Friday, December 11, 2009

Letter to the Editor

        Although John Brown's heart and spirit were in the right place, his actions were not. He wanted blacks to be quickly integrated into American society, but like many radicals the society would not accept his actions. Many saw his freeing of slaves heroic but just as many saw the same action as villainous.

       Today there is no question as to what is right, but one must recall all of John Brown's deed's to access his actions properly. His slaying of five pro-slavery settlers and leaving their mutilated bodies for discouragement is not an acceptable way to approach the issue of slavery. The most he could hope for was to deter slave owners from entering Kansas. Murdering five men for such a small outcome is unjustifiable. While some of John Brown's actions are valiant there are not enough to overcome this felony. John Brown does not deserve a presidential pardon, and as of now not even a gubernatorial pardon.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Letter to the Editor

Letter to the Editor:

John Brown is not a widely revered figure of the African American rights movement.  John Brown was a man with unfailing loyalty to his cause, and like Martin Luther King, it cost him his life.  It is true that before the Jim Crow era, many great men, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson highly respected Brown and his actions.  Indeed, as "Freedom's Martyr" states, W.E.B. Du Bois said Brown was the white American who had "come nearest to touching the real souls of black folk." 

Brown's violent approach ultimately led to his downfall.  The radical actions he took got the attention of the nation, but what light did his actions shed on the issue?  John Brown advocated violence as the solution to the country's division over slavery, and in doing so he exacerbated the tensions that led to secession and civil war.  Brown's tendency to violence increased sectionalist tensions and aggression. 

The fact is that John Brown's massacres and acts of violence cannot be ignored.  His cause was just, but does the ends justify the means?  David S. Reynolds, author of "Freedom's Martyr" would say yes.  But John Brown was swept away by the bloody tides of the era and contributed to his state's unsavory nickname, "Bleeding Kansas," an unauthorized precursor to the civil war. 

The decision to posthumously pardon someone  is difficult.  It is important to recognize the merit of the just cause Brown fought for, and his bravery in defending it until death.  However, a presidential pardon sends the message that the massacre of people with opposite beliefs is justified in the name of cause.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Letter to the Editor

In response to David Reynold's Op-Ed "Freedom's Martyr": (


The author of this Op-Ed, David Reynolds, exaggeratedly describes John Brown as a martyr for freedom.  However, John Brown was also an odious murderer, who cannot have a gubernatorial or presidential pardon.

I agree with David Reynolds following arguments:


1) John Brown had good intentions in acting out in the name of abolition and freedom.

2) John Brown was not alone in his opinions as he had abolitionist supporters in the north.

3) John Brown's murders and skirmishes escalated sectional tensions that eventually led to the Civil War that ended slavery.

3) John Brown fought against pro-slavery forces like to the Yankees forces fought against the Confederates during the Civil War.


Here is where I disagree:


1) While John Brown had good intentions he was also a zealot. In response to the pro-slavery posse that sacked, burned, and destroyed Lawrence, KS, Brown engaged the Pottawatomie Massacre in 1856, murdering and mutilating five pro-slavery settlers and leaving their bodies to ward off more pro-slavery settlers.  Although in the name of slavery, Brown took the skirmish from the level of vandalism to that of murder.  Although some argue that the violent Civil War was necessary to abolish slavery, Martin Luther King showed America that justice could be achieve through nonviolent protest as well.  Taking a life in place of another's is not just, it is unethical.  While I am not arguing that the Civil War was not necessary to achieve abolition, I am arguing that had not John Brown instigated such violence, the country possibly could have settled the matter in an alternative nonviolent way.


2) In the Pottawatomie Massacre John Brown murdered five innocent settlers.  This is known today as second degree murder.  In the Harper's Ferry Raid, Brown and his fellow conspirators attempted to seize a federal arsenal.  This is known today as conspiracy to overthrow the government.  Just as in the 1850s, today both second degree murder and conspiracy to overthrow the government are illegal and can result in either imprisonment or the death penalty.  Although presidents can and have pardoned men who have murdered and attempted to overthrow the government, they typically do not pardon men or women who have done so recently.  Neither President Obama or Tim Kaine should grant Brown a posthumous pardon, because if they would not grant a man or woman who committed these crimes presently, they should not pardon and thereby glorify a man who has done these things in the past.

