Thursday, December 3, 2009

150th Anniversary of the Death of John Brown

As the Civil War battle hymn goes, "John Brown's body is a 'moulderin in the grave!" It has been 150 years since the abolitionist was executed for trying to incite a slave rebellion. The Calvinist thought slavery was evil and committed his life to eradicating it. He took matters into his own hands when he murdered five pro-slavery men in cold blood in Kansas in 1856 and attacked the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry in 1859 in an effort to arm slaves with weapons. He was arrested, tried and hanged within six weeks.

At the time, John Brown was a criminal in the minds of some and a hero in the minds of others. Today, the debate continues about the legitimacy of the means he employed to accomplish his ends. Discuss with your students whether unjust laws (like those state and federal laws that protected slavery in the 1850s) must be obeyed and how far one may go in an effort to reform an injustice.

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