How did John Brown's reputation differ in the North and South?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The fundamentally different perception of John Brown in the North and the South reflected the deep divisions in America before the Civil War.  Such divergence might also bring to light how America would not be able to bridge such a gap, in which war would become inevitable.  Southerners saw Brown as an example of Northern abolitionism and Northern tendencies unchecked.  The fundamental fear of the South at the time was that the North would use the force of the federal government to compel the South to abandon the cause of slavery and the traditional ways that were so strong associated with it. The fact that Brown did not hesitate to use violence as a part of this only proved to the Southerner of the time period how wrong the North was and how much they sought to obliterate the state of being in the South.  For the South, Brown and his methods represented the absolute worst of fears in what the North would do to the South if it had the chance.

For the Northern Abolitionist, John Brown represented someone that demonstrates a commitment to a world without slavery.  Given the timbre of abolitionists at the time, Brown was seen as a freedom fighter, someone on the level of the Patriotic cause in the Revolution.  Brown was seen as someone who was willing to commit himself and his life to the cause of abolishing slavery, something he considered to be an original sin in America.  While many Northerners might not have been galvanized into action by the abolitionist cause, they took note of Brown and the lengths to which he would go to envision a world without slavery.  In Brown's example, many took note of the issue of slavery and the lengths to which some would go to make sure it would not be in existence.  In this, Brown is seen as a freedom fighter, whereas the Southerner would more likely seen Brown as a terrorist.


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