Thank you,

Jackie S.

Letter to the Editor regarding "Freedom's Martyr"

To the Editor:


            John Brown is a terrorist. With many similarities, including brutal killings, detailed plans and a strong cause, Brown can be compared to twenty-first century terrorists like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. On October 16, 1859, John Brown, with a group of young followers, raided Harper's Ferry, slaying southern whites to cause chaos and free slaves from bondage. On September 11, 2001, several Al-Qaeda men hijacked and crashed American airplanes to urge America to "[get] out of the Arabian Peninsula, and [stop] its support of Israel" (Osama Bin Lade, October 2001). These two events have many parallels, proving to be very similar.


John Brown does not deserve a pardon. After countless raids and slayings, Brown is a federal criminal and does not deserve the title of "martyr." Even though he killed for the worthy cause of abolition, being one of the most dedicated abolitionists of his era, he should not have killed southern citizens as viciously and as randomly as he did.


 John Brown deserved his hanging because he was a murderer. No matter how justified his actions seemed, working to free slaves from the harsh and unfair treatment placed on them by white southerners, the bottom line is that with the option of being a civilized activist, or not, he chose not.



Beverly Jiang

Letter to the Editor: Response to "The 9/11 of 1859"

To call John Brown's raid the "9/11 of 1859" is ridiculous. While John Brown did kill many in the South, the Al Qaeda assaults resulted in the deaths of many more innocent people. The loss of thousands of men during this eight-year war could have been prevented had these attacks never occurred. John Brown was fighting for what he believed was right: equality for all, no exceptions – a necessary cause to fight for. The Civil War was already on its way. Even if John Brown didn't lead that raid, the tensions between the North and South had been culminating for years and a war seemed to be the only solution. And that is the difference: while John Brown played a part in the Civil War, he did not cause a long, grueling war – it was already coming; the attacks in 2001 led to a war that could have been prevented.

Thanks for your time.

-Sayeh B.

Letter to the Editor - Sophie K

I disagree with David Reynold's opinion in "Freedom's Martyr" that John Brown should be pardoned. Although currently everyone agrees that John Brown was fighting for a just cause, pardoning him when his actions led to the deaths of innocent people would spread the wrong message. While there is now universal opposition to slavery, other divisive issues, such as same-sex marriage, cause bitter conflict between different groups of people. By excusing John Brown, the government would be saying that it's okay to use violence to fight for something you believe in. This pardon could potentially lead to an outbreak of small-scale attacks by people who disagree with others' religious, political, and moral views. So while I believe that John Brown was fighting for a noble cause in seeking to end slavery and racism, pardoning him would in effect be endorsing the use of violence in fighting for one's own beliefs.  

Thank you,

Sophie K

Freedom's Martyr

John Locke's social contract theory states that individuals in a society have a duty to rebel against unjust governance.  Our nation was founded by men who believed in this individual prerogative.  John Brown's actions demonstrate an impassioned attempted to correct what he saw as a fundamental wrong; when he saw that the Supreme Court was dealing unfairly with oppressed people, he was left with no choice but to fight.  As a man who carried on the legacy of our Constitution's framers by fighting against illegitimate government, he deserves the honor of a pardon.

- Virginia P.

Letter to the Editor- Frankie A

In Reply to "Freedom's Martyr":

I must tell you I was nothing short of appalled when I read your article regarding John Brown, and, more specifically, the idea that he ought to be viewed as a national hero.  One is taught at a young age to believe that murder is wrong; how then can one say that the Pottawatomie Massacre- the episode where John Brown and six followers murdered five pro-slavery settlers and left their mangled bodies to intimidate other slavery proponents from settling in Kansas- was heroic, or even just?

