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“The John Brown way” part 2

Into battle

Tempest’s David Whitehouse finishes the story begun in Part 1, in which John Brown emerged from a radical background during the formation of the U.S. abolition movement in the 1820s and 1830s. While abolitionists were largely conservative, many advocating forced emigration of Black people, Brown looked to Black militants like Nat Turner and Joseph Cinque, who led the Amistad rebellion in 1839. In Part 2, we learn about the militant, cross-racial planning and action undertaken by Brown and his comrades in the context of regressive national laws and pro-slavery terror.

The Fugitive Slave Act passed in 1850. The Constitution already allowed private individuals to pursue escaped captives into the North, but the new law created federal forces to do the job. It also forced local officials to get involved and suspended habeas corpus—the right to appear in court to challenge one’s detention. This law threatened all the operations of the Underground Railroad, and it put free Black people at risk of simply being kidnapped. It also sparked an exodus into Canada; the law was ex post facto, so in theory, those who had escaped slavery years or decades before could be snatched back into captivity.1

New vigilance committees sprang up all over the North. In Springfield, where John Brown still did business, there was no vigilance committee, so he initiated one. This was an armed all-Black group of 44 people called the League of Gileadites. On Brown’s advice, the group included women. He mentioned Cinque to the members—and the idea that Black courage and self-assertion would win more sympathy and respect than any tales of Black suffering. Like David Walker, Brown believed that whites would never treat Black people as equals if Black people didn’t stand up for themselves. Frederick Douglass recalled, from his first meeting with Brown in 1847: “No people he said could have self respect, or be respected, who would not fight for their freedom.”2

The abolitionist minority was becoming galvanized and more radical.

Next came the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854. Back in 1820, the Missouri Compromise had drawn a line and said that there would be no slave states admitted to the north of it. The new law left the issue of slavery up to the settlers in the territories north of Oklahoma. This set up conditions for civil war in the Kansas Territory. Heavily armed people from Missouri crossed into Kansas. These people, known as Border Ruffians, fixed an election in the territory and created a pro-slavery government.3

In the North, abolitionists and land-hungry settlers created emigration committees to send “free state” supporters to the Kansas Territory. These people founded Lawrence, Kansas. A lot of the free-staters were racists who wanted a state free of Black people, but some pretty hard-core abolitionists went as well—including radicals from Ohio.4

In the fall of 1854, five of John Brown’s sons set up a homestead known as Brown’s Station south of Lawrence along the Pottawatomie River. That fall, John Brown Jr. became the leader of the Pottawatomie Rifles, a new group of one hundred free-state men.

John Sr. stayed in North Elba, but he asked his family and his Black neighbors and allies where they thought he could best serve the interest of Black equality. They told him to go to Kansas. He arrived in late 1855 with a wagon full of weapons as John Jr. had requested. In Kansas, if not before, Brown Sr. became known as “the Old Man,” perhaps to distinguish him from his son—perhaps also because his age made him stand out among the free-staters in the territory.5

The Border Ruffians were constantly intimidating free-staters and murdering them here and there. The leadership for the violence came from the top. After the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Missouri Senator David Rice Atchison wrote to U.S. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis:

We will before six months rolls around have the Devil to play in Kansas. We are organizing to meet their organization. We will be compelled to shoot burn and hang, but the thing will soon be over.6

The free-staters were not aggressive as a rule. Things escalated in May of 1856 when a large band of armed Ruffians marched into Lawrence, destroyed several important buildings, looted others, and drove out the residents—who put up no resistance.7

Multicolored map of eastern Kansas, showing multiple Indian reservations and key rivers and towns. Inset drawings depict a rectangular four-story building and the same building in ruins.
Detail from an 1856 map of eastern Kansas. Colored sections indicate Indian reservations. The Missouri border is to the right. Near the center is the site of “Brown’s Station” at Osawatomie, along the Pottawatomie River. Inset are two images included from another part of the map—“before” and “after” pictures of the main hotel in Lawrence, destroyed by “border ruffians” from Missouri in May 1856. Original map by A.D. Searl and E.B. Whitman.

