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.