Memorial Day: How John Brown Sparked the Civil War in Harpers Ferry

May 30, 2019

How John Brown Kicked off the Civil War

Maps props to John Brown, who, in 1859, had the batshit crazy idea to end slavery in the U.S. by commandeering a U.S. government armory in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia stocked with 100,000 weapons, in order to kick off the revolution. Radical action as needed, he felt, to end slavery, especially in the south, where cotton was profitable only with slave labor.

Crazy part was that Brown only recruited 21 men for the job. Even his pal, abolitionist Frederick Douglass thought the plan cray and took a hard pass. Brown assumed nearby slave folks would get the word, grab their deadliest farm implements and join in. This didn’t happen (though George Washington’s grand-nephew was held hostage by his own during the revolt).

How John Brown Kicked off the Civil War

After 36 hours, Brown and his posse were holed up in the town firehouse with hostages, and the President called in the Marines to bring a quick end to the stand-off. Brown was captured and, later, stood trial and hung by the neck ‘till death. But to a country increasingly fearful of black uprisings, the revolt was enough to spook the populace into electing Lincoln, hastening the Civil War.

So the lesson here might be that activism, even the batshit crazy type, actually works. Even if it doesn’t work for you personally, you’d be adding to the voices that will ultimately bring justice, at least if your cause is righteous.