Digital History>eXplorations>John Brown: Hero or Terrorist?>The Trial of John Brown> John Brown Speaks at his Trial

John Brown Speaks at his Trial

Source: The Life, Trial, and Execution of John Brown (New York: Robert W. DeWitt, 1859), pp. 64 65, 94 95.


Brown was brought in walking, and laid down on his cot at full length within the bar. He looked considerably better, the swelling having left his eyes.

Senator Mason was present.

Messrs. Harding and Hunter again appeared for the Commonwealth, and Messrs. Botts and Green for the prisoner.

Mr. Botts read the following dispatch, which was received this morning:

Akron, Ohio, Thursday, Oct. 26, 1859.

To C. J. Faulkner, and Lawson Botts:

John Brown, leader of the insurrection at Harper's Ferry, and several of his family have resided in this county many years. Insanity is hereditary in that family. His mother's sister died with it, and a daughter of that sister has been two years in a Lunatic Asylum. A son and daughter of his mother's brother have also been confined in the lunatic asylum, and another son of that brother is now insane and under close restraint. These facts can be conclusively proven by witnesses residing here, who will doubtless attend the trial if desired.

A. H. Lewis.

William C. Allen, telegraphic operator at the Akron office, adds to the above dispatch that A. H. Lewis is a resident of that place, and his statements are entitled to implicit credit.

Mr. Botts said that on receiving the above dispatch he went to the jail with his associate, Mr. Green, and read it to Brown, and is desired by the latter to say that in his father's family there has never been any insanity at all. On his mother's side there have been repeated instances of it. He adds that his first wife showed symptoms of it, which were also evident in his first and second sons by that wife. Some portions of the statements in the dispatch he knows to be correct, and of other portions he is ignorant. He does not know whether his mother's sister died in the lunatic asylum, but he does believe that a daughter of that sister has been two years in the asylum. He also believes that a son and daughter of his mother's brother have been confined in an asylum; but he is not apprised of the fact that another son of that brother is now insane and in close confinement. Brown also desires his counsel to say that he does not put in the plea of insanity, and if he has been at all insane he is totally unconscious of it, yet he adds that those who are most insane generally suppose that they have more reason and sanity than those around them. For himself he disdains to put in that plea, and seeks no immunity of the kind. This movement is made totally without his approbation or concurrence, and was unknown to him, till the receipt of the dispatch above.

Brown then raised himself up in bed, and said: "I will add, if the Court will allow me, that I look upon it as a miserable artifice and pretext of those who ought to take a different course in regard to me, if they took any at all, and I view it with contempt more than otherwise. As I remarked to Mr. Green, insane persons, so far as my experience goes, have but little ability to judge of their own sanity; and, if I am insane, of course I should think I know more than all the rest of the world. But I do not think so. I am perfectly unconscious of insanity, and I reject, so far as I am capable, any attempt to interfere in my behalf on that score." . . .

[After the jury found the prisoner guilty as charged,] the clerk then asked Mr. Brown whether he had anything to say why sentence should not be pronounced upon him.

Mr. Brown immediately rose, and in a clear, distinct voice, said:

"I have, may it please the Court, a few words to say. In the first place, I deny everything but what I have all along admitted, of a design on my part to free slaves. I intended certainly to have made a clean thing of that matter, as I did last winter when I went into Missouri, and there took slaves without the snapping of a gun on either side, moving them through the country, and finally leaving them in Canada. I designed to have done the same thing again on a larger scale. That was all I intended to do. I never did intend murder or treason, or the destruction of property, or to excite or incite the slaves to rebellion, or to make insurrection. I have another objection, and that is that it is unjust that I should suffer such a penalty. Had I interfered in the manner which I admit, and which I admit has been fairly proved for I admire the truthfulness and candor of the greater portion of the witnesses who have testified in this case had I so interfered in behalf of the rich, the powerful, the intelligent, the so called great, or in behalf of any of their friends, either father, mother, brother, sister, wife, or children, or any of that class, and suffered and sacrificed what I have in this interference, it would have been all right, and every man in this Court would have deemed it an act worthy of reward rather than punishment. This Court acknowledges, too, as I suppose, the validity of the law of God. I see a book kissed, which I suppose to be the Bible, or at least the New Testament, which teaches me that all things whatsoever I would that men should do to me, I should do even so to them. It teaches me further to remember them that are in bonds as bound with them. I endeavored to act up to that instruction. I say I am yet too young to understand that God is any respecter of persons. I believe that to have interfered as I have done, as I have always freely admitted I have done in behalf of His despised, poor, is no wrong, but right. Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I say let it be done. Let me say one word further. I feel entirely satisfied with the treatment I have received on my trial. Considering all the circumstances, it has been more generous than I expected. But I feel no consciousness of guilt. I have stated from the first what was my intention, and what was not. I never had any design against the liberty of any person, nor any disposition to commit treason or excite slaves to rebel or make any general insurrection. I never encouraged any man to do so, but always discouraged any idea of that kind. Let me say also in regard to the statements made by some of those who were connected with me, I fear it has been stated by some of them that I have induced them to join me, but the contrary is true. I do not say this to injure them, but as regretting their weakness. Not one but joined me of his own accord, and the greater part at their own expense. A number of them I never saw, and never had a word of conversation with till the day they came to me, and that was for the purpose I have stated. Now, I am done."

While Mr. Brown was speaking, perfect quiet prevailed, and when he had finished the judge proceeded to pronounce sentence upon him. After a few primary remarks, he said, that no reasonable doubt could exist of the guilt of the prisoner, and sentenced him to be hung in public, on Friday, the 2d of December next.

Mr. Brown received his sentence with composure . . . .

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