This is the 150th anniversary of the hanging of John Brown. When he attacked Harper’s Ferry with a handful of followers, the butcher of Kansas helped sow the seeds of the Civil War. Few things would have made Brown happier than the thought of hundreds of thousands of people dying for his own Scorched Earth method of moral salvation.
The New York Times op-ed page has a piece today touting Brown as an American hero. It seeks to vindicate him:
He was held in high esteem by many great men of his day. Ralph Waldo Emerson compared him to Jesus, declaring that Brown would “make the gallows as glorious as the cross.” Henry David Thoreau placed Brown above the freedom fighters of the American Revolution.
The fact that Emerson and Thoreau turned into cheerleaders for John Brown was among the worst failings for each of them. Both Emerson and Thoreau started out denouncing politics as a snare and a fraud. And both fell for Brown and his vision of progress via slaughtering innocent people.
Brown’s attempt to create a bloody uprising in Virginia helped close the final door to compromise between the North and the South. His name should be as odious today as those of other people whose violence sparked mass killing. +++
Update 12/03: There have been some excellent revisionist histories in the last 20 years on how the Civil War could have been averted and how slavery would have been phased out without a national bloodbath. While some of the deep South states saw slavery as their essence, upper South states like Virginia were not so mindlessly attached to the odious institution.
Those who believe that a war was necessary to end slavery often fail to realize that much of the dire plight of freed slaves was the result of northern armies relying on Scorched Earth tactics in the final year of the war. When almost everything has been destroyed, it is difficult for anyone (except Carpetbaggers) to survive.
UPDATE #2: I also posted this comment on the Antwar.com website here where it is evoking lots of denunciations and also some controversy.