According to Ken Chowder, John Brown is the "father of American terrorism." The idea that both the Pottawatomie Massacre and the raid at Harper's Ferry are even slightly comparable to 9/11 is ridiculous; on the contrary, John Brown's actions were far worse. The terrorists of 9/11 murdered another country's people they hated for a God they loved; John Brown killed his own countrymen. And one must not forget: he killed these men at a time when slavery was not only legal, but prominent in America, what with Stephen Douglas having recently passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act and inserting a provision of "popular sovereignty." Although three of the men he killed had been slave hunters preceding their move to Kansas, the other two did not even own slaves, but merely shared pro-slavery ideas. Thus, Brown not only killed the wrongly targeted; he killed the innocent.

His raid at Harper's Ferry was no different: seven people were killed, including one free black. Brown's plan, therefore, backfired: he murdered the very people he was attempting to rescue.

John Brown was a contradiction unto himself; how then can he be perceived as a hero? Though he was outraged at the violence and destruction of both the Sacking of Lawrence and the caning of Senator Charles Sumner, he was all for hacking five men to death with broadswords. This inconsistence is not the mark of a hero, but rather, that of a crazed and bloodthirsty zealot who would stop at nothing to succeed.

What makes John Brown worthy of a presidential/gubernatorial pardon? Aside from adding to the violent onslaught and rising sectional tensions between the North and the South, aside from murdering the innocent and aside from going against his own morals- what good did he do? I do not think John Brown ought to be rescued from the "loony bin of history"; I think he ought to rot there until the end of time.

Respectfully yours,

Frankie A.

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:


In yesterday's op-ed article, "Freedom's Martyr," David S. Reynolds held the opinion that John Brown, one of the first radical anti-slavery activists, should be pardoned for his actions and was a reasonable tactician in his efforts to raise fears of slave rebellions in the South. He later writes that John Brown should be "rescued from the loony bin of history." In my opinion, John Brown was a key player in the anti-slavery movement before the Civil War, but he should not be pardoned, as his actions were vicious and unnecessarily violent. During his raids, many Southerners were killed, and this does not count as "leading Southerners to view slavery as dangerous and impractical." He created panic, but by killing Southerners in the process, the South, instead of viewing slavery as a threat, started fearing Northern rebels.


By pardoning a man such as John Brown, the person who pardons him will send a message that violence, even for a viable cause, is pardonable and allowable. The Klu Klux Klan was violent for what they presumed to be a worthy cause, but should their members be pardoned for their actions and "martyrdom"? John Brown does not deserve to be pardoned.



-Anna C.

Letter to the Editor

Imagine reading this headline in NYT 150 years from now:

"2009 Hudson River Landing: New York River Polluted, Hundreds of Fish Harmed. Captain Sullenberger Posthumously Accused of State Crimes."

This future headline sounds absurd, but the logic used to create it is the same logic employed in this article.

Although our Constitution largely remains unchanged, its interpretation is shifting with evolving social standards. Thus, a deed that was once considered wrong may well be regarded as acceptable by today's standards. However, once an act is deemed to be a crime using due legal process, it remains so. A crime cannot be taken out of context and re-judged.

Thus, while I agree with the sentiment that Brown was an honorable martyr for abolitionists, one fact remains: John Brown was legally convicted in a US court, and no amount of respect for his cause changes the criminality of his actions.

-Sonali M.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Letter to the Editor: "Freedom's Martyr"-Natalie S.

To Whom It May Concern:

            I am in absolute agreement with David Reynolds' article, "Freedom's Martyr," a plea for the posthumous pardon of John Brown on the 150th anniversary of Brown's hanging. While Brown was a bit of a zealous extremist when it came to slavery (he often said he was an instrument of God's will sent to destroy slavery), his actions were extremely significant.  "His plan was not absurd," says Reynolds, and indeed it was not. I believe that at the core of the slavery (for which Brown was in extreme opposition) is fear.  President Franklin Roosevelt said in his first inaugural address that, "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Brown merely wanted, "to create panic by arousing fears."  By inflaming the fears embedded in the institution of slavery, Brown helped contribute to the necessary sectional tensions between the North and South, which eventually lead to the abolishing of slavery at the end of the Civil War. Therefore, I strongly believe Brown deserves a posthumous pardon for his courageous acts.

