John Brown and Abolitionists

John Brown is portrayed as insane in the textbooks Loewen analyzed. But people who lived at the time did not consider him to be crazy, and Brown was a major influence on thinking about abolitionism before and after his death (Loewen 177).


John Brown was a radical abolitionist who believed in the violent overthrow of the slavery system. During the Bleeding Kansas conflicts, Brown and his sons led attacks on pro-slavery residents. Justifying his actions as the will of God, Brown soon became a hero in the eyes of Northern extremists and was quick to capitalize on his growing reputation. By early 1858, he had succeeded in enlisting a small "army" of insurrectionists whose mission was to foment rebellion among the slaves. In 1859, Brown and 21 of his followers attacked and occupied the federal arsenal in Harpers Ferry. Their goal was to capture supplies and use them to arm a slave rebellion. Brown was captured during the raid and later hanged, but not before becoming an anti-slavery icon.

The goal of the abolitionist movement was the immediate emancipation of all slaves and the end of racial discrimination and segregation. Advocating for immediate emancipation distinguished abolitionists from more moderate anti-slavery advocates who argued for gradual emancipation, and from free-soil activists who sought to restrict slavery to existing areas and prevent its spread further west. Radical abolitionism was partly fueled by the religious fervor of the Second Great Awakening, which prompted many people to advocate for emancipation on religious grounds. Abolitionist ideas became increasingly prominent in Northern churches and politics beginning in the 1830s, which contributed to the regional animosity between North and South leading up to the Civil War.

Guiding thoughts:

As you go through these different documents, keep it mind who John Brown actually was and how he was actually portayed in textbooks. Remember he was key to abolistionist thinking and a hero for them in this time period.



Document 1:


1. The man portrayed in the middle is John Brown. Why do you think the author chose to portray him in this way? Is this a favorable portrayal of Brown? Is he seen as insane or a hero?

2. What is going on in the background and foreground of the picture?

3. What kind of tone and feeling comes off from this illustration?


 Document 2:


1. What is going on in this picture? Who is John Brown fighting alongside?

2. Does this illustrat John Brown in a heroic light? Does his come off as a sane abolitionist?

3. This illustration deals with John Brown's actions at Harper's Ferry where his main insanity is told in textbooks. With no other information other than this picture, how would you characterize Brown?



Document 3:


1. This is a an image made by abolitionists. What is the main message of the picture?

2. Who is depicted in the picture? Is the image powerful and resonate with you?

3. How is this representative of the abolitionist ideas and movement?