The name and exploits of the heroic revolutionary abolitionist John Brown, late of Harpers Ferry, has echoed all through this space and I need not, other than to note once again that this year marks the 150th anniversary of that epic effort, repeat that story here. Usually I do not spend much time on commenting on the utterings of bourgeois commentators but the above-linked article by one Sam Allis, a writer who when he writes on the travesties of parking meter readers, the travails of “empty-nesters”, or other local color stories from the Boston neighborhoods, is a good read but is way out of line here.
Needless to say that Mr. Allis is no partisan of John Brown. Fair enough. I will roll out the old political cliché about one person’s ‘terrorist’ being another person’s liberation fighter. Nor is he a fan of the Boston-centered “Secret Six” who provided John Brown with aid and comfort in his struggles to take direct action against slavery. Again fair enough. Although one should pause to think that the few thousands of dollars donated to Brown’s ‘mad’ strategy to liberate the slaves might not have been much cheaper than the eventual cost in human and natural resources the Civil War consumed to effect that same purpose.
I too have serious reservations, as I noted in a review of the life of Samuel Gridley Howe, about the seemingly cowardly actions of the group in the aftermath of Harpers Ferry. However I take exception to the characterization of this group and the Boston Brahmin milieu, or at least the non- Southern cotton dependent merchant section of it, in the pre-Civil War period as “effete”. As the fires of the Civil War would show Boston, including that segment of its elite, provided many brave soldiers in that effort. I need only mention Thomas Wentworth Higginson (Allis also notes his stance) of the 2nd South Carolina Volunteers and Robert Gould Shaw, commander of the all black Massachusetts 54th Regiment. Moreover, after recently seeing a memorial stone commemorating the Massachusetts “Yankee Division”, the 26th Infantry and the battles they fought in, including Gettysburg and Chancellorsville I think their memory deserves better from this Johnny-come-lately to the requirements of 19th century manliness. I do not expect such as response, but it is due.