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Author Topic: A PLEA FOR CAPTAIN JOHN BROWN  (Read 605 times)
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Posts: 1663

« Reply #15 on: March 22, 2009, 04:46:24 pm »

I hear many condemn these men because they were so few. When were
the good and the brave ever in a majority? Would you have had him wait
till that time came?- till you and I came over to him? The very fact
that he had no rabble or troop of hirelings about him would alone
distinguish him from ordinary heroes. His company was small indeed,
because few could be found worthy to pass muster. Each one who there
laid down his life for the poor and oppressed was a picked man, culled
out of many thousands, if not millions; apparently a man of principle,
of rare courage, and devoted humanity; ready to sacrifice his life
at any moment for the benefit of his fellow-man. It may be doubted
if there were as many more their equals in these respects in all the
country- I speak of his followers only- for their leader, no doubt,
scoured the land far and wide, seeking to swell his troop. These alone
were ready to step between the oppressor and the oppressed. Surely
they were the very best men you could select to be hung. That was
the greatest compliment which this country could pay them. They were
ripe for her gallows. She has tried a long time, she has hung a good
many, but never found the right one before.

  When I think of him, and his six sons, and his son-in-law, not to
enumerate the others, enlisted for this fight, proceeding coolly,
reverently, humanely to work, for months if not years, sleeping and
waking upon it, summering and wintering the thought, without expecting
any reward but a good conscience, while almost all America stood
ranked on the other side- I say again that it affects me as a
sublime spectacle. If he had had any journal advocating "his cause,"
any organ, as the phrase is, monotonously and wearisomely playing
the same old tune, and then passing round the hat, it would have
been fatal to his efficiency. If he had acted in any way so as to be
let alone by the government, he might have been suspected. It was
the fact that the tyrant must give place to him, or he to the
tyrant, that distinguished him from all the reformers of the day
that I know.
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« Reply #16 on: March 22, 2009, 04:46:36 pm »

It was his peculiar doctrine that a man has a perfect right to
interfere by force with the slaveholder, in order to rescue the slave.
I agree with him. They who are continually shocked by slavery have
some right to be shocked by the violent death of the slaveholder,
but no others. Such will be more shocked by his life than by his
death. I shall not be forward to think him mistaken in his method
who quickest succeeds to liberate the slave. I speak for the slave
when I say that I prefer the philanthropy of Captain Brown to that
philanthropy which neither shoots me nor liberates me. At any rate,
I do not think it is quite sane for one to spend his whole life in
talking or writing about this matter, unless he is continuously
inspired, and I have not done so. A man may have other affairs to
attend to. I do not wish to kill nor to be killed, but I can foresee
circumstances in which both these things would be by me unavoidable.
We preserve the so-called peace of our community by deeds of petty
violence every day. Look at the policeman's billy and handcuffs!
Look at the jail! Look at the gallows! Look at the chaplain of the
regiment! We are hoping only to live safely on the outskirts of this
provisional army. So we defend ourselves and our hen-roosts, and
maintain slavery. I know that the mass of my countrymen think that the
only righteous use that can be made of Sharp's rifles and revolvers is
to fight duels with them, when we are insulted by other nations, or to
hunt Indians, or shoot fugitive slaves with them, or the like. I think
that for once the Sharp's rifles and the revolvers were employed in
a righteous cause. The tools were in the hands of one who could use

  The same indignation that is said to have cleared the temple once
will clear it again. The question is not about the weapon, but the
spirit in which you use it. No man has appeared in America, as yet,
who loved his fellow-man so well, and treated him so tenderly. He
lived for him. He took up his life and he laid it down for him. What
sort of violence is that which is encouraged, not by soldiers, but
by peaceable citizens, not so much by laymen as by ministers of the
Gospel, not so much by the fighting sects as by the Quakers, and not
so much by Quaker men as by Quaker women?

  This event advertises me that there is such a fact as death- the
possibility of a man's dying. It seems as if no man had ever died in
America before; for in order to die you must first have lived. I don't
believe in the hearses, and palls, and funerals that they have had.
There was no death in the case, because there had been no life; they
merely rotted or sloughed off, pretty much as they had rotted or
sloughed along. No temple's veil was rent, only a hole dug
somewhere. Let the dead bury their dead. The best of them fairly ran
down like a clock. Franklin- Washington- they were let off without
dying; they were merely missing one day. I hear a good many pretend
that they are going to die; or that they have died, for aught that I
know. Nonsense! I'll defy them to do it. They haven't got life
enough in them. They'll deliquesce like fungi, and keep a hundred
eulogists mopping the spot where they left off. Only half a dozen or
so have died since the world began. Do you think that you are going to
die, sir? No! there's no hope of you. You haven't got your lesson yet.
You've got to stay after school. We make a needless ado about
capital punishment- taking lives, when there is no life to take.
Memento mori! We don't understand that sublime sentence which some
worthy got sculptured on his gravestone once. We've interpreted it
in a grovelling and snivelling sense; we've wholly forgotten how to
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« Reply #17 on: March 22, 2009, 04:46:46 pm »

But be sure you do die nevertheless. Do your work, and finish it. If
you know how to begin, you will know when to end.

  These men, in teaching us how to die, have at the same time taught
us how to live. If this man's acts and words do not create a
revival, it will be the severest possible satire on the acts and words
that do. It is the best news that America has ever heard. It has
already quickened the feeble pulse of the North, and infused more
and more generous blood into her veins and heart than any number of
years of what is called commercial and political prosperity could. How
many a man who was lately contemplating suicide has now something to
live for!

