Tuesday, May 1, 2012
I've been pondering about Midnight Rising, John Brown and the Raid that Started the Civil War by Tony Horwitz since I finished reading it a couple of weeks ago. I just watched the evening news with reports on May Day protests as well as the bridge which was to be blown up except it wasn't because undercover officers had sold dummy bombs to those planning to blow up the bridge.
This is what I've been thinking about. What kind of people become so passionate about a cause that they are willing to risk their lives, the lives of members of their family, and the lives of others to advance said cause? I would say, "Oh no, not anyone that I'm acquainted with. Those in my circle are a peaceful lot."
But what if no one ever felt great passion for a cause? Would history and time miss out on the catalyst that would bring about a Revolutionary War (Boston Tea Party) or an Arab Spring or a Civil War? John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry became the final catalyst for the Civil War and the bringing about of the Emancipation Proclamation.
John Brown was a rabid abolitionist, even a violent one. He not only took lives on the Missouri/Kansas border in the cause of halting slavery, he planned for years the raid on Harper's Ferry and the slave rebellion he thought would follow in Virginia. The Civil War most likely would have eventually happened, but John Brown pushed the red button in 1859. Hero or anarchist? Most often it is just one's point of view.
I found this book fascinating as it told the story of the life of John Brown, his family, and the influential members of New England society who supported him in his abolitionist causes. Julia Ward Howe, whose husband was one of the Secret Six supporting Brown over the years, penned "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" after hearing the tune "John Brown's Body" in 1862. Now I know the fleshed out story of John Brown which makes those few paragraphs from my American history textbooks in high school and college more understandable. Remember those piercing eyes in the famous photograph of John Brown? They were indeed a window into the passion of John Brown.
Note: I discovered that Tony Horowitz is married to Geraldine Brooks while reading about the author on the book flap. Geraldine Brooks wrote "People of the Book" which is one of my favorites. What do you think two amazing married authors talk about at the dinner table?