Today in labor history: John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry


On this day in 1859 abolitionist John Brown led the attack on the arsenal at Harper's Ferry, West Virginia. Brown, a minister and fierce opponent of slavery, sought to obtain weapons from the arsenal to defeat the slaveocracy in the South. The raid, which some consider the opening battle of the Civil War, was unsuccessful. John Brown and his men were captured and executed. Frederick Douglass and other abolitionists did not follow Brown to Harper's Ferry, viewing the attack as ill timed and ill advised. Still W.E.B. Du Bois said the assault "did more to shake the foundations of slavery than any single thing that ever happened in America."

In a 1909 biography of Brown Du Bois said the following about Brown's legacy:

"Was John Brown simply an episode, or was he an eternal truth? And if a truth, how speaks that truth to-day? John Brown loved his neighbor as himself. He could not endure therefore to see his neighbor, poor, unfortunate or oppressed. This natural sympathy was strengthened by a saturation in Hebrew religion which stressed the personal responsibility of every human soul to a just God. To this religion of equality and sympathy with misfortune, was added the strong influence of the social doctrines of the French Revolution with its emphasis on freedom and power in political life. And on all this was built John Brown's own inchoate but growing belief in a more just and a more equal distribution of property. From this he concluded, -- and acted on that conclusion -- that all men are created free and equal, and that the cost of liberty is less than the price of repression."

Among Brown's last words were ""Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price."

Photo: Wkikpedia

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  • I`m currently reading Alphaeus Hunton : The Unsung Valiant by Dorothy Hunton, which concerns itself with the life of Alphaeus Hunton Jr, a friend/associate of W E B Du Bois and a leading light in the Council on African Affairs and the Civil Rights Congress.

    In her book, Dorothy Hunton tells how an ancestor of Alphaeus Hunton was a participant in the Harper`s Ferry Raid and quotes Addie Hunton (mother of Alphaeus) "The table at which John Brown sat has been preserved in the family".

    It would be interesting to know what became of that historic table.

    Posted by Nick O, 10/19/2012 5:36am (3 years ago)

  • Many leading and history making historians, as our late, great, W. E. B. Du Bois was, credit our John Brown with starting the Civil War in the U. S. with a blow for freedom as opposed to the salvo for slavery which came from Southern troops firing on Fort Sumter.
    These historians, with Du Bois in the lead, know the beautiful truth quoted from Du Bois above"..that the cost of liberty is less than the price of repression"-one of Du Bois's favorites.
    Thanks to the PW for counting the heroic history making of John Brown, documented by the incomparable clairvoyant, W. E. B. Du Bois, as labor history.
    Du Bois and Marx before him, saw the Civil War as a great labor battle against capital with the violent measures of repression that the rulers leveled at labor, subjecting labor in "Black skin" to chattels so labor in "white skin" could also be reduced to chattels, (as pointed out by the great Lenin),divided and conquered by capital(fueling its primitive accumulation).
    Today as we struggle against war, repression and capitalism's ignominious unemployment and underemployment we must strike out for freedom, just as John Brown did. We must do this by organizing for voting, organizing the unemployed, organizing against war and repression, for peace.
    This is the peace that is so profound it would not be cowed, not even by the horrors, rapes, mass lynchings, dismemberment and slaughter of slavery.
    This is the peace of both John Brown's and W. E. B. Du Bois's Prince of Peace, Christ Jesus.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 10/17/2012 11:55am (3 years ago)

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