Digital History>eXplorations>John Brown: Hero or Terrorist?>The Public Response>New York Times

John Brown's Speech

The New York Times, November 3, 1859

If any doubts still linger in the minds of thoughtful men as to the real character and aims of John Brown, or as to the best way of dealing with his crime, they must surely be resolved on the reading of his brief speech, made before sentence was passed upon him by the Court . . . .

Brown's speech classifies him at once, and in a class of one. He is a fanatic: sui generis. He shows neither the sophistical grasp of mind nor the malignant unfairness of temper which would be necessary to rank Him with agitators of theoretical Abolitionism like Wendell Phillips; not the astute coquetry with explosive passions which alone could affiliate him with Republican Party leaders. He is simply John Brown, of Knsas; a man logical after the narrow fashion of the Puritan individualism; a law unto himself, and a believer with all his might in theological abstractions as applied to human society and politics. He hates Slavery, and thinks all slaves ought to be free. That anybody should think it wrong for him, so hating Slavery and so thinking, to attempt to set free the greatest possible number of slaves in the shortest possible time; or that any organization which may appear to him necessary for carrying out this object should be regarded as treasonable, John Brown cannot understand now that he is to be hung. for it, any more than we believe he understood it when he made up his mind to set about' the work, and others flocked after him, who now, less brave than he, endeavor to throw their own more rational guilt upon his shoulders. We own ourselves at a loss to see in what way the execution of such a man can be so brought about that it may not be converted to the inflammatory purposes of sectional partisans with whom John Brown has plainly nothing in common; and who will be as eager to make him a profitable martyr when dead, as they are to repudiate him while he still lives.

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