However, his actions were extreme for his time and the only way for the government established in the nineteenth century to deal with Brown was to hang him—to silence these treasonous actions. Although he was a bit of a nut, the heightened sectional tensions resulting from his actions at Harper's Ferry Arsenal eventually erupted into the Civil War, which, in the long run, destroyed the establishment of slavery.  Brown wanted to bring slaves into the light of racial equality, a principal many Americans highly regard today.  He should be posthumously pardoned on the basis that his actions were necessary and significant to the abolishing of slavery, recognizing his sacrifice for the greater cause of racial equality. As the soldiers of the Civil War would say, "John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave, but his soul keeps marching on."

Natalie S.

Eliza T's John Brown Letter

 Although John Brown's cause was noble his means to address that cause was not. Brown was heroic during his time, standing up for a race that had little people willing to risk all for them. As Reynolds said in his article, Brown came "nearest to touching the real souls of black folks." Brown lived in peace with African Americans at a time when it was uncommon; he truly believed in an equal society. This was very noble and brave of Brown because most people, while supporting the end to slavery, did not feel comfortable sharing society with African Americans. However, the way Brown went about fighting the inequality of slavery was not noble. He acted with violence and while he claimed it was no different then war there was one big difference; innocent civilians died. Brown tried to fight the cause through taking the lives of innocent people.
  Reynolds says Brown must be pardoned. While Brown stood up for African Americans when others would not he also stood up for the use of violence to solve problems. Pardoning Brown would send a message that violent attacks are accepted as a means to solve problems. Brown was brave in his fight for the end of slavery and equality of races and was treated unfairly. He should by no means be viewed as a "deranged cultist" as Reynolds claims he is. At the same time, however, his solution to problems was to use violence as a tool to bring equality and this is something that should never be celebrated. Brown, while he should be respected for his beliefs and his cause, he should not be respected for his solutions to that cause.

Eliza T

Monday, December 7, 2009

Charlotte G - Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor,

John Brown is no American hero. He is not a martyr or a saint or “an angel of God,” as Thoreau believed. He is simply a vigilante who subverted the law and committed murder. His enlightened end, abolition, does not in any way justify his means.

A posthumous pardon for John Brown would glorify bloodshed. We can’t idolize those who use extralegal and morally wrong means, no matter their noble motivations.

John Brown aimed to provoke a slave insurrection and thereby further the abolition cause. Instead, his raid only convinced Southerners to hold ever more tightly to their “peculiar institution” of slavery.

History has told us, time and again, that violence is never the answer. John Brown brought the nation closer to the carnage and devastation of the bloodiest war in our history. The Civil War was arguably avoidable, but John Brown’s raid eclipsed any visions of alternative solutions to America’s red-hot issue of sectionalism.

A presidential pardon for John Brown would certainly be meaningful. It would condone, even promote violence. Let’s not confuse the morality of the end and the means. Let’s not glorify the vigilante violence that the rest of the enlightened world has shed.

Thank you!
Charlotte G

Maya K - Letter to the Editor

John Brown should not be viewed as a hero, and he should not be pardoned. At the peak of sectionalism in the United States, in the antebellum era, John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia, was ill-timed. While John Brown's conception was noble, his execution was flawed. The raid was not well thought out, and no slaves actually revolted. Consequently, Brown was caught and hanged.

Brown's goal in the raid was to show the South how strong the anti-abolition movement was. However, with his failed plan and tragic fate, the South simply hardened itself against abolition movement. They also had another argument for pro-slavery: the slaves do not want to be freed, because they did not revolt, even with the support of a white man.

The South was livid, even though the movement failed, and so they blamed the black Republicans. By trying to stage an unsuccessful and disorganized revolt, Brown only created more anti-black sentiment. John Brown should not be pardoned, because he created more sectionalism and gave the South another reason to secede, preventing abolition for almost half a decade. John Brown and others thought his idea was progressive, but his plan was counter-intuitive to his efforts.

