Friday, October 16, 2009

Bad Days in American History: October 16, 1859

150 years ago today, John Brown and his followers seized the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Virginia, hoping to inspire slaves to revolt across the South. This event went a long ways in precipitating the Civil War.

Readers of the site might be surprised to see John Brown's Raid listed as a Bad Day in American History. Brown was fighting to end slavery, the most miserable, disgusting institution in the history of the United States. Certainly I've spared no expense in attacking those who committed treason in defense of slavery.

While I may not impinge Brown's dreams, his actions set a dangerous precedent, which is why I am writing about this today. History is always reinterpreted to fit the present. Right now, Brown's actions resonate very strongly with the anti-abortion movement. In particular, extremists who want to kill abortion doctors see Brown as an inspiration who acted out of moral principle, even if his actions cost lives. I don't like this precedent one bit. In that light, it's easy to see Brown as a complete lunatic (which he was, regardless of how you feel about his actions) whose actions must be condemned so as to not be repeated. If you completely isolate Brown in his time, maybe one can say he was justified in his actions. But if people emulate him, what cause is it not worth killing for if you believe in it strongly enough? John Brown's raid scares me.