What was the significance of John Brown’s Raid?

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bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The ardent abolitionist John Brown (1800-1859) had hoped to raise a brigade of more than 4000 men to support his plan to attack the Federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Virginia. He also hoped that a successful mission would encourage thousands of slaves to revolt and join his little army. However, when Brown attacked Harper's Ferry, he had a total of only 21 men. This lack of numbers caused the raid to be unsuccessful, and Brown was later executed for his treasonous actions by the state of Virginia.

Brown's raid energized the South, who thought that similar slave uprisings might follow. Local militias were organized throughout the slave states, and when it came time for war, the South already had tens of thousands of trained men to join the new Confederate army. Southern Democrats blamed the Republicans for Brown's raid and their extreme abolitionist views, and the new Republican party became even more hated in the South. Northerners, and particularly Republicans, viewed Brown as a martyr and slavery as an outdated system. Brown's actions created even more divisive tension between the North and the South, and when the Republican Presidential candidate, Abraham Lincoln, was elected, the South saw it as a sign that slavery would soon become a thing of the past.

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