~Maya K

Grace C - Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:
David S. Reynolds refers to John Brown as a “forward-thinking man dedicated to the freedom and political participation of African-Americans.”  This is indeed true; Brown had laudable goals.  In fact, our society could benefit from his thinking today: he would likely be outraged with the gross underrepresentation of African-Americans in both houses of Congress. 
His noble ideals, however, do not excuse his methods.  Brown fought fire with fire.  Our political system thrives on radical ideas; the spirit of democracy rests upon pushing boundaries with our thought.  Brown’s violence in the Pottawatomie Massacre and in the Harpers Ferry raid, however, perpetuated more problems than it resolved.  As Tony Horwitz points out about the raid, “No slaves won their freedom. The first civilian casualty was a free black railroad worker, shot in the back while fleeing the raiders.”  As we commemorate the 150th anniversary of Brown’s hanging, we can applaud and thank him for his fierce conviction of belief, but we cannot celebrate his rash and unproductive actions.

Grace C

Barbara P - Letter to the Editor

Mr. Reynolds—
I cannot agree that John Brown should be a celebrated figure in American history. Mister Brown was zealous in his quest against slavery and didn’t cease fighting for this cause until he died, but because he resorted to malicious violence in this quest, I cannot commend him. The figures who have left such an everlasting impression on our people, whose fights will continue to be revered for many years to come, are those who fought peaceful battles. Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi are two figures who will eternally be remembered for their bravery, strength and unyielding determination.
      You mention the fact that Brown may have “blotches on his record,”  and make the point that other men who we consider “heroes”  are flawed as well. While Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Jackson may have been flawed, they did not ruthlessly murder their opponents. Known today as the Pottawattamie Creek Massacre, a small group of men lead by John Brown decided to murder five pro-slavery southerners. This act didn’t help the African-Americans bound by slavery, it just aggravated the growing sectionalism between the North and the South.
      John Brown may have died for the slaves, but by living for them and not using petty violence, Frederick Douglas more effectively benefitted African-Americans. Douglas advocated for African-American slaves throughout his entire life, and used the press to speak out against slavery and spread awareness. Even though Brown’s rash attempts to fight for abolition seemingly overshadow the work of Douglas, these acts ceased to be successful in ameliorating the situation. Neither the Massacre at Pottawattamie Creek nor his Harper’s Ferry Raid—where he hoped to reap a slave insurrection in the Appalachians—effectively helped the slaves or the abolitionist movement. John Brown may be applauded for his sincere and indefinite passion about abolition, but his acts do not deserve the same noteworthiness that Americans place on leaders such as Abraham Lincoln.  


  Barbara P

Caire D - Letter to the Editor

The presidential pardoning of the deceased is a very important and powerful tool in acknowledging our country’s faults. By pardoning a man once committed with treason for leading a slave revolt, there is a general acknowledgement of our government’s culpability, which puts forward a new expectation of equality. It proves that laws are not always ethical, and that through protest, discrimination can change. 
Through out the article Freedom's Martyr, David Reynolds talks of “rescue[ing] John Brown,” yet the foremost affect of pardoning Brown would be the empowerment of the civil rights movement, which is still very much alive today. We should not pardon John Brown just for John Brown’s sake. He was, after all, a murderer who broke laws that, I personally believe, cannot be pardoned. Yet we should pardon John Brown as an acknowledgement to the millions who have suffered, and still suffer, discrimination under the hands of the government.  Forgiving John Brown is not forgiving murder, or treason, or any other laws that may have been broken; forgiving John Brown is offering an apology that our government has owed the people for more than two hundred years.

