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Abolitionist John Brown

He has been called a saint, a fanatic, and a cold-blooded murderer. The debate over his memory, his motives, about the true nature of the man, continues to stir passionate debate. It is said that John Brown was the spark that started the Civil War. Truly, he marked the end of compromise over the issue of slavery, and it was not long after his death that John Brown's war became the nation's war.

The son of a staunch abolitionist, Brown was convinced that black slavery was a sin against Christianity. In Pennsylvania his home was a station on the Underground Railroad, a secret network to aid fugitive slaves. In New York he settled his family in a black community founded on land donated by an antislavery philanthropist. By the time he was in his 50s, he had finally decided that force was the only way left to banish slavery.

His hatred of slavery marked his subsequent career. While living in Pennsylvania in 1834, Brown initiated a project among sympathetic abolitionists to educate young blacks. The next 20 years of his life were largely dedicated to this and similar abolitionist ventures, entailing many sacrifices for himself and his large family (Microsoft Encarta 2000).

In 1855 he followed five of his sons to Kansas Territory, then a center of struggle between the antislavery and pro-slavery forces. Under Brown's leadership, his sons became active participants in the fight against pro-slavery terrorists from Missouri, whose activities led to the murder of a number of abolitionists at Lawrence, Kansas. Brown and his sons avenged this crime, on May 24, 1856, at Pottawatomie Creek by killing five pro-slavery adherents. This act, as well as his success in withstanding a large party of attacking Missourians at Osawatomie in August, made him nationally famous as an irreconcilable foe of slavery.

John Brown was a militant American Abolitionist whose raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Va., in 1859 made him a martyr to th...

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