By coincidence—one day later in Washington—Senator Preston Brooks of South Carolina took offense to an earlier speech by the abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner. Brooks beat him senseless with a cane on the floor of the Senate. News of the assault may have reached Kansas by telegraph.8 The Old Man resolved to take action to reverse the tide of pro-slavery terror. He declared:

Something is going to be done now. We must show by actual work that there are two sides to this thing and that they cannot go on with impunity.9

Two nights later, Brown led some volunteers from the Pottawatomie Rifles, who dragged five pro-slavery bullies out of their beds and killed them. Brown’s views about Cinque suggest that he wasn’t bloodthirsty for its own sake, but the Pottawatomie massacre showed that he knew the use of terror in the right context.10

There was a lot of outrage following the attack and some retaliation, but the Ruffians left the neighborhood and Brown began to draw a following of white radicals.11

In the same year of 1856, Brown led free-staters in two battles that were a bit more conventional than the Pottawatomie attack. They both involved dozens of fighters on both sides. He lost his son Frederick in one of those battles, but they made John Brown a name in the national press, including through at least one account that he wrote himself. Two of Brown’s Kansas comrades—James Redpath, who published the first biography of Brown in 1860, and John H. Kagi, Brown’s “Secretary of War” at Harper’s Ferry—also sent newspaper dispatches covering the fight in Kansas.12

Preparing the raid

In the next year, Brown made a speaking tour of the East, where he asked for money to send guns to Kansas. He emphasized the battles and didn’t mention the massacre. He was well received, but he didn’t get many contributions.

The Transcendentalists around Concord, Massachusetts, including Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, really liked him. They had been conservative abolitionists, and rather racist, but they were affected by the radicalizing events of the decade. The infamous Dred Scott decision, for example, was released in the month when Brown was visiting Concord. Scott, originally enslaved in Missouri, had sued for his freedom once he had traveled with his owner through the “free” state of Illinois, but the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that the Constitution and federal law never intended Black people to be U.S. citizens—and therefore that Scott had no legal “standing” to pursue an appeal in federal court. In the court’s majority opinion, Chief Justice Roger Taney wrote that Black people were “so far inferior, that they had no rights that the white man was bound to respect.” Upon meeting John Brown, Emerson and Thoreau thought that he was the principled man of action that they had imagined philosophically. But they didn’t give any real money, either.13

Brown was also meeting with Black abolitionists and discussing his plan for a strike into the South. The fundraising he was doing, supposedly for Kansas, was really to finance the raid. At least ten years before, Brown had revealed early versions of his plan to some Black activists, including Henry Highland Garnet and Frederick Douglass.

Brown’s plan called for strategically chosen raids that could allow dozens or hundreds of people to get North instead of ones and twos. In a coded letter pleading for funds from a potential backer, Brown wrote in 1858 that “Rail Road business on a somewhat extended scale, is the identical object for which I am trying to get means.” Harriet Tubman was already making raids into Maryland and Virginia, but clandestinely and not with a plan to expand operations by recruiting new raiders from among the people they freed.14

Brown knew that armed raids could strike fear into the slaveholders and inspire the people who lived in slavery. He also thought that frequent raids and escapes could make slavery precarious economically and perhaps precipitate a political crisis. The aim never was to get into conventional battles with the army or militias. He also did not express the fantasy that his operations would provoke a general slave uprising. That couldn’t happen without a much bigger upheaval—a major shift in the balance of forces.15

Brown had a number of white recruits already—from his own family and from engagements in Kansas. But he knew that his plan didn’t have a chance without significant Black participation. Brown went to Canada and worked with Martin Delany to pull together a majority-Black convention where they could discuss his action plans. They would also discuss an alternative, egalitarian Constitution for the United States.16

Five black-and-white photograph portraits from the nineteenth century. They are all close-cropped close-ups of the faces.
Five of Brown’s Black allies. From left: Henry Highland Garnet, Frederick Douglass, Martin Delany, Harriet Tubman, Osborne Anderson. Garnet image by James U. Stead. Douglass image by B.F. Smith & Son. Delany image by West Virginia University.  Tubman image by Harvey B. Lindsley. Anderson image by West Virginia Archives & History.