- ClareD

Letter to the Editor - Nicola G

John Brown is not an American hero. It is one thing to applaud his beliefs – which were, for his time, astonishingly progressive – but quite another to applaud his actions, which were, by the standards of any era, despicable. He may have been a martyr, but he was also a murderer. 
We are lucky enough to live in a country where violence is not necessary in order to precipitate change. The Suffrage Movement successfully won votes for half of the American population with out firing a single shot. It was a long and difficult movement that required enormous sacrifice from its participants, but it was ultimately effective, and in the end, none of them had blood on their hands.
The Harper’s Ferry Raid, which Mr. Reynolds calls an act of heroic political dissent, was essentially an act of domestic terrorism that led to the deaths of seven people, including a free black. No ideology, however admirable, can excuse killing civilians.
Pardoning John Brown would send them message that violence is an acceptable way to deal with ones anger against the government. It is not. In an era of increasing political violence – the murder of Dr. George Tiller, for instance – such a message could have a devastating effect.
To quote Martin Luther King Jr., “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars... Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
John Brown does not deserve a pardon, and he certainly does not deserve to be honored.
--Nicola G

To The New York Times - Laura R

To The New York Times,

I am writing this letter in response to "The 9/11 of 1859" article that appeared in the newspaper today, December 2nd. It was of particular interest to me and my Advanced Placement U.S. History class, as we have recently studied John Brown's raid and the causes of the Civil War.

I found the article “The 9/11 of 1859” by Tony Horwitz very intriguing, yet I also must disagree with some of the author’s statements. I fully agree with Horwitz’s argument that John Brown’s intention for the extinction of slavery is morally justifiable and that Brown should be viewed as a “martyr-hero.” Horwitz’s comparisons of the logistics of both attacks, such as the involvement of young, “indiscrete” men and their acceptance of the attack as a "suicide mission," provide a believable parallel. The notion of the attacks as "holy war[s]" designed to instill a symbolic significance also serve as a comparison between the raid and the 9/11 attacks. However, I believe that the parallel between Brown’s raid and the 9/11 terrorist attacks holds a key flaw: the motives and goals of the attacks are very different.

“Fundamentalist” John Brown had a solid and stable motive for his attacks and a morally just vision of the result: the end of slavery. As Horwitz says, “Few if any Americans today would question the justness of John Brown’s cause.” Brown was a citizen of the United States, dedicated to improving society for the benefit of every citizen. Also, though Brown’s immediate following was only 21 men serving as guerilla troops, the cause he was fighting for attracted a more significant number of supporters; Northerners, even if they did not support abolition, on a whole opposed the spread of slavery and deemed Brown a hero. The Al Qaeda terrorist group represents a much smaller proportion of the people, establishing it as a more radical and illegitimate organization.

Al Qaeda and Mohammed’s intentions behind the 9/11 attacks prove to be morally unacceptable and polar opposite from the intentions of Brown. Al Qaeda, a foreigner, desired the destruction of the United States as a part of his vague and erratic ideology, an intention that most Americans would quickly oppose. Horwitz acknowledges this idea, saying, “…the judge probably won’t grant him [Mohammed] an ideological platform.” This difference between the two “terrorist” attacks provides a key disjunction in the argued parallel. Though Horwitz may be correct that “terrorists sometimes win,” the long-term results of the terrorist “victories” proved beneficial in Brown’s raid, abolishing slavery, and fatal in 9/11, in which the U.S. become involved in a detrimental war (with no major successes for the U.S.).

Horowitz does maintain that “Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is no John Brown” by discussing the much more cruel and damaging acts of 9/11 in comparison to John Brown’s raid; however, he disregards the dissimilar intentions and purposes of the two attacks, preventing the parallel from being very successful.

Laura R

Kate C - Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor,
            The proposition brought up in "Freedom's Martyr" that John Brown should be pardoned posthumously is ridiculous. While John Brown's intentions were honorable his action were not. By pardoning him it would send the message that acts of violence are acceptable ways to protest. This country values free speech but we also understand there must be limits to prevent the shed of blood in the name of belief.
            The author claims that we should not be bothered by Brown's actions because nobody's perfect and many of his contemporaries also had flaws. Murder and closed-mindedness are not comparable. Murder is not a folly but a crime and should not be treated as such. Also many of Brown's contemporaries including those who agreed with abolition saw his actions as going too far, and the Republican party at the time said that while they supported his intentions they did not condone his actions.
            We claim that its ok for him to try and incite a rebellion because he was doing it for the right cause, but we forget that everything is relative. The confederates thought that by withdrawing from the union they were doing the right thing to preserve what they thought was a superior way of life. This sets the example that violence is an acceptable way to draw attention to a cause and be a force for change. Every person with a so-called cause would now be taught that those who commit violent acts would be hailed as martyrs by the public, and believe that by doing the same they could help their cause. There is a reason John Brown was found guilty back then and that reason still stands true today regardless of why he acted he acted far too harshly and brutally to be forgiven.

