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John Brown DBQ

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The years directly before the civil war were marked by escalating tensions and sharply declining relations between the North and South as differences between the two territories were made clear. John Brown’s raid in October of 1859 came at that volatile time and provoked an extreme reaction from the South immediately afterward; as the furious public option of the South was that the entire North had personally supported and condoned Brown and his violent actions in the ultimate quest of abolition. From that point, as feelings in the North and South were pushed to the edge by other events, the views on John Brown and his actions, especially the opinion of the North, also began to change, illustrating the shift toward the worse and changing North-South relations. John Brown, at first regarded as a fanatic abolitionist, rose to heights of heroism and martyrdom as hostility grew and war broke out.

After John Brown’s raid on Harper’s ferry, the general consensus in the North in 1859 was one of disapproval, especially as the South expressed their indignation and Northerners attempted to mend the rift that had begun to develop. Horace Greeley, in an editorial in the New York Tribune at the time, publicly denounced Brown as a fanatic and his methods unfit, and yet declares his support for abolition (Document A). That same year, Henry David Thoreau, a leading free-thinker and intellectual in the North, publicly celebrated Brown’s divergence from human laws to pursue a quest and examined the North’s positive reaction to Brown’s ideas (Document B). While the North did not quite publicly support Brown’s actions, public opinion was pro-abolition, and these notions exemplify the primary discord between the North and South.

This discord is also evident in the opinions of states more to the south, such as an editorial in the Topeka Tribune in Kansas, published shortly before Horace Greeley’s, demonstrates a different opinion, denouncing those who support Brown’s action and those who publish in his praise, making him a martyr (Document C). While these differing opinions are a result of conflict over the issue of slavery, neither Northern nor Southern press had seriously reacted to the conflict, preferring to neutrally denounce it entirely, or support the motives but denounce the methods.

In 1860, with Lincoln’s election approaching, relations between the North and South began to deteriorate further, and in parallel, John Brown’s popularity in the North began to grow, resulting in an equal backlash from the South denouncing Brown. An autobiography was published, and as abolitionist ideas spread, John Brown and his ideas received more and more publicity and praise (Document D). In a March campaign speech by Lincoln in Connecticut, the presidential candidate publicly addressed John Brown’s raid and the Democrats’ propaganda about the affair. Lincoln dismisses the accusations of Republican involvement and does not mention it any further then as “the unfortunate Harpers Ferry affair” (Document E). The election was clearly very significant to Southerners and Lincoln as a Republican, did not revile John Brown’s acts as Southern politicians had done. The issue had become heated and important enough to come up during a presidential campaign, and represented the heated conflict during the time.

Soon after Lincoln’s election, it became evident that the relations between the North and South were declining rapidly while public perception of John Brown steadily rose. When feelings became most impassioned and tensions inflamed over the affair, people in the North began to publicly praise and admire Brown as a hero, as a result of the building conflict and the palpable separation of the North and South. After southern states seceded, and the Civil War began in 1861, John Brown had come to be a hero in the North, representing abolitionist ideals and a man who would die for his beliefs, beliefs that the North agreed with. John Brown became a martyr during the Civil War, praised openly in public, in song (Document G) and with art (Document H) that portrayed him as a nearly angelic hero, revealing the North’s changing opinion of slavery and of the South.

The changing relations between the North and South can be seen in Northern public opinion of John Brown. The abolition movement grew and spread as the rift between the North and South grew, and the North, which at first saw John Brown’s actions as unacceptable and even malicious, came to appreciate the ideals he strove for. As tension finally erupted in the Civil War, Brown came to be recognized as a hero by all in the North.

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