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Until the Pottawatomie Creek massacres, John Brown lived in relative obscurity in a nation that was rapidly coming apart at the seams. Sharply divided over the slavery issue, which kept re-emerging every time a new territory or state requested admittance to the Union, Congress had attempted another in a series of compromises dating back to 1820. The Kansas-Nebraska Act provided that these territories could apply for statehood and would use the popular vote (popular sovereignty) to determine if slavery would be permitted in the new states. This triggered a rush of pro-and anti-slavery proponents into the would-be states trying to influence the vote, and violence and conflict ensued. After a group of pro-slavery advocates vandalized Lawrence, Kansas, John Brown, four of his sons, and a few others, organized a small assault in Franklin County, Kansas that culminated in the violent deaths of 5 pro-slavery advocates. News of this filtered quickly into both the North and South; some Northerners were repulsed by Brown's radical actions while others admired him for his anti-slavery stance and hard-to-ignore actions. Southerners were horrified, particularly plantation owners, who operated under the constant fear of slave uprisings. Brown's actions were seen by many as yet another indicator that the Union could not be saved, and Southerners were validated further in this respect after Brown tried to organize a slave rebellion at Harper's Ferry, Virginia. Ultimately unsuccessful, it did cement his reputation as a martyr for his cause when he was executed.
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