How did the incident at Pottawatomie Creek in 1856 establish a reputation for John Brown in both the North and in the South?  

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In some ways, the killing of five proslavery men at Pottawatomie Creek in Kansas was fairly typical of the bitter partisan fighting between pro- and antislavery factions in "Bleeding Kansas." John Brown, who led the attack on the proslavery town, intended it to be retribution for the "sack of Lawrence,"...

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In some ways, the killing of five proslavery men at Pottawatomie Creek in Kansas was fairly typical of the bitter partisan fighting between pro- and antislavery factions in "Bleeding Kansas." John Brown, who led the attack on the proslavery town, intended it to be retribution for the "sack of Lawrence," an attack on the acknowledged capital of antislavery Kansas that witnessed the burning of that small town. Like much that transpired in "Bleeding Kansas," the attacks captivated the attention of the national media, which portrayed events in lurid terms. Brown, an idiosyncratic figure to say the least, fascinated readers across the country, though people viewed him in very different ways depending on their views about slavery.

To the South, Brown's actions were further evidence of the radicalism of Northern abolitionists, who they saw as revolutionaries bent on leading a slave revolt. Bolstered by the popular reception of Brown among northern abolitionists, especially in New England, they used him as grounds for digging in on the issue of slavery. In the North, he was viewed in differing terms. Most Northerners decried the use of violence, but many abolitionists, noting his religiosity, saw him as the instrument of a vengeful God, a man sent to destroy the wicked institution of slavery. In short, Brown was seen by Southerners as a dangerous, murderous radical, and by many Northern abolitionists as a harbinger of divine justice. His reputation, and his significance as a divisive figure in the buildup to secession and civil war, would be enhanced by his uprising at Harper's Ferry, Virginia, in 1859.

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We look back at this incident in Kansas as historians and see now how important it was in terms of showing us who John Brown was, how committed he was to the cause and what he was capable of.  People were dying every day in Bleeding Kansas in the 1850s, and while Brown's attack was ugly and brutal, it wasn't all that shocking for the time.  What was noteworthy was how Brown so strongly advocated violent action on the part of abolitionists.  He and his small band of men, along with some of his sons, defended Free State settlements and gained some national attention for doing so

In the hardline abolitionist community, Brown was admired by some, condemned by others, and remained controversial in the anti-slavery movement and nationwide up until his death.  Pro-slavery activists and newspapers tended to argue that all abolitionists were like John Brown (which wasn't nearly true), and Brown along with others influenced some in the North to consider violence as an acceptable means to abolish slavery.

Most people, though, and nationwide, were horrified by his actions.

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