Though some characterized John Brown as a lover of all mankind and a believer in the Golden Rule, he was also thought of as a bloodthirsty and cold-blooded man. Believing that the crime of slavery should not exist one day longer, Brown took five proslavery men from their beds and hacked them to death with broadswords in front of their families. Fellow abolitionists, who still advocated peaceful resistance to proslavery supporters, believed in his cause, but rejected his methods. In an effort to arm slaves so they could fight their slave masters, Brown led the unsuccessful raid on the federal armory in Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in 1859. In the milieu, seven men were killed, and many more were injured. Thirty-six hours later, Brown's men had either fled or been killed, and Brown was hanged for his actions. Historians agree that Brown's tactics and the escalating tensions led to secession of the Southern states and the Civil War. Today, some recognize this controversial man as a heroic martyr and visionary, and others see him as a madman and an American terrorist.
Jon Sterngass, Ph.D., is a freelance writer and former visiting assistant professor at Union College. He is the author of several children's books and numerous textbook chapters. He lives in Saratoga Springs, New York.