Before the convention, Brown visited Harriet Tubman, who lived in Canada at the time. He tried to recruit her as an officer in his little army. He was very impressed with her, and it’s likely that he quizzed her on the raids she had made into Virginia.  Tubman agreed to look for recruits for the raid and help Brown raise money for it. They would meet again the following year in Boston.17

In May 1858, the convention met in Chatham, Ontario. This town of 6,000 was one-third Black, many of whom were fugitives from slavery. The convention went well, but Brown gained only one recruit there—Osborne Perry Anderson, who was a printer by trade.18

There was some momentum coming out of Chatham, but disruptive news intervened to delay the raid. Brown had hired an English mercenary—who had worked under Garibaldi in Italy—to give training in guerrilla warfare to his troops. But now that man, Hugh Forbes, was unhappy with the pay and began to expose parts of Brown’s plans, including to a couple of senators. Brown had to put off the raid and act like Forbes was making it all up.

He went back to Kansas to let this blow over. He let his beard grow out and adopted an alias. Brown did one more thing in Kansas that added to his fame in the North and his notoriety in the South. In late 1858, he led a raid into Missouri and brought eleven people out of slavery. (The westernmost route of the Underground Railroad went through Topeka, Kansas.) On the long trip to Windsor, Ontario, one of the women gave birth and named her son John Brown.19

The raid

During Brown’s detour into Kansas, he sent a white comrade to live near Harper’s Ferry for a year before the raid. John Cook, a comrade from Brown’s first sojourn in Kansas, got a local job, did reconnaissance, and made connections—including a romantic one with a local woman.20

Brown chose Harper’s Ferry for several reasons. It was in northern Virginia, just 35 miles from Pennsylvania, at the junction of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. The Shenandoah ran north from central Virginia, and its valley already served as an escape route from slavery—a passage that W.E.B. Du Bois later dubbed the “Great Black Way.” Harper’s Ferry also had a federal arsenal, and the town was nestled in the mountains where Brown’s fighters could exploit the natural defenses of the rugged terrain. If it all worked out, they’d be opening a wide gateway to freedom and starting to build a string of guerrilla bases.21

Brown had to gather the forces after the long delay. From Chatham, only Osborne Anderson remained committed to the attack plan, but Oberlin produced two new recruits. John Price, a fugitive from slavery, had been captured nearby, and about one hundred students and town residents stormed the jail and freed him. When John Brown, John Jr., and John Kagi heard the news, they went to the Oberlin area to support Price and the fifteen rescuers who got arrested. Kagi covered the trial for the New-York Tribune and visited the prisoners in jail. One of those arrested was the biracial Oberlin student John Copeland. Meanwhile, an unindicted rescuer, Lewis Leary—a biracial relative of Copeland’s by marriage—heard an inspiring speech by John Sr. in nearby Cleveland. Leary was a harness maker in Oberlin. After the trial, Leary and Copeland met John Jr. in the parlor of a local abolitionist and enthusiastically agreed to join the raid.22

Brown tried to get the endorsement of Frederick Douglass—and maybe his personal commitment to fight. Either one would have encouraged more Black fighters to join, but Douglass held back. He did come to visit Brown two months before the raid. With him was Shields Green, who had escaped from slavery in South Carolina. Brown and Green had met before at Douglass’ house. When Douglass heard the new version of Brown’s plan, he thought it was doomed because it included the seizure of a federal arsenal, which he feared would bring overwhelming force down on the raiders. Douglass told Brown that he was walking into “a perfect steel-trap” and would not walk out alive. As Douglass prepared to depart, Shields Green said to him with his Gullah inflection: “I b’leve I’ll go wid de ole man.”23