Kate C

Eleanor P Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:                                                                                 
(In response to David S. Reynolds’ opinion piece, “Freedom’s Martyr”)
            In May of 1856, two bloody incidents occurred within days of each other that will forever be remembered in history. John Brown led anti-slavery forces in Kansas that resulted in the deaths of five pro-slavery settlers in the Pottawatomie Massacre, while around the same time Preston Brooks blatantly beat Senator Charles Sumner. Both men ardently supported their views on slavery, but they are viewed in extremely different ways today.
            A major contradiction lies in the fact that while Preston Brooks killed none, he is shunned in history today. His actions are seen as completely horrific and wrong. But John Brown took the lives of five people. Should he be praised for murder, while Brooks remains ostracized?
            John Brown considered himself a “soldier at war” and was revered by his Northern counterparts after his hanging. Preston Brooks was a strong supporter of “southern rights” and was seen in the South as a martyr. That is how they were considered at the time and that is how they should remain. No pardon should change how we remember these men in history. They believed in their causes, but Brown was undeniably a radical.
            David S. Reynolds argues in his piece that John Brown comes with his flaws, which include murder, but should be honored today. However, Preston Brooks came with his flaws, which resulted in no deaths, but he is not being considered for a pardon. The president should not pardon Brown just because he was fighting for a cause that is seen as right today. Such a pardon would exemplify special treatment. John Brown was a radical in his time and he wrongly used violence in order to express his opinion, as did Preston Brooks.  Just because slavery is now seen as morally wrong doesn’t mean that we should change how we remember these men in history.
            Pardoning Brown will shed a positive light on his actions when they were seen as pure murder in the South at the time and were considered too radical for the Republican Party to endorse. While Brown’s actions led to the positive outcome of abolition of slavery, he does not merit a presidential pardon. We must make a distinction from how things were and how things are. Brown was and should remain a radical, as should Preston Brooks.

Sallie W - Letter to the Editor

Although John Brown did have honorable intentions leading him to organize attacks on the pro-slavery south, the execution of his plans and leadership did not aid his cause.  When he led the Pottawatomie Massacre, John Brown left the mutilated corpses of pro-slavery men as an example to dissuade the settlers from permitting slavery in Kansas.  This violent act should not be honored.  Similarly, John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry was unsuccessful.  As the article “The 9/11 of 1859” says, during the raid led by John Brown “the first civilian casualty was a free black railroad worker.”    John Brown did not end up making significant strides in abolishing slavery when his plans led to the death of a free black worker.   His attacks only heightened the sectional tensions that led to Civil War.  Whether or not the Civil War was inevitable, John Brown was a catalyst to this horrible event where casualties were high.   The Civil War was not about slavery, but the differences between the north and south.  Perhaps there could have been a way other than war to end slavery.  John Brown is no hero, but he is not a villain either.  He gave his life for an important cause.  In the process, he led many extreme missions that ended in unnecessary deaths.    He is very commendable for being a central figure in an abolitionist movement, but this fact alone is not enough to deem him a hero by the government. 

Thank You,
Sallie Walecka

Camila M - Letter to the Editor

Dear Mr. Reynolds,
      I found your article about John Brown as a martyr for freedom interesting and persuasive, but I am not convinced. Pardoning John Brown would condone his actions as acceptable. Both his Pottawatomie Massacre and his raid on Harper’s Ferry were illegal and bloodthirsty actions that should not be excused. Attempting to mitigate this situation 150 years later has much more potential to do harm than good. The United States government has obviously already made it clear that it supports John Brown’s basic motive, to abolish slavery, and it need not declare its support for the means by which he tried to accomplish his goal. Pardoning a man who killed for a radical cause could lead dangerous radicals today to believe that such behavior is acceptable and will be better understood in the future. No matter how admirable his cause, John Brown was a murderer who aided in the gruesome, cold blood killing of five men in Kansas. The fact that these men were pro-slavery settlers in no way justifies his actions. I think Emerson and Thoreau’s support for John Brown and his actions tarnishes their names and I am confident that President Obama will not make a similar blunder.
      Camila McHugh
      Castilleja High School, Palo Alto, CA

