America in the 1850s

Abraham Lincoln Appears on the Scene

Where, meanwhile, was John Brown?

Little had been heard of John Brown for some time. In the aftermath of his successful raid into Missouri in 1858, Brown had gone underground, hiding in different places. The safest of his safe places was the settlement he had established at North Elba, New York, just a few miles shy of the Canadian border. There Brown had set up a small community of the extended Brown family and escaped slaves. In keeping with Brown’s beliefs, the community was run on strictly egalitarian lines. Everyone worked and everyone ate together, with no special favors or treatment for anyone.

Brown could easily have remained at North Elba, allowing events to take their course, but he was still determined to have a larger impact on history. Toward that end, he went to Boston and neighboring Concord—the town where the Revolution had begun in 1775—seeking help from the well-to-do and famous. Brown was especially eager to recruit the assistance of the literary and cultural community in Concord, which included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Amos Bronson Alcott, and Henry David Thoreau. Virtually all of them listened to Brown’s appeal, but none were ready to make a strong public stand. Frustrated and irritated, Brown departed Massachusetts, penning a sarcastic note to the latter-day descendants of the Puritans as he departed.


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