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What is your opinion of John Brown?

Asked at Massachusetts Street on May 3, 2005

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Photo of D.J. Morris

“I think he was both a terrorist and a freedom fighter. I think he wanted to fight for his cause, but he used inappropriate methods.”

Photo of Justin Montgomery

“I was scared by the mural in the Capitol building at a very young age, so he seems more infamous to me.”

Photo of Hugh Jassel

“He was a visionary and a madman. If he did today what he did then, we would consider him a criminal, but at the time, he stood for a cause.”

Photo of Nan Leffingwell

“I admire what he stood for. Without the spark of Harpers Ferry, I don’t think Congress would have started the Civil War.”


kansas 12 years, 8 months ago

Do I understand Nan Keffingwell correctly? Is she saying that John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry (in 1859) is what caused the Union to go to war with the Confederate States?

If so, offense to Nan Leffingwell, but me thinks that Nan needs to brush up on her American History.

GreenEyedBlues 12 years, 8 months ago

I can say that John Brown had a sweet beard. Love him or hate him, he also killed a lot of people.

Fangorn 12 years, 8 months ago

Good cause. Brutal methods. The John Brown Jayhawk on top of the LJWorld building was my favorite.

Re: Nan Leffingwell: And starting the War Between the States that killed half a million people was good because . . . . . . ???

lunacydetector 12 years, 8 months ago

i wonder if D.J. thinks al-zarqari in iraq is a terrorist and a freedom fighter? al-zarqari fights for his cause using inappropriate methods like cutting people's heads off and encouraging suicide bombers. only in lawrence!

jonas 12 years, 8 months ago

That's a second on the John Brown Jayhawk prop. Best of the bunch, by far.

I think purity of motive has a lot to do with the difference between a freedom-terrorifighterist, and just a punk terrorist.

Now that I think about it, though, I think the perspective of the people doing the judging has the most to do with it, though. There are certainly lots of people who think Brown was nothing but a terrorist, and I imagine there are some who think Zarqawi is a freedom fighter. (Though, as he kills as many of his fellow arabs as he does infidel white men, I can't imagine who they would be)

Certainly doesn't change my opinion of the $#@$er though.

thatoneliberalgirl 12 years, 8 months ago

John Brown was a little crazy, no doubt, but he wasn't afraid to take a stand in what he believed in... why is it that nowadays people that do the same things are looked at as a terrorist?

bleeding_flower 12 years, 8 months ago

He did believe in a good cause, but went the wrong way of solving the problem. And what the hell is Nan talking about. Take some American history lessons women. The Confederacy started the war with taking down Sumter.

remember_username 12 years, 8 months ago

John Brown was a terrorist by any definition of the word. But this does not mean we should paint over his mural, sweep him out of the history books, and get rid of all those Freestate t-shirts. When we think about how much John Brown was honored by abolitionists and a hero to many Kansans, it should give us an idea why so many in the Middle East support other terrorists. It might help us to combat the situations that cause terrorism not just the terrorists themselves.

wichita_reader 12 years, 8 months ago

Sure John Brown was a terrorist and a guerrilla, as well as a freedom fighter. Drastic times require drastic measures.

In other news, it's good to see Kansas making national headlines for it's progressive, or regressive, thought . . .

Christy_K 12 years, 8 months ago

A terrorist is someone who kills without regard for human life in the pursuit of power or a political goal. The fact that many terrorist use religion as a cover for their evil is common throughout history (Christian and Muslim).

I would not classify John Brown as a terrorist. Keep in mind violence was a common way to solve problems back then. There was plenty of unjustifiable killing on both sides. John Brown was fighting for what he viewed a just cause. Yes he pursued it in a fanatical hateful way (kind of like the anti-abortion fanatics) and I certainly don't think the end ever justifies the means. His behavior was wrong and probably criminal, but not a terrorist.

Our society I fear is starting to use that label too loosely. We are using terrorist as the next excuse, like they are savages or barbarians, for our own inappropriate responses. For example, Al Zarqawi is a terrorist because he kills innocent people for power. Suidcide bombers and the organizations that support them are terrorists. The average Palestinian teenager throwing rocks protesting an illegal occupation is not a terrorist. We must be careful how we use this label.

Plus a note to all of those criticizing Nan on her history. You could use a lesson yourself. Wars do not happen in a vacuum. It is the accumulation of events and tensions that reach a point of no return that cause wars. The Harpers Ferry raid was significant in leading to the war because it added greatly to Southern fears that their "wards" would violently rise up and seek revenge. It also added to their deep suspicions that the North was plotting to help the "slave revolt". There is no single "cause" of the Civil War. It was the decades of tension between two different cultures that finally spilled out into violence at Ft. Sumter. Harper's Ferry was one of many events that sparked the Civil War.

Ceallach 12 years, 8 months ago

Maybe we would all be a little crazy if 24/7/365 we could not shop, walk down the street, go to school, or even to church, without witnessing or hearing about an entire race of people being de-humanized and subjugated in a country that was supposed to represent freedom for all.

JB did kill a lot of people, but the slavery system killed many times more. I'll bet more than one red coat thought the self proclaimed Americans were terrorists.

wichita_reader 12 years, 8 months ago

From (sorry, too lazy to go down the hall to get Webster's)

terrorist, n. One that engages in acts or an act of terrorism. adj. Of or relating to terrorism.

terrorism, n. The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons

I think one can be a terrorist without killing anybody. After all, the classic schoolyard bully who steals lunch money by threatening to beat other students up is, by definition, a terrorist. The US Government, by threatening to use military force for political gains is, by definition, a terrorist.

I think the distinction Christy_K is trying to make is between justified and unjustified terrorism.

wichita_reader 12 years, 8 months ago

I'm obviously stretching by calling the schoolyard bully a terrorist, but trying to make a point that you don't have to kill to be a terrrorist.

ku_kris 12 years, 8 months ago

Christy_K, I think that there are posters here criticizing Nan not simply because of her understanding of American History, but becasuse she is an overweight woman! After reading many of yesterday's posts, it seems to me that society (men) still has a long way to go in terms of accepting women and their various body types! My advice to many of the (male) posters here would be to stop picking on women simply because they don't seem to fit your (male) image of what the so-called "perfect" woman is supposed to look like!

Thank you!

bleeding_flower 12 years, 8 months ago

I have been reading the north and south trilogies (i know that they are just books, but they are incredibly accurate) but the reason the war was started was because the southern states wanted to secede. The Union was only fighting to keep that from happening. At the time most of the northerners didn't care about blacks or slavery. They just wanted to save the Union. Abe Lincoln didn't make it about slavery until well into the civil war.

jay_allen 12 years, 8 months ago

I'll tell you what my opinion is of John Brown. The guy had two wives and twenty kids??!! Twenty kids??!! Well, it sure seems to me that John Brown must have been some sort of sex machine! My guess is that when John Brown wasn't spending most of his day plotting and strategizing his attempts to end slavery he was obviously in the sack with his wives "planting some seeds"!! And considering how many kids he had, I'd say he planted a whole lot of seeds in his day!!! But I guess him having lots of sex shouldn't be too surprising to learn. I read somewhere once that it is not uncommon for people who live stress-filled lives to crave serious amounts of sex, and something about how orgasms act as a drug to help calm these people down. Very often it is men who fit this profile. An excellent example would be John F. Kennedy. We all have heard and read about his numerous sexual conquests and his constant need to "make it" with prostitutes and whoever else. And he was after all the president of the United States!--That's about as stressful a job as any man could ever have! So if you're a man on a mission and the pressure and stress of that mission is becoming unbearable .....then sex is the answer!

Liberty 12 years, 8 months ago

If John Brown had known that the Confederate States had planned to stop slavery anyway after the civil war, he might have taken a different stand and fought with the south for the real reason that the civil war was fought. That reason was States' Rights, not slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation Act was used as a tool of war against the south to conquer the south and end States' rights and the war. Obviously, slavery was never correct as no man or woman should be a slave, whether physical or (financial as we are today) and needed to end, but this was not the reason for the civil war, it was instead a Federal takeover of the States to dissolve States' rights. Today we have provisional military government, not directly under the Constitution, because a state of emergency is renewed every year or two to continue this type of government and allow it to remain in power since the civil war.

When our Senators in Congress were converted into a popularly elected position by the people, instead of being appointed by the State as they used to be; (which sounds good on the surface, but understand that we already have a representative and don't need another). So we lost the ability for the States wishes to be represented in Federal government now that we vote for our Senators, and also lost the State's ability to oppose anything the Federal government wants them to do. (Basically we were illegally converted into a democracy). So today State government is merely an extension of the Federal government through funding and no Federal representation. The Constitution demands that Congress provide a republican form of government, not a democracy.

Clearly, Congress has violated the Constitution plain and simple and continues to do it regularly in legislation to this day, and most people don't even have a clue what has happened to them (because they don't know the Constitution) and in fact agree with the current system.

sunflower_sue 12 years, 8 months ago

Let's just compare John Brown to Fred Phelps (just 'cause they are both notorious KS men and it will be fun): Brown...good cause, Phelps...bad cause Brown...gun toting, Phelps...sign toting Brown and Phelps...both use Bible to justify their cause Brown and Phelps...both insane and will probably get to be good friends in Hell

Redneckgal 12 years, 8 months ago

Family legend has it that he killed some of my great-great something or other reletives down between Peoria and Rantoul down here in Fr. Co. when they first settled in this county. My family hasn't ever had that high of a opinion of him.

Ceallach 12 years, 8 months ago

There is a very informative site regarding events and legislative dates leading up to the Civil War.

Pro and anti slavery was an issue among the states long before the Civil War. Fiction is still fiction and should not replace good old American History books.

bleeding_flower 12 years, 8 months ago

Sorry I didn't mean to make it seem that it wasn't a issue. And I know what is fiction and fact. But it doesn't change the fact the war was fought (at first) to keep the southern states from seceding.

Ceallach 12 years, 8 months ago

bleeding_flower: I didn't mean my post to sound snippy, I've not done a very good job of posting without sounding harsh lately. I will work on that.

I'm not familiar with the novels you referenced and I was looking for a visual aid to help jog my memory. I liked that sites presentation so wanted to share it with other posters.

Liberty 12 years, 8 months ago

For those of you that need a short vacation that is not a long drive, consider going to Lexington Missouri and visit the civil war site in Lexington. It is an interesting read of the information that is posted there. It covers the battle of Lexington and the issue of States Rights. A visit to Stone Mountain in Atlanta also gives great historical insight.

lunacydetector 12 years, 8 months ago

F.Y.I. The "Battle Hymn of the Republic" song is based off a song about John Brown.

The John Brown song started out..."John Brown's body lies a molding in the grave, John Brown's body lies a molding in the grave......"

The lady who wrote the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" lyrics, Francis Ward Howe, overheard some soldiers singing the "John Brown" song. She didn't like the lyrics but she liked the tune, so she changed the lyrics.

It was an instant hit.

....and now you know the rest of the story.

Carmenilla 12 years, 8 months ago

I'm a bad Kansan and don't know enough about John Brown (although I do love the mural of him). Today's comments have been enlightening and entertaining, to say the least.

Ironically, I went to see a band on Saturday night and they sang a song about John Brown. I'll have to dig around on and see if I can link over to the audio of it.

He seems to live on in song....

Carmenilla 12 years, 8 months ago

Uh, I suck at linking but here's the info on that song. Go to and look under the music heading for local bands. The song is listed under the artist Kirk Rundstrom. Its called "John Brown" and its a good listen.

bleeding_flower 12 years, 8 months ago

Ceallach: It is okay. Sometimes I get a little too defensive. It is the way that I am. The books I am talking about are North and South, Love and War, Heaven and Hell. They made movies of them in the late eighties and early ninties. Very good. Sorry I love to read.

Carmenilla 12 years, 8 months ago

Yah but wasn't Patrick Swayze in the made-for TV-movies? That can't be good.


Carmenilla 12 years, 8 months ago

Wasn't that "Road House"....Oh god, I hate my vast knowledge of bad movies from the last 30 years! Curse you brain!!!

Hong_Kong_Phooey 12 years, 8 months ago

Christy_K: The "illegal occupation" of the Palestinians?? I'm sure you'll disagree with me, but the Palestinians had a chance to have their own State back in the 60's. What did they do?? That's right, they - and other Arab states- attacked the newly formed Israel to try and take them over. They found out that if you mess with the bull you get the horns.

To jump back to yesterday's topic - if you are one of those people at the gym that do the Stairmaster and either lock out your arms or slump over the front, thereby eliminating the majority of your bodyweight - - YOU ARE DOING NO GOOD!!! THE POINT IS TO LIFT YOUR ASS UP FOR 30 MINUTES!!!

bleeding_flower 12 years, 8 months ago

Yeah that is the one. Watch them or read them (books are always better), they are good except for the third movie. The books are really informative.

Carmenilla 12 years, 8 months ago

Hey H_K_P, you'd think that with all the time you spend at the gym, you'd be a little less wound up. I mean, do you ever relax? Are you in need of some other kind of "release"? Spiritually I mean.....;-P

David Ryan 12 years, 8 months ago

What crap, thinking it was some theoretical discussion of states' rights that started the South attacking Northern forts.

The South was fighting to protect slavery.

Anything else people try to tell you might sound plausible, but go back and read the proclamations of the states that seceded: they're thick with proslavery, pro-racist drivel.

The grand issue of "states' rights" = "states' rights to hold human beings as slaves."

As I said, pure crap, intellectually speaking.

bleeding_flower 12 years, 8 months ago

The south may have been fighting to protect slavery, but the north was fighting to protect the Union.

mud_duck 12 years, 8 months ago

I just had to counter one of the points made by Liberty, who seems to suggest that when the position of U.S. Senator was changed to a popularly elected position within each state, that this change was contrary to the Constitution. The last time I checked the 17th Amendment was part of the Constitution. So, maybe I mis-read Liberty's comment or Liberty mis-read the Constitution.

kansas 12 years, 8 months ago

mud duck, I read liberty's post and I think when he mentions Senators being elected by the people he's not talking about during the Civil War, he's talking about what has happened within the U. S. Government since then. Although, I have to admit, he could have/should have done a better job of clarifying that point (time frame-wise).

See, back in Civil War times, State Senators were appointed to congress and they were chosen by smoke-filled room committees. It goes without saying that southern Senators (pre-Civil War) were chosen by their positions concerning slavery. If a man wanted to be a senator from a southern state in pre-Civil War times, he most definitely had to have a pro-slavery agenda of his own, otherwise those pro-slavery "smoke-filled room boys" wouldn't pick him to do their bidding in the senate! So slavery was secure in the south under that system. Let's face it, all of the powerful and influencial men in the pre-Civil War south owned slaves, so by picking a pro-slavery man to be a senator, they were insuring their best interests---even if, theoretically, the southern populace wasn't in favor of slavery. Which obviously wasn't the case, but that's why I say "theoretically". In pre-civil War times, if any one southern state had a growing number of anti-slavery-types...well, tough darts for them!! They couldn't vote for their senator to make their voices heard in the senate. Thus, slavery was assured!

In todays world, not much has changed, really. Even with U.S. senators now being elected by the people, you still have rich, powerful men basically hand-picking who the populace gets to choose from! So, in some ways (many ways??) the system that is in place now is as much of a joke as it was back in pre-Civil War times!!

Go figure!

Liberty 12 years, 8 months ago

Good counter mud_duck. I am aware that the 17th amendment is there, but it has had unintended consequences (that is contrary to the intention of the Constitution) that has heavily upset the balance of power between the States and the Federal government. Of course the Federal government immediately found the mistake and has wildly expanded it's power accordingly. Perhaps if you were to go to this web site and read the explaination it would be more clear for you to see.

kansas 12 years, 8 months ago

OMB, to answer you question in a nutshell.......yes! And I don't see that "good ol' boy system" changing any time soon, do you?

I mean, let's see........The United States has been around for almost 230 years........there have been a total of 43 presidents........all of them white inordinate number of them came from wealthy, elitist families........Hmmm.......Kinda makes you stop and scratch your head and wonder what is up with that, don't it??

mud_duck 12 years, 8 months ago

I understand the issue. Repealing the 17th Amendment is not the quickest or easiest way to solve the problem (if you think it is a problem). The easiest way is for the Supreme Court which has the power of judicial review to scale back Congress' authority under the Commerce power. And for the most part the court in the last few years has done so. Whether or not you support this depends on what side of the Federalism issue you stand on.

Ceallach 12 years, 8 months ago

Fangorn: Board's been quiet for 2 hours so I will risk saying thanks for the book recommendations. I made it to the library last week, was able to get one of the first 2 you named, got People of Iron, have 1st millen reserved when it returns around the middle of the month. Also checked out Wet the Road, Close the Wind. Am truly enjoying People of Iron.

I wonder if ms_canada is traveling. She mentioned driving to see her sister in a post last week and I noticed she has not contributed for a couple of days.

Thanks again.

Chris Bohling 12 years, 8 months ago

To counter the state's-rights debate, I have several points-

Firstly, Liberty seems to have suggested that the federal government has a hidden agenda to destroy the power of the states. As the powers of the Federal government are derived from Congress, which is elected by the people, who also elect the state governments, I guess I'm not seeing how it is possible for the "fed" to have its own agenda to destroy the states.

Secondly, the essential problems with the states-rights position were demonstrated repeatedly in the years leading up to the civil war -- repeated threats to secede from the union or to take other independent action impeded Congress' ability to compromise and hence led to several only marginally effective measures to preserve the peace (read: Missouri Compromise; Compromise of 1850).

Lastly, I believe the true cause of the civil war was not so much the issue of states' rights itself, but instead the southern economy. If you broadly examine U.S. history, you'll find that most of the actions taken by the government over the past 200 years were based mostly on economic problems.

In that way, you can draw parallels between John Brown and the terrorists of today, in that John Brown was truly fighting for the sake of his religion, and not to improve the economy or the lot of the state like socialist revolutionaries or something.

Fangorn 12 years, 8 months ago

Ceallach: You are most welcome. I hope you enjoy the reading as much as I did.

O_bob: Many of the abolitionists in mid-nineteenth-century Kansas were from New England. So perhaps it's not too far fetched for a Boston group to have a crazy-guy-with-the-beard John Brown connection. But I don't know the group, so I can't speak one way or the other.

Regarding causes of the War Between the States (it was not, in fact, a "civil" war): slavery certainly became an issue, but there were other important matter years before the first shots were fired. I would assert that the seeds of this conflict were sown during the Constitution Convention. There were too many differences in the culture of the North and that of the South that were "papered over" or set aside for resolution at a future date. One of the biggest issues leading to the war was tariffs. The North had a tremendous advantage in population. And they used their lopsided majority in Congress to pass laws putting the South at severe economic disadvantage. There have been several links offered today, and I am reluctant to post yet another one. But for those willing to invest about 10 minutes reading time, here is an excellent article by Dr. Walter Williams touching on this matter.

[btw, does anyone here know to whom the John Brown Jayhawk was auctioned? If I ever win PowerBall, I'll make them an obscene offer for it!)

Fangorn 12 years, 8 months ago

chell: I just read your last post and would like alternately to refute/add to/agree with your remarks.

  1. The Federal government derives its powers from the Constitution. And those delegated powers were enumerated in that document. That is to say, those limited powers were spelled out in the Constitution and all other powers were "reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." (see Amendments IX and X). Congress is one branch of the Federal government and, as such, an agent of its authority, but certainly not its source.

  2. You are correct that Congress was hampered from making effective compromise. But I would suggest that real, effective compromise was not possible between these two cultures. I believe (and this is the cause of my early criticism of Ms. Leffingwell's comments) that this war was unnecessary, even to end slavery. If the South had been allowed to secede peacefully, I think the institution of slavery would still have been abolished by the end of that century. The whole tide of moral and ethical thought in the Western world was turning against this abhorrent practice. Obviously, my belief in this matter is unprovable, since history unfolded as it did and there is no "reset" button.

  3. Your remarks about the economic causes of this war are spot on. I think you might enjoy reading the article I linked a short while ago. Dr. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University.

Liberty 12 years, 8 months ago


Well said and your article is right on. Well done!

Ceallach 12 years, 8 months ago

Good article. Thanks Fangorn.

OMB: good job.

Better sign off before someone complains about the number of posts I have made today :-)

btw, I agree, today's board was more "civil."

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