Sanborn's John Brown
Sanborn's John Brown.
Mr. Sanborn's book at first glaune is disappointing. One feels as though Brown were here entombed in a mass of letters, the greater portion of them unimportant, if not wholly irrelevant. You ask why the attention of the reader should be arrested by so much that is purely of a private or domestic character. You could match it all in interest by most any man's life and letters. What you hoped to find was the story of that marvellous career in which for the time was personified the spirit of fearless justice. You wish to be reminded in what manner this one man, by his consecration to liberty for the slave, thereby redeemed and liberated the Republic of Washington and of Jefferson. But, if the reader does not permit this first glance to deter him, he will discover, on perusing the seventeen chapters, that Mr. Sanborn has done very much as he would have advised him to do. He has given us in simple detail the story of Brown's life as he lived it from the cradle to the gallows. You are led to confess that here at last is furnished a vindication complete and convincing of the anti-slavery career of that strange man who, as Victor Hugo wrote, "completed the sacrifice of a life consecrated to the most generous of aims." Brown's "Ancestry and Childhood"; his " Youth and Early Manhood "; his efforts as a "Business Man"; his "Pioneer Life in the Adirondacks," —were all " Preparations for the Conflict." His "Family Councils and Home Life" prepare the way for that hearty belief and support rendered him by all the members of his household when the times of hardship, disaster, and defeat had overtaken him. " Verily a man's foes are (not always) they of his own household."
It would be impossible within the limits of my space to present the various and succeeding steps by which Mr. Sanborn portrays the sterling, abiding qualities of the hero's character. He shows him to have been in all his relations with family, friends, and foes even, a kind, humane, considerate man. Brown appears to have shared in common with all strong characters who have lent their names to history the belief in a special, peculiar, personal calling. "For this purpose was I sent," cried the man of Nazareth, and it is undoubtedly true that no man has ever devoted himself— taking in his hands his life —to a great cause, who has not felt either the stress of an imperative command laid upon him, or some inward prompting and persistent urging from which he could in nowise escape. He must do his work, follow his vision ; be true and steadfast to that, cost what it may. All other considerations become subordinate. Peace, happiness, family ties, the good opinion of the time, —the time which he perchance has come to judge and condemn, — he must and will sacrifice, appealing only to that other time, that future, when his work shall be understood and justified. Brown was an Abolitionist from his youth up. In his letter of Autobiography, written to young Harry Stearns, he tells how he was affected at the age of ten by the treatment of a negro boy of about his own age, held in slavery by the family where he was visiting. From that time he brooded over the subject, until he was persuaded beyond a doubt that it was his mission to destroy the slave-system in the United States. By what various means ho did not know; but by all means in his power that would accomplish the result. He was not, as was Garrison, a non-resistant. Indeed, Brown appears to have been from the beginning following along a quite independent line of thought and of action. When he came to Boston, his meeting with Garrison developed by no means a common sympathy in the choice of methods. Garrison's "moral suasion " had its good side, and produced certain strong and telling effects upon the North. But the South would never yield by persuasion. A "forcible separation of the connection between master and slave" he believed the inevitable, the only, solution of the problem possible. " I believe in the Golden Rule and the Declaration of Independence. I think they both mean the same thing; and it is better that a whole generation should pass off the earth — men, women, and children — by a violent death than that one jot of either should fail in this country. I mean exactly so, sir."
Perhaps the most instructive chapter in Mr. Sanborn's book is that entitled "Kansas and the Civil War." I have nowhere else met with so clear and exhaustive a statement of that early struggle between the respective forces of the free and slave states. The part Brown and his sons took in the conflict to save the territory to freedom is fully set forth in the three or four succeeding chapters. Here we have a fine illustration — paralleled in modern times only by the career of Garibaldi in Italy — of the superior moral power that resides in the indomitable spirit of one man, untrammelled by the State's authority, —setting it at defiance, despising its weak, vacillating, cowardly course. And the fate of Kansas drifted it to its final admission as a State. With no John Brown to cut the red tape of the Free State government clinging to rules of "law and order," there is little doubt but that the whole course of subsequent history would have been changed. Mr. Sanborn gives a chapter to "The Pottawatomie Executions." It will be necessary to read the full account of this transaction to form a just opinion in regard to the " bloody deed." Mr. Sanborn says: "Upon he swift and secret vengeance of John Brown in that midnight raid hinged the future of Kansas, as we can now see: and on that future again hinged the destinies of the whole country." That Brown himself so believed there is not the shadow of a doubt. But I cannot introduce the discussion here.
The final blow at Harper's Ferry; the failure; the hero's moral victories in jail and on the gallows,— are given by Mr. Sanborn in a most interesting manner. It is a book for the rising generation to read and ponder. H.
Life and Letters of John Brown, Liberator of Kansas, Martyr of Virginia. By F. B. Sanborn. Boston: Roberts Brothers. 1885.