The fifth Black fighter was Dangerfield Newby, who grew up enslaved in northern Virginia, where he became a blacksmith. He’d been freed a year before the raid, but his wife Harriet and several children were still enslaved. He tried and failed to purchase their freedom. He corresponded with Harriet, who told him that it was possible that she and the children would soon be sold “down the river” into the Deep South. Newby thus had a personal stake in a military campaign into northern  Virginia. He met Brown in northern Ohio and agreed to join Brown’s proposed raid. An abolitionist comrade there had already taught Newby how to handle a gun.24

John Brown arrived near the attack site in early July 1859. He rented a farm on the Maryland side of the Potomac, four miles from Harper’s Ferry. By August, most of the band had arrived. As a precaution, most of the comrades needed to stay indoors during the day. They tried to draw as little attention as possible, but they were getting ready for months. The white comrade John Kagi was staying in a nearby town to receive shipments of weapons. This included the “Kansas” guns, as well as 950 specially-made pikes for those unschooled in the use of guns.25

Hand-drawn map of two rivers converging, and a town with streets at the point of convergence. A railroad crosses one of the rivers and hugs the shore of the other.
Map of key points of the raid. The raid was planned at Kennedy Farm (point 1, at the top). The arsenal, armory, and engine house are on the point of land by the Potomac River railroad bridge (points 4, 3, and 5). The gun factory is on an island farther up the Shenandoah River (“rifle-works,” point 6, at the left). Map from the 1909 biography of Brown by W.E.B. Du Bois.

On Sunday night of October 16, the nineteen advance raiders set out. They cut telegraph lines along the way, and two pairs of comrades secured each railroad bridge (over the Potomac and the Shenandoah), taking the watchmen prisoner. Soon they also took the armory, the arsenal, and a rifle factory, where they planned to destroy the machinery. With no violence, all the watchmen of these places surrendered. Brown and part of the band took the prisoners to a brick fire-engine house that was in the armory complex.26

Meanwhile, Osborne Anderson, Shields Green, Lewis Leary and three white comrades went out in the dark to raid a couple of specific plantations that had been previously scouted. A number of enslaved men they ran across joined them on the spot, saying they’d waited a long time for something like this.27

One of the plantations belonged to Lewis Washington, a great grand-nephew of George Washington. He owned a sword that had been a gift to the president from King Frederick of Prussia. The objective of Brown’s team was to take Lewis Washington hostage and force him to hand the sword over in surrender—to Anderson, the Black comrade. It went flawlessly, and they went back to town.28

Southerners later wrote that the Black people who joined the raiders were reluctant recruits, and even that they were prisoners. Two years later, Anderson refuted this claim in a pamphlet, saying, “The greatest enthusiasm was manifested by them” when they heard the plan: “Joy and hilarity beamed from every countenance.”29

As the townspeople stirred in the morning, there was panic and very little opposition. People who got in the way were taken hostage, and some of the liberated men held them in the engine house at pike-point. Brown told the prisoner-hostages that the raiders had no intention to kill them.30

One white resident shot Dangerfield Newby and was quickly dispatched by a blast from Shields Green. Newby died on the street. White people soon carved off body parts as souvenirs, and he was left for hogs to eat.31

Brown’s mission was fairly well accomplished, and they could have escaped with guns and the people they liberated before the militia and marines came. It’s not clear why he delayed. He said later that it was because he was concerned for the safety of the prisoners. Others have said he was expecting reinforcements. We don’t know.32

In any case, he stayed, with his men pinned down in three buildings as local militias and regular soldiers began to file into town. John Brown held on at the engine house building with the largest group and the hostages. Oliver Brown, his son, died of gunfire in his father’s presence, and another son, Watson, was mortally wounded. When the marines breached the building, Brown got stabbed in the side and bashed on the head but survived. The overall commander of the troops was Col. Robert E. Lee.33

