Who would not be John Brown?


This is a letter from the anti-slavery activist Lydia Maria Child, which appeared in the December 23, 1859 issue of William Lloyd Garrison's Liberator. (The letter makes several biting references to the late Senator Daniel Webster, who had voted for the Fugitive Slave Law as part of the Compromise of 1850, and whose statue had been erected on the lawn of the Massachusetts State House in Boston..)

Sentiments like this enraged the South, which could not help but see them as supportive of Brown's violent attack.

Lydia Maria Child (1802-1880)



Who would not rather be John Brown, and have his memory cherished with such tender gratitude by the poor and the oppressed, than to have his brazen statue set up in front of the State House, a reward for hunting slaves?  I agree with the colored man, in thinking that John Brown was a 'misguided philanthropist.' But no one who believes war to be right under any circumstances, is authorized so to judge him. If we justify any men in fighting against oppression, how can we deny that right to men whose wives are constantly at the disposal of their master, or his sons, and whose children are torn from them and sold on the auction block, while they have no redress at law, and are shot down like dogs, if they dare to resist? It is very inconsistent to eulogise Lafayette for volunteering to aid in our fight for freedom, while we blame John Brown for going to the rescue of those who are a thousand times more oppressed than we ever were, and who have none to help them. Let us understand our principles well in this matter, and deal even-handed justice in our estimate of actions. We who believe that all fighting with carnal weapons is contrary to the teachings of Jesus, do think that John Brown made a grievous mistake; but while we deeply regret the means he employed to advance righteous principles, we cannot withhold a heartfelt tribute of respect to the generous motives and self-sacrificing spirit of the brave old martyr.  Instead of blaming him for carrying out his own convictions by means we cannot sanction, it would be more profitable for us to inquire of ourselves whether we, who believe in a 'more excellent way,' have carried our convictions into practice, as faithfully as he did his. We believe in moral influence as a cure for the diseases of society. Have we exerted it as constantly and as strenuously as we ought against the giant wrong, that making wreck of all the free institutions our fathers handed down to us as a sacred legacy? Do we bear our testimony against it in the parlor and the store, the caucus and the conference, on the highway and in the cars? Do we stamp upon the impressible minds of our children a deep conviction of its inherent wickedness and consequent danger? Do we exclude the ravening monster from our churches, as we ought to do? Do we withhold respect from ministers, who are silent concerning this mighty iniquity? Do we brand with ignominy the statesmen, who make compromises with the foul sin, for their own emolument? Nay, verily! We erect statues to them. And because we have thus failed to perform our duty in the 'more excellent way,' the end cometh by violence, because come it must.  Let him who is without sin in this matter cast the first stone at the gray head of that honest old Puritan, John Brown!  He believed, more earnestly than most of us do, that it was a religious duty to 'remember those in bonds as bound with them'; and he verily thought it was serving God to fight in a righteous cause. Therefore, shall his memory be forever enshrined in the greateful hearts of a down-trodden race, and command the respect of all true friends of justice and freedom.  In the midst of awful tribulations, his sublime faith in God lifted him above all need of our compassion. Leaning on the Almighty arm, he passed triumphantly thorugh the valley of the shadow of death, smiling serenely, as he said, 'I don't know as I can better serve the cause I love so well, than to die for it.'  Farewell to thee, faithful old hero and martyr. The Recording Angel will blot out thy error with a tear, because it was committed with an honest heart.