What was the significance of John Brown’s Raid?  

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larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

John Brown's raid intensified the slavery debate to such an extent that it was practically impossible to resolve the slavery issue without bloodshed. Brown himself indicated as much in one of his last statements before he was hanged:

I fear that the sins of this guilty land can only be purged with blood. Now if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel and unjust enactments, I say, let it be done.


Brown had hoped to arm slaves and thus create a grand rebellion which would end slavery forever. As a result, he was considered something of a terrorist and traitor in the South. In the North, he was a martyr to the cause of freedom. After his hanging, Ralph Waldo Emerson called him

a new saint who would make the gallows as glorious as the cross

A song of Brown's campaign and death written by William W. Patton became popular during the Civil War:

  Old John Brown’s body lies moldering in the grave,
While weep the sons of bondage whom he ventured all to save;
But tho he lost his life while struggling for the slave,
His soul is marching on.

John Brown was a hero, undaunted, true and brave,
And Kansas knows his valor when he fought her rights to save;
Now, tho the grass grows green above his grave,
His soul is marching on.

He captured Harper’s Ferry, with his nineteen men so few,
And frightened "Old Virginny" till she trembled thru and thru;
They hung him for a traitor, themselves the traitor crew,
But his soul is marching on.

John Brown was John the Baptist of the Christ we are to see,
Christ who of the bondmen shall the Liberator be,
And soon thruout the Sunny South the slaves shall all be free,
For his soul is marching on.

The conflict that he heralded he looks from heaven to view,
On the army of the Union with its flag red, white and blue.
And heaven shall ring with anthems o’er the deed they mean to do,
For his soul is marching on.

Ye soldiers of Freedom, then strike, while strike ye may,
The death blow of oppression in a better time and way,
For the dawn of old John Brown has brightened into day,
And his soul is marching on.

The song was later used by Julia Ward Howe when she composed the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

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