Letter to the Editor - Hannah N

Dear New York Times,

      Although John Brown’s cause was heroic and his intentions were admirable, his actions should not be condoned by the U.S. government; he should not be awarded a pardon. John Brown’s attack on Harper’s Ferry in an effort to capture arsenal in order to lead a slave rebellion was, in theory and intention, a good idea. And there is no argument to the fact that Brown meant well and that he had respect and vision ahead of his time for harmony between races. John Brown should be remembered as a hero and a man ahead of his time for his racial attitudes.  But for the crimes and murders he committed, he should not be pardoned.
      Just because his intention were noble does not mean his actions were justified. The murders that John Brown committed, the violence that he encouraged, cannot be condoned by the U.S. government. He was not falsely or unjustly convicted; the innocent people that he killed were real, his actions would still be outlawed today. Pardoning John Brown would be forgiving an act of violence, an act of terrorism, in service of a higher cause. In today’s world, where hate crimes and volatile situations are still common and a pardon would be an okay for other violent acts for a “good cause.” The ends cannot justify the means or we will have a disastrous and violent society on our hands.
      So, John Brown’s cause may be remembered as prescient and just, but his actions must still be remembered as a crime and an example for the punishment of violence everywhere.
      Hannah N

Claire F - Letter to the Editor

Yes, John Brown was “forward thinking.” He also acted outside of the law. John Brown made the decision to carry out his raid on Harper’s Ferry and, in doing so, recognized and accepted the associated consequences. Maybe he prompted the United States government to move more swiftly in combating slavery. Maybe he inspired Northern soldiers to fight more passionately in the Civil War. But if any and all passionate citizens demanding various sorts of social change could act on their own accord, outside of the government’s discretion, bloody statements would be made all over the country. John Brown should be recognized and appreciated for his abolitionist sentiments and fervor, but that does in any regard warrant a posthumous pardon for his criminal actions.

Breen N Letter to the Editor

The following is a response to "Freedom's Martyr":

David S. Reynolds calls John Brown “a man whose heroic effort to free
four million enslaved blacks helped start the war that ended slavery."
 However, the author fails to consider some important aspects of the
story.  The author neglects to include the gruesome details of Brown’s
assault.  Brown and his men murdered a bridge crossing guard and held
nearly forty citizens captive as hostages to ensure their own
security.  These actions hardly seem worthy of presidential pardon.
Similarly, the author also seems to insinuate that Brown’s Raid is
justified because it instigated the Civil War, which eventually led to
the abolition slavery.  However, Brown’s Raid only contributed to the
isolation that many southerners felt, which precipitated the Civil War
by putting any type of diplomatic solution out of the question.  Many
scholars agree that Brown’s Raid convinced southerners that the North
was determined to spread radical Republican ideals and abolish
slavery.  However, at the time, most northerners were only against the
extension of slavery into the territories and did not want to
interfere with the institution in the southern states.  Brown’s Raid
ended any hope of a peaceful solution to factional disputes.  We
should think not think of John Brown as the hero who started the war
that ended slavery; rather, the uncompromising extremist who ended any
hope of a nonviolent solution to the nation’s problems.

Brenna N

Response to: “The 9/11 of 1859” -New York Times December 2, 2009 - Emily S

Response to: “The 9/11 of 1859” (New York Times December 2, 2009)

          Calling John Brown a “terrorist” is an insult to people fighting for rights everywhere. As Tony Horowitz (author of "The 9/11 of 1859") wrote, Brown is not like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. John Brown fought for a noble cause, the abolition of slavery. Unlike most Americans in his era, and many Americans