John Brown’s Raid on Harpers Ferry


Causes and Effects of John Brown’s Raid on Harpers Ferry

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Slavery contributed immensely to the American civil war. Slavery was the primary catalyst that led to secession. Political forces in Northern America, John Brown being one of them, resisted the extension of slavery to the western regions. The existence of slavery raised a lot of controversies. Brown opposed slavery completely. In October 1859, John Brown led several men down the street to Harpers Ferry so that they could take the state armoury, thus igniting the national rebellion against slavery.The raid caused trauma deeper than ever experienced by the American nation.His intentions of abolishing the slave importation didn’t mature until after six years when his vision was recognized, and slavery was abolished and declared illegal.

Brown applied several tricks during the abolition slavery. They pretended outside Harpers Ferry to be farmers, yet they were planning the raids.  Although various abolitionists were supercilious towards blacks, as they believed blacks were very docile to fight for their rights, Brown applied his tricks of involving fugitive slaves and blacks in their raids. Brown thought it was morally vital and essential for blacks to fight together with whites for their rights. Among his band were blacks. His invasion of the Harpers Ferry caused a lot of trauma than any other that has been experienced in America before. After several years of conflict over slavery, many in the southern region felt Brown was the embodiment of the northern sentiment. Brown’s raid changed America into two national societies. The division of the nation only awaited the official declaration(Horwitz, 2014). As the information spread all over the government about the invasion, each part of the publication of the newspapers indicated very astonishing than the raid itself.

John Brown’s Raid on Harpers Ferrywas meant to inspire slave rebellion. In the raid Brown and his men captured sixty citizens of Harper’s Ferry said to be supporters of the slavetrade and held them at the federal arsenal. However, no slaves came toassist Brown and his men. When President Buchanan learned of the seizure at the federalarsenal, he ordered federal soldiers into the areato end the fight. The militia, under the control ofthen-Colonel Robert E. Lee, raged the arsenal and killed ten ofBrown’s men, including his two sons. As a result Brown was arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death by hanging for his actions.

John Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry raised a lot of debate onboth sides of the slavery question. Residents of Harper’s Ferry andthe neighboring communities were perturbedof the extreme actiontaken by Brown and his men, and exasperated by the support Brown’sactions had garnered in the North. Abolitionists like Henry DavidThoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson memorialized Brown’s actions inpoems and other written works. They viewed President Buchanan’sactions as direct support by the federal government of slavery, andcalled for immediate and dramatic change. In fact, one such work, “John Brown’s Body,” eventually became the inspiration for JuliaHowe’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and an anthem for North duringthe Civil War.

Even from his jail cell, Brown continued to write letters andencourage action to end slavery. He discouraged anyone fromattempting to free him, arguing instead that his death wasnecessary to the abolition movement. On the day of his execution, communities throughout the North honored Brown: in Cleveland, 1,400people gathered at a memorial; in Boston, all black-owned businesses were closed and arm bands were worn in mourning.(“Re-evaluating John Brown’s Raid at Harper’s Ferry,” West VirginiaCultural Society, .Throughout the North, previously indifferent individuals werespurred to sympathy by the eulogies and memorial poems that relayedBrown’s actions. Abolitionists like Frederick Douglass, whopreviously had preached non-violent and peaceful means of protest, began to shift their focus. In November 1859, Douglass wrote:”[Brown] has attacked slavery with the weapons precisely adapted to bring it to the death. Moral considerations have long since been exhausted upon Slaveholders. It is in vain to reason with them. Onemight as well hunt bears with ethics and political economy for weapons, as to seek to “pluck the spoiled out of the hand of theoppressor” by mere force of moral law. Slavery is a system of brute force. It shields itself behind might, rather than right. It mustbe met with its own weapons.”

By awakening the conscience of the North and feeding the fearsof the South, John Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry served as thecatalyst for the Civil War and the culmination of tension in theabolitionist




Horwitz, T. (2014). Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War. Henry Holt and Company.


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