  One writer says that Brown's peculiar monomania made him to be
"dreaded by the Missourians as a supernatural being." Sure enough, a
hero in the midst of us cowards is always so dreaded. He is just
that thing. He shows himself superior to nature. He has a spark of
divinity in him.

                    "Unless above himself he can

        Erect himself, how poor a thing is man!"

  Newspaper editors argue also that it is a proof of his insanity that
he thought he was appointed to do this work which he did- that he
did not suspect himself for a moment! They talk as if it were
impossible that a man could be "divinely appointed" in these days to
do any work whatever; as if vows and religion were out of date as
connected with any man's daily work; as if the agent to abolish
slavery could only be somebody appointed by the President, or by
some political party. They talk as if a man's death were a failure,
and his continued life, be it of whatever character, were a success.

  When I reflect to what a cause this man devoted himself, and how
religiously, and then reflect to what cause his judges and all who
condemn him so angrily and fluently devote themselves, I see that they
are as far apart as the heavens and earth are asunder.

  The amount of it is, our "leading men" are a harmless kind of
folk, and they know well enough that they were not divinely appointed,
but elected by the votes of their party.

  Who is it whose safety requires that Captain Brown be hung? Is it
indispensable to any Northern man? Is there no resource but to cast
this man also to the Minotaur? If you do not wish it, say so
distinctly. While these things are being done, beauty stands veiled
and music is a screeching lie. Think of him- of his rare
qualities!- such a man as it takes ages to make, and ages to
understand; no mock hero, nor the representative of any party. A man
such as the sun may not rise upon again in this benighted land. To
whose making went the costliest material, the finest adamant; sent
to be the redeemer of those in captivity; and the only use to which
you can put him is to hang him at the end of a rope! You who pretend
to care for Christ crucified, consider what you are about to do to him
who offered himself to be the saviour of four millions of men.
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« Reply #18 on: March 22, 2009, 04:47:02 pm »

Any man knows when he is justified, and all the wits in the world
cannot enlighten him on that point. The murderer always knows that
he is justly punished; but when a government takes the life of a man
without the consent of his conscience, it is an audacious
government, and is taking a step towards its own dissolution. Is it
not possible that an individual may be right and a government wrong?
Are laws to be enforced simply because they were made? or declared
by any number of men to be good, if they are not good? Is there any
necessity for a man's being a tool to perform a deed of which his
better nature disapproves? Is it the intention of law-makers that good
men shall be hung ever? Are judges to interpret the law according to
the letter, and not the spirit? What right have you to enter into a
compact with yourself that you will do thus or so, against the light
within you? Is it for you to make up your mind- to form any resolution
whatever- and not accept the convictions that are forced upon you, and
which ever pass your understanding? I do not believe in lawyers, in
that mode of attacking or defending a man, because you descend to meet
the judge on his own ground, and, in cases of the highest
importance, it is of no consequence whether a man breaks a human law
or not. Let lawyers decide trivial cases. Business men may arrange
that among themselves. If they were the interpreters of the
everlasting laws which rightfully bind man, that would be another
thing. A counterfeiting law-factory, standing half in a slave land and
half in a free! What kind of laws for free men can you expect from

  I am here to plead his cause with you. I plead not for his life, but
for his character- his immortal life; and so it becomes your cause
wholly, and is not his in the least. 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.

  I see now that it was necessary that the bravest and humanest man in
all the country should be hung. Perhaps he saw it himself. I almost
fear that I may yet hear of his deliverance, doubting if a prolonged
life, if any life, can do as much good as his death.

  "Misguided!" "Garrulous!" "Insane!" "Vindictive!" So ye write in
your easy-chairs, and thus he wounded responds from the floor of the
armory, clear as a cloudless sky, true as the voice of nature is:
"No man sent me here; it was my own prompting and that of my Maker.
I acknowledge no master in human form."
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« Reply #19 on: March 22, 2009, 04:47:17 pm »

And in what a sweet and noble strain he proceeds, addressing his
captors, who stand over him: "I think, my friends, you are guilty of a
great wrong against God and humanity, and it would be perfectly
right for any one to interfere with you, so far as to free those you
wilfully and wickedly hold in bondage."

  And, referring to his movement: "It is, in my opinion, the
greatest service a man can render to God."

  "I pity the poor in bondage that have none to help them; that is why
I am here; not to gratify any personal animosity, revenge, or
vindictive spirit. It is my sympathy with the oppressed and the
wronged, that are as good as you, and as precious in the sight of

  You don't know your testament when you see it.

  "I want you to understand that I respect the rights of the poorest
and weakest of colored people, oppressed by the slave power, just as
much as I do those of the most wealthy and powerful."

  "I wish to say, furthermore, that you had better, all you people
at the South, prepare yourselves for a settlement of that question,
that must come up for settlement sooner than you are prepared for
it. The sooner you are prepared the better. You may dispose of me very
easily. I am nearly disposed of now; but this question is still to
be settled- this negro question, I mean; the end of that is not yet."

  I foresee the time when the painter will paint that scene, no longer
going to Rome for a subject; the poet will sing it; the historian
record it; and, with the Landing of the Pilgrims and the Declaration
of Independence, it will be the ornament of some future national
gallery, when at least the present form of slavery shall be no more
here. We shall then be at liberty to weep for Captain Brown. Then, and
not till then, we will take our revenge.

                                    THE END
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