America in the 1850s

The Emergence of John Brown

What was the response to the killings at Osawatomie?

The reaction was one of stunned horror, followed by widespread condemnation of John Brown and all his family. What made this Northern man, who had accomplished rather little in life save the creation of a large family, believe that he was an avenging angel? To Southerners, it was even worse; to them, Brown was a vicious demon. And in the weeks that followed, damning evidence turned up in all sorts of places. The Brown family legacy—a number of his ancestors and relatives were judged insane—surfaced, and the pictorials—or caricatures—that were drawn depicted Brown as a snakelike individual, possessed by demons.

Like Preston Brooks—at whom many fingers could also be pointed—John Brown escaped trial. He was in the Kansas Territory, a place that now had two separate governments, each of which looked on the other as illegal. The pro-slavery government at Lecompton was, naturally, outraged, but Brown and his family were in Free-Soil territory and could claim that their area had been attacked with the Sack of Lawrence. The large majority of persons on the East Coast and in the South roundly condemned Brown, but some people in the West, and quite a few in Kansas, began to look on him as a kind of savior.


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