John Brown was the first white man to use violence in an attempt to end slavery. This first use of violence by a white man scared many in the South, leading the Southern state militias to begin training for their defense of further raids and, consequently, to the militarization of the South in preparation for a Northern invasion.
Brown’s commitment to justice and adherence to the United States Constitution forced him to fight state-sponsored injustice, one he was only affected by in spirit.
An African-American baggage handler on the train Brown ceased, named Hayward Shepherd, vehemently confronted the raiders; they were forced to shoot and kill him– ironically a freed slave became the first casualty of the raid.
Robert E. Lee believed that the blacks used in the raid would never have done this on their own. “The blacks, whom he [John Brown] forced from their homes in this neighborhood, as far as I could learn, gave him no voluntary assistance.”
Israel Green said of attempting to Kill John Brown, ” The shot might have been fired by some one else in the insurgent party, but I think it was from Brown. Instinctively as Brown fell I gave him a saber thrust in the left breast. The sword I carried was a light uniform weapon, and, either not having a point or striking something hard in Brown’s accouterments, did not penetrate. The blade bent double.”
Henry David Thoreau, in A Plea for Captain John Brown, said, “I think that for once the Sharp’s rifles and the revolters were employed in a righteous cause. The tools were in the hands of one who could use them,” and said of Brown, “He has a spark of divinity in him.”
A unique man, Thoreau proclaimed in admiration, Brown was highly moral and humane. Independent, “under the auspices of John Brown and nobody else,” and direct of speech, Brown instilled fear, which he attributed to a lack of cause, into large groups of men who supported slavery. Incomparable to man, Thoreau likens Brown’s execution– he states that he regards Brown as dead before his actual death– to Christ’s crucifixion at the hands of Pontius Pilate with whom he compares the American government.
Thoreau vents at the scores of Americans who have voiced their displeasure and scorn for John Brown. The same people, Thoreau says, can’t relate to Brown because of their concrete stances and “dead” existences; they are truly not living, only a handful of men have lived. Thoreau also criticizes contemporary Christians, who say their prayers and then go to sleep aware of injustice but doing nothing to change it. Similarly, Thoreau states those who believe Brown threw his life away and died as a fool, are fools. Brown gave his life for justice, not for material gains, and was completely sane, perhaps more so than any other human being. Rebutting the arguments based on the small number of rebels, Thoreau responds “when were the good and the brave ever in a majority?”