Sunday, September 02, 2012

Midnight Rising: John Brown’s Raid (Book Review)

By Tony Horowitz

A well written and informative book, but one which romanticizes and glorifies terrorism, for that was what John Brown was by the standards of his own day and by the standards of our own.

Brown, a religious fanatic, with a family history of mental illness, whom Horowitz acknowledges many of his close associates thought exhibited signs of insanity, saw himself as God’s instrument on earth. Brown was pledged to violence and declared, “The sins of this country can only be purged with blood.” Wherever Horowitz uses the word “insurgent” substitute “jihadist” and try to conjure up the same sympathy for Brown that Horowitz’s use of the milder term allows.

There is little to admire in Brown’s bloody career, which ranged from hacking five unarmed men to death in Kansas in 1856 to killing unarmed civilians at Harper’s Ferry in 1859 and trying to incite widespread murder and mayhem. Brown was disavowed in his own day by most in the North, including the Republican candidate for President, Abraham Lincoln. Despite Brown’s condemnation by the moderate elements of his own day, Horowitz, embraces the position of the most polarized abolitionists of 1859 in somehow seeing Brown as having performed a service to the nation by providing the “spark that caused the civil war.” The supposition being that only a bloody civil war that resulted in 600,000 deaths (as a percentage of population this would equate to some six million Americans today) could result in the abolition of slavery.

This supposition is wrong however. Another American slave society abolished slavery without firing a shot. The other great slave society of the late 19th century was Brazil. The Brazilian economy depended on slaves especially in mining, cotton production, and sugar cane production. More slaves were imported into Brazil over the course of three centuries than were imported into North America. By the late 19th century slavery was in decline. Slaveowners preferred to pay free immigrant labor from Europe low wages than to keep supporting entire slave communities from cradle to grave, since a significant portion of those communities (the sick, disabled, very young, and very old) were non-productive. By 1871, the sons of all existing slaves were freed. In 1885, all slaves aged over 60 years were freed. Slavery was legally ended nationwide on May 13, 1888, with the government compensating slaveowners for each slave freed. A mere twenty three years after the bloody American Civil War Brazil ended slavery peacefully, perhaps because it did not have fanatics like John Brown to foment fear and violence.

The last death agonies of the Confederacy captured in pictures.