The aftermath

If Brown had been killed, the event would have been much less significant. But he gave interviews—including a three-hour grilling by hostile white men soon after his capture. The conversation took place in the presence of the governor while Brown lay bleeding on a mattress. Future Confederate cavalry commander J.E.B Stuart was one of the interrogators. The conversation was carried, allegedly “verbatim,” in the New York Herald.34

Brown received dozens of visitors in jail, who wrote up their observations for the press, and he wrote numerous letters himself—many of them also destined for publication—before his execution in December. Four others were executed, including Shields Green and John Copeland, the Oberlin student. Osborne Anderson of Chatham was the only one of the nineteen initial raiders to escape to safety. He went back to Canada and published his own account—A Voice from Harper’s Ferry—two years later.

Engraving of a bearded man lying under a blanket on a wood-plank floor, his head and shoulders propped up on a pillow that’s placed on an overturned wooden chair. His eyes are open.
A wounded John Brown soon after his capture, undergoing his first interrogation. Engraved version of a pencil drawing by D.H. Strother published in the November 5, 1859 edition of Harper’s Weekly.

Southerners, of course, were in shock and on their guard. In the North, Thoreau and Emerson were among the first white people to express approval of the raid. The largest rallies in the North were in opposition. The Republican Party, including Lincoln, disavowed the raid, but Black people across the North responded in support. Black abolitionists declared the day of Brown’s execution, December 2, to be “Martyr Day.” On that day, Black crowds filled churches and meeting halls in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Detroit, Cleveland, and smaller towns.

At Brown’s heavily-militarized execution, Major Jonathan Jackson (later known as “Stonewall”) commanded an artillery unit. Also in the crowd was a dashing young actor named John Wilkes Booth. Just a bit south of there, Dangerfield Newby’s wife Harriet mourned the death of her husband—the first raider to die at Harper’s Ferry. As she had feared, she and her children were soon sold into the Deep South.35

In the South, the press and slaveholders lumped all of the abolitionists together with the Republican Party, although Brown and his comrades did not support or trust the party. When Lincoln was nominated the next year, they said he shared Brown’s views and methods. This propaganda had its effect on enslaved people in the South. They associated Lincoln with Brown, too, and some believed they were liberated on the day he was elected.36

Frederick Douglass credited his own turn toward militance to his first meeting with Brown twelve years before the raid. To mark the first anniversary of Brown’s death, Douglass appeared at a Boston meeting “to discuss the best method of abolishing slavery.” He endorsed all means of struggle, including “moral means,” but emphasized the necessity of “the John Brown way.” Later, during the war, Black troops eventually made up one-tenth of the Union army. They marched enthusiastically to the tune of, “John’s Brown’s body lies a mould’ring in the grave, but his soul goes marching on.”37

The launch of the U.S. Left

As I’ve tried to show, one of the objectives at Harper’s Ferry was to lower some of the barriers to the formation of Black collective agency. Of course, it was the Union army in the Civil War that created that opening on a large scale. Even then, Black people had to force the opening wider by laying down their tools and inviting themselves to the spaces behind Union lines. Black collective agency and creativity finally came out in a flood after the war, during Reconstruction.

It’s significant that Brown and his comrades were not aiming to build the agency of the working class as a whole. The struggles of the mid-nineteenth century were formative for the U.S. Left, but they stand in contrast with the simultaneous birth of the Left in England. There, the Left emerged in the 1830s and 1840s with the mass workers’ movement for a People’s Charter. In the U.S., the division between free and captive workers made it virtually impossible to conceive of all working people in the U.S. as members of a single group. Frederick Douglass wrote in his Life and Times about the vicious antagonism that white workers showed toward Black workers (both free and enslaved) in Baltimore’s shipyards before the Civil War. The racism spawned by the slave system also infected the North.38

So the U.S. Left had to come out of abolitionism, not from the labor movement. The fight against Indian removal, the emergence of feminism, and—centrally—the fight to end slavery were all intertwined, and they set the preconditions for Black collective struggle and the working-class Left after the war.39

The connections among these movements did not guarantee that any particular activist “ticked off all the boxes”—much as there were no such guarantees in the U.S. movements against oppression and exploitation in the 1960s and 1970s. Despite this variation among individuals, there was a dynamic of mutual influence, debate, and inspiration among the movements that preceded the Civil War. These interactions helped feed a decades-long process of radicalization.

Karl Marx followed social developments in the U.S., especially the Civil War. In 1867, he published the first volume of Capital, where he wrote:

In the United States of America, every independent workers’ movement was paralysed as long as slavery disfigured part of the republic. Labour in the white skin cannot emancipate itself where it is branded in the black skin.

That part gets quoted often, but the rest does not. The passage goes on to say that the movement for the eight-hour day was launched in 1866, a year after the war, in Baltimore—in Maryland, the place that Garnet, Douglass, and Tubman had had to escape from not so long before.

In 1869, the Knights of Labor were formed and went on to organize across gender and race on a mass scale for the first time in the U.S., and they spoke a liberatory language adapted from the struggles that preceded the war and the struggle for radical Reconstruction that followed it.40

As socialists, our goal is still to build collective agency, and many obstacles to forming such unity still come from the various forms of oppression that persist today. It makes perfect sense that so many of today’s revolutionaries keep marching under the banner of abolition.

Thanks to David Courtenay-Quirk for steering me toward some good sources and away from some beginner’s mistakes. Also thanks to Charlie Post for commenting on a draft of Part 2.


Anderson, Osborne Perry. A Voice from Harper’s Ferry. A Narrative of Events at Harper’s Ferry. Library of Congress, 2023 (facsimile of 1861 edition). Available online from Hathi Trust.

Anonymous (“Our special reporter”). “The Harper’s Ferry outbreak,” New York Herald, October 21, 1859, page 1. Franklin Sanborn’s biography reproduces this article, and Sanborn’s version is available at the Marxists Internet Archive.

Aptheker, Herbert. American Negro Slave Revolts. 5th edition. New York: International Publishers, 1983.

Brown, John, S.F. Shore, H.C. Pape, and W.B. Brocket. Untitled, dateline “Lawrence K.T., Tuesday, July 1, 1856,” New-York Daily Tribune, July 11, 1856, page 6. Available online from the Library of Congress.

Clinton, Catherine. Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom. 1st ed. Boston, Mass: Little, Brown, 2004.

Diouf, Sylviane A. Slavery’s Exiles: The Story of the American Maroons. Reprint edition. New York: NYU Press, 2016.

Douglass, Frederick. “The meeting in Joy Street Church.” Douglass’ Monthly vol. 3, no. 8, January 1861, 391–93. Facsimile available online from the Smithsonian. A version of the article including only the speech from Douglass is available from MRonline.

Douglass, Frederick. The Life and Times Of Frederick Douglass. Facsimile of the 1881 edition. Secaucus, N.J: Citadel, 2000.

Du Bois, W. E. B. John Brown. Edited by David R. Roediger. New edition. Modern Library, 2001.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “John Brown.” Remarks at a meeting for the relief of the family of John Brown, at Tremont Temple, Boston, November 18, 1859. Available online at Emerson Central.

Forbes, Hugh. Letter to S[amuel] G[ridley] Howe, dated May 14, 1858, published in “The Harper’s Ferry outbreak,” New York Herald, October 27, 1859, 4.

Garnet, Henry Highland. “An address to the slaves of the United States of America,” 1843. The 1848 edition is available online at Digital Commons at the University Nebraska/Lincoln.

Geffert, Hannah, with Jean Libby. “Regional Black involvement in John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry,” in McCarthy and Stauffer, 165–79.

Gourevitch, Alex. “Our forgotten labor revolution,” in Jacobin, Summer 2015. Also available online.

Greenberg, Kenneth S., ed. Nat Turner: A Slave Rebellion in History and Memory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Gridley, Karl. “‘Willing to die for the cause of freedom in Kansas’: free state emigration, John Brown, and the rise of militant abolitionism in the Kansas Territory,” in McCarthy and Stauffer, 147–64.

Grimké, Angelina E. Appeal to the Christian Women of the South. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015.

Hershberger, Mary. “Mobilizing Women, Anticipating Abolition: The Struggle against Indian Removal in the 1830s.” The Journal of American History 86, no. 1 (1999): 15–40. Also available online from the History Cooperative.

Higginson, Thomas Wentworth. Black Rebellion: Five Slave Revolts. Facsimile of 1889 (first) edition, introduced by James McPherson. Arno Press, 1969.

Higginson, Thomas Wentworth. Army Life in a Black Regiment: And Other Writings. Edited by R. D. Madison. New York: Penguin Classics, 1997.

James, Leonard F. The Supreme Court in American Life. Second Edition. Scott, Foresman & Co., 1971.

Joy, Natalie. “The Indian’s Cause: Abolitionists and Native American Rights.” Journal of the Civil War Era 8, no. 2 (2018): 215–42.

Kennedy, Lionel H., and Thomas Parker. An Official Report of The Trials of Sundry Negroes, Charged With An Attempt to Raise An Insurrection in The State of South-Carolina. Charleston, SC: James R. Schenk, 1822.

Litwack, Leon F. North of Slavery: The Negro in the Free States, 1790-1860. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961.

Masur, Louis P. “Nat Turner and sectional crisis,” in Greenberg, ed., 2003, 148–61.

Mayer, Henry. All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery. New York: St Martins Press, 1998.

McCarthy, Timothy Patrick, and John Stauffer, eds. Prophets Of Protest: Reconsidering The History Of American Abolitionism. New York: The New Press, 2006.

Meyer, Eugene L. Five for Freedom: The African American Soldiers in John Brown’s Army. Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 2018.

Nicolay, John G., and John Hay, “Lincoln’s Cooper Institute speech, and other political events of 1859–60,” The Century; A Popular Quarterly, v. 34, 1887, 509–33. Available online from Hathi Trust.

Oates, Stephen B. To Purge This Land with Blood: A Biography of John Brown. Echo Point Books & Media, LLC, 2021.

Parramore, Thomas C. “Covenant in Jerusalem,” in Greenberg, ed., 2003, 58–76.

Portnoy, Alisse. Their Right to Speak: Women’s Activism in the Indian and Slave Debates. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2005.

Quarles, Benjamin. Black Abolitionists. Da Capo Press, 1991.

Rasmussen, Daniel. American Uprising: The Untold Story of America’s Largest Slave Revolt. HarperCollins 2011.

Redpath, James. The Public Life of Capt. John Brown, by James Redpath, with an Auto-Biography of His Childhood and Youth. Boston: Thayer and Eldridge, 1860. Facsimile of the first edition available from the Library of Congress.

Reynolds, David S. John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights. Reprint edition. New York, NY: Vintage, 2006.

Sanborn, F.B. The Life and Letters of John Brown: Liberator of Kansas, and Martyr of Virginia. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1885. Available online from HathiTrust.

Saunt, Claudio. Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory. Reprint of 2020 release. W. W. Norton & Company, 2021.

Scott, Julius S. The Common Wind: Afro-American Currents in the Age of the Haitian Revolution. Verso, 2018.

Strother, D.H. “The late invasion in Harper’s Ferry,” Harper’s Weekly, November 5, 1859, 712-14. Available from the Internet Archive.

Sinha, Manisha. “The Beautiful Struggle” (book review), New York Review of Books, April 20, 2023.

Walker, David. David Walker’s Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World. Edited by Peter P. Hinks. University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2000. Facsimile of the third (1830) edition available online at Digital Commons at the University Nebraska/Lincoln.

Warch, Richard, and Jonathan Fanton, eds. John Brown. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice-Hall, 1973.

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David Whitehouse View All

David Whitehouse is a member of the Tempest Collective in Oakland. Some of his
writings appear at Works in Theory.