John Brown: A Biography, 1800-1859

by Oswald Garrison Villard

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Slavery was simply an awful institution that even today in its legacy continues to plague the United States. During its height, abolitionists “waved the bloody flag” and vigorously protested to end it, though it took plunging the nation into the Civil War to result in it being finally eradicated. One person that took a memorable, radical, and extreme stand against “the peculiar institution” was John Brown. Though Brown had led forces against pro-slavery opponents earlier, it wasn’t until 1859 when he turned to violence on the national stage and led forces, particularly enslaved African Americans, at Harper’s Ferry. The movement was ultimately unsuccessful, and Brown was captured and tried for treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia (before Harper’s Ferry was part of West Virginia). He was hanged despite vocal opposition from his supporters, and his work as an abolitionist created ripples of tension that significantly fueled the drift towards war. His acts’ effectiveness has long been a source of debate.

This volume by Oswald Garrison Villard gives the opinions of a prominent early voice in the conversation about Brown’s life and impact. It is dedicated to Judy Rich Lauder, enthusiast for Civil War history in the schools and libraries.