John Brown's Raid at 150

If you’re in the D.C. area this weekend and want a real tune-up of your American history, the observation of the 150th anniversary of John Brown’s raid at Harpers Ferry to free the slaves provides not only great history lessons, but Christian worldview discussions as well.

For Brown considered himself very much a believer, drawing inspiration from the Scriptures for his abolitionist activism. Though his long anti-slavery involvement was generally peaceable, he is best known now for the two times in his life when he embraced violence as a means toward achieving freedom for American slaves: his involvement in “Bloody Kansas” in the mid-1850s and his ill-fated raid on the National Armory at Harpers Ferry in October 1859.

Can someone have a right vision but wrong tactics? Could John Brown have availed himself of any version of a “just war theory?” Scholars and amateur historians are debating those very questions this weekend at Harpers Ferry in a series of seminars, exhibits, and discussion groups.

Many historians now agree that, had Brown simply been killed by then-Colonel Robert E. Lee’s dispatched marines, who ably diffused Brown’s efforts to start a slave rebellion in Virginia, Brown would probably only be a mostly forgotten footnote in U.S. history.

But his trial in nearby Charles Town portrayed a much more sympathetic side of Brown for northern newspaper readers.  Reporters told Brown’s story; sketch-artists drew him as an aging, wounded freedom fighter on his back in a cot during the trial, still recovering from his injuries from the raid. Brown’s stirring and eloquent defense of his effort to strike at slavery’s heart ended up putting the South on trial.

A year later Abraham Lincoln was elected President, and the war that Brown predicted would come arrived soon after. Brown’s raid certainly seems like the match on the dry haystack of emotions that were pulling the country into two general sections, North and South.

For more information about the events of this weekend at the National Historical Park at Harpers Ferry, W.V., go to the John Brown's Raid website.


Well the trench warfare we remember from WWI was a function of the lack of space in Europe as compared to the amount of force available and WWI fortification style wasn't as unique as is often thought. The Dutch Wars of Independence bear a suprising resemblance to the WWI we all remember and the other theaters of WWI often had considerable maneuvering. As did the Russian Revolution, the Polish-soviet war, and assorted spinoffs. America had enough space that we cannot be sure a later Civil war would resemble the Western Front. In Europe in WWI the Western Front had no flanks so every attack was a frontal attack. Furthermore there was the curious fact that all attacks had to be made on foot there was no way to exploit a breech and reinforcements would be sent by train to bandage said breech faster then any reinforcements could be brought up from the rear. With more room a proper exploitation could be made even in WWI. In many ways the Western Front was a gigantic version of siege techniques that had been around for generations. The main change was really railroads which allowed more troops and supplies. Increased firepower contributed to the deadlock but it wasn't enough in areas where there was enough space.
On top of that, Jason, the Civil War (when it did come) might have gone differently, due to the changing political alliances in Europe in the late 1800s. It's conceivable that one or another of the European states might have recognized the South's independence. // The other part is that warfare was also changing, moving towards trench warfare and heavy fortification. The Civil War might have been more like WW1 (in terms of bloodiness and destruction) if it had happened much later.
John Brown was a fanatic who was backed by various un-Godly abolitionists (I'm not implying all abolutionists are un-Godly). John Brown had little understanding of the truths of Scripture, didn't understand the Constitution or worse took it upon himself to disregard it and thus civil law (which is also un-Biblical), and was a murderer. There is nothing Christian or otherwise good that can be said about that man.
Had John Brown succeeded there would have been a months long period of mutual atrocities before it was suppressed. Which would have put the kibosh on abolition for a long time just as the Great Mutiny did for Indian Independence . Human justice without prudence creates more injustice. While probably less lives would have been lost then in the Civil War simply because it would have been over sooner, they would have been lost for nothing. Furthermore the Civil War was a reliativly chivalrous Euro style war that did not cause a collapse of society as a slave revolt would have.

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