lives of people I find the comments calloused, mean spirited and simply used this as another way to push a political agenda.

Of course it is easy to be a critic when you have no direct responsibility for the lives of people.  You see those in the executive branch be it at Federal, State of City levels of government  and the agencies are each level are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.  If they know of something that that could devastate their communities and the citizens in them and do too much and disaster doesn’t strike, those that hate government say that they are overreacting and an “intrusion of big government.”  If they don’t react it is held up as a failure of government.  As far as Federal assistance after an event those that say that the Federal government should let people sink or swim and states and municipalities fend for themselves even if the disaster is overwhelming the same is true.  They are always critical simply because they want to dismantle the Federal government. Well most are against it until it is their community is affected, the rare exception being Virginia Representative and House Majority Whip Eric Cantor who told people in his own district to take a hike after they were hit by an earthquake that no one ever anticipated or were prepared.

Close to 70 million people were potentially at risk from a potentially historic hurricane that only weakened at the last minute.  The President, the governors of the affect states and the mayors of major cities did what they were supposed to do.  They did not wait until it was too late as was the case in Louisiana and Hurricane Katrina.  For that they are mocked I the press, especially those that are deemed liberal I haven’t heard any criticism of the actions of Republican Governors of Virginia or New Jersey for doing what the Mayor of New York did.

We got lucky this time but some day we won’t be and if the critics have their way the result will be historic in the bad kind of way, think about the Tsunami in Japan kind of bad.  We got lucky and if we think of ourselves as gamblers we need to remember that eventually the law of averages works against us, just ask the people of New Orleans or more recently Joplin Missouri.  God or nature take your pick only gives us so many chances and it takes only one of these things to make a direct hit and wipe untold numbers of people, their communities and even the assets of major corporations and Fortune 500 companies, but then the people that are against Federal assistance to regular people would jump through their asses to help Corporate America, can you imagine what would have happened in Wall Street went under like they did back in 2008 except this time under real water?

Being prepared and taking precautions is always preferable to loss of life on a major scale.  No government or community can be prepared for all contingencies but it is foolish for them not to do so but they are damned if they do and damned if the don’t in the eyes of their critics do not have the same responsibility.

I do hope that we band together to help those most affected by Irene and other recent disasters.  Prayer is nice but action is even nicer. Thank God there are good people that lay it all out for those in need and do it well working with the government and other charitable organizations and individuals. I think a lot about the efforts of the Southern Baptist disaster response teams as well as the Salvation Army disaster relief and those like them that make such a difference.

I’m glad that Irene lost her groove and didn’t get it back, unfortunately lives were lost and millions of people have suffered some kind of loss due to her.

After the Storm

For me it was a long and exhausting event. But it was a great chance for me to have a weekend with some wonderful people, my local Navy and Marine Corps family.  Men and women that give every day and exemplify the best of America.  That makes all the difference.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Fires Earthquakes and Hurricanes Oh My! I thought God loved Red States more than Blue States

Denny Crane Alert! Over the top prose and satire contained in this post. Read with caution! 

Massachusetts is a Blue state. God has no place here” Denny Crane

Well it seems that things are getting a bit sporting back here on the East Coast, even the Red States those favored by God and Fox News are being afflicted with plagues that are more common in Godless Blue States like California and Massachusetts.  After all everyone knows that God loves the Red States more because they like God more than the Godless Commies and Socialists in the Blue States.

There has been a spate of events lately that are making me wonder about God’s love for his chosen people in the Red States.  There were earthquakes in Colorado and Virginia, fires in North Carolina, floods in the Midwest, drought in Texas and the Deep South and most of these places are Red States where God’s real people live.  I could understand if they were Blue States since God isn’t allowed in them.

I grew up on the West Coast, mostly in California where I also did my undergraduate work before I was commissioned as an Army Officer. That was back back in the good old days of the Cold War when the United States and Soviet Union held back chaos by dividing the world into us and them.  Saint Ronald was President and 80s power ballads were hot. But I digress….

I grew up in California, up and down the state, Oakland where I was born, San Diego, Long Beach, Stockton, and the good old San Fernando Valley.  Back in those days I got used to plagues, we had droughts, the Medfly, Jerry Brown, riots, Earthquakes and massive fires and mudslides.  It was good living.  Plagues build character ask the Egyptians and you never forget them.

I mean I have survived big earthquakes the 1970 Los Angeles quake, the 1980 Mammoth Lakes Quake while I was at a Christian retreat.  That weekend was strange there was nice weather, then snow, then hail and finally a thunderstorm before the skies cleared only to have a 6.8 on the Andy Richter Scale earthquake interrupt a class.  Now this was a Presbyterian Charismatic Communion retreat and if you didn’t know that some Presbyterians have this in them you needed to be there.  The building started shaking like a perverted Rock Star gyrating his hips and all of a sudden everyone around me was speaking in tongues, shouting and rebuking the Devil and some even rolling on the floor. I moved underneath a door frame as I was taught in school to do and wondered what was going one.  I survived as did they.  Well I’ve been through other earthquakes of varying intensities, most bigger that the wimpy 5.8 Virginia quake, I’m sorry that’s namby pamby, or even worse namsy pansy. I can’t imagine a namby pamby quake striking a Red State.

The problem is that instead of the Blue States getting these plagues of late as they rightfully should being that there are Godless Communists that love those ho-mo-sexual wedding planners, or weddings or whatever.  Just know that God doesn’t like it but for some reason it seems that all the plagues are afflicting the Red States now days.

Rick Perry’s Texas and Tom Coburn’s Oklahoma are going through a drought like the Dust Bowl days, except to escape it they don’t dare to go to California like people did in the 1930s and risk becoming ho-mo-sexual and having God send them to Hell.  Of course the drought has been going on for some time now but for goodness sakes a couple of days ago there was an earthquake in Colorado home of  James Dobson, Focus on the Family and the Coors Empire.  Red to the core, even the Birkenstock wearing tree huggers are red in their hearts.  Big church ministries move to Colorado from California and even more to Texas. But Colorado had an earthquake and Texas has a drought. North Carolina and Virginia have been fighting fires in the Great Dismal Swamp that won’t go out because of the richness of the peat soil and layers of American made pine needles. Now Virginia which is definitely back in the Red column after crushing a brief  Blue uprising has a really big earthquake by namby pamby East Coast standards.  My goodness the government of Virginia is in church more often than they are in session and are giving a new meaning to the Old Dominionists, but they had an earthquake strike near a nuclear power reactor; shut the place down for a while.  I wonder are they not praying hard enough or are there still enough of those Blue people hanging around to garner the wrath of God? And now there is a bitch of a hurricane named Irene that is threatening the good Red people of North Carolina and Virginia with devastation of Biblical proportions and since I live where the big “hit me sign” is, I am concerned.

This can’t be just.  The Virginians and North Carolinians have been throwing the leftist Democrats out of office at a cyclic rate of late, for goodness sakes they’re doing the work of God and this shouldn’t happen to them.  If God was just this would happen inNew York or Massachusetts where they do all sorts of Godless things and put Democrats in office and let ho-mo-sexuals be wedding planners and even get married to other ho-mo-sexuals.  This should be happening inMartha’s Vineyardwhen Obama is on the golf course with all his liberal commie pinko fellow travelers.

I think that Pat Robertson needs to get out his knee pads and flying carpet to pray this on away like the one he did back in the 1960s.  His place is in the path of Irene and they felt the earthquake down inVirginia Beach too.

That’s all I’ve got to say.

Remember where you heard it.

Padre Steve+

Back to reality, if anyone is taking this seriously they need to get a life. Yes it’s serious, but the seriousness is in the satire. If you don’t understand read my other “serious” posts. However mark my word there are already a lot of preachers out there claiming that this is all the judgement of God against America. But even so Pat Robertson should still be praying as probably all of us should. Besides I am not Red or Blue, I’m a Red White and Blue American Moderate and proud of it. Padre Steve. 

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