Was (abolition activist) John Brown a Terrorist?

John Brown, the abolition activist, was born on 9th May 1800 in Torrington, Connecticut, where he was the fourth in a family of eight children, but he spent much of his young age in Ohio (DuBois & William 186). At the age of 12, he witnessed mistreat and beating of a young African slave boy whom he knew. The experience made him become an abolitionist. Nevertheless, his family was against slavery, where his father was a firm supporter of early abolitionist movements in the 1830s (DuBois & William 187). However, Brown’s tactics of dealing with slavery remain debatable, where most of the people perceive him as a terrorist, while others refer to him as a hero in saving the lives of the blacks.

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The simple definition of the term terror is the act of violence, where, terrorists seek to terrify or frighten the minds of the people. Going by this definition, John Brown can be connected to terrorism for several events in his life. On the night of 24th May 1856, John Brown directed a raiding party to Pottawatomie Creek with various other men, and among them, there were four of his sons (Heath, Robert & Damion 210). The invasion was spontaneous and unplanned, where he acted in retaliation for an attack on the free state settlement at Lawrence. The mindless raid by Brown and his group resulted in a consistent threat to the proslavery settlers along Pottawatomie Creek and also the killing of the free state settlers in Kansas (Heath, Robert & Damion 212). In fact, the killing was inhumane because those who fought for their lives or resisted death were cut into small pieces to feel the pain. The primary goal of Brown was to end slavery, but he used the wrong tactics which resulted in bloodshed and trauma to many people.

Nevertheless, in 1859, Brown ordered an invasion on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry, which mobilized people to initiate a liberation movement among the slaves. During the attack, seven individuals got killed and ten injured. In fact, his intention was to arm the slaves with weapons, whereby, the plan failed. Brown with the help of his men during the Harpers Ferry raid arrested and victimized some slave owner, among them, Lewis Washington who was a great-grand-nephew of the President of Washington DC, George (Reynolds & David 662). Apparently, Brown and his reckless team murdered several towns men in a firefight including the mayor. As stated by Reynolds & David, John Brown went to the extent of stopping a train with passengers, held it for some time, and then released it (663). All these actions were reckless and incorrect. Instead, they implanted fear to people, and they cannot be differentiated with those of pirates or terrorist. Brown could have applied other correct methods to end slavery other than harassing and killing people like animals.

Another incidence that makes Brown’s action look like he was a terrorist was where before the Harpers Ferry raid, he planned a force of 1500 to 4000 men. However, the delays and internal squabbles resulted in the defect of many; hence, the idea did not happen as predicted. In 1859 July, Brown rented a firm known as Kennedy farmhouse several miles near Harpers Ferry. The Northern abolitionist supporters supplied him with almost 200 breech-loading, and 52 caliber Sharps carbine. Again, Brown with some of his family members secretively recruited several volunteers for the raid (Reynolds & David 661). The procedure that Brown was using to fight against slavery was not any different from that of terrorist. In fact, he caused a lot of tension and unrest to people. John Brown went to the extent of requesting firearm sand raffles and training people to conduct a raid. He applied force to do something that diplomacy could have solved. The act of recruiting people to cause bloodshed is incompetent and unjustifiable.

However, Brown was a committed, fearless abolitionist, willing to die to end slavery. In fact, in the minds of Southerners, he was the greatest threat to slavery (DuBois & William 188). His conscious convicted him that slavery was the greatest sin in a nation. His fight against slavery is felt until to date. However, Brown’s tactics made many people uncomfortable, and unlike the other abolitionist, he believed in bloodshed to end any conflict. Therefore, John Brown’s strategies and techniques for dealing with slavery made him have no difference with the terrorist groups who kill, cause trauma and even hold the hostages like he held the passengers on a train. War and bloodshed can never and has never been the best procedure to deal with any conflict. In fact, causes deaths of innocent individuals.


Work Cited

DuBois, William Edward Burghardt. John Brown. Routledge, 2015.

Heath, Robert L., and Damion Waymer. “John Brown, public relations, terrorism, and social capital:‘His Truth Goes Marching On’.” Public Relations Inquiry 3.2 (2014): 209-226.

Reynolds, David S. “John Brown in Thought and Action.” Reviews in American History 41.4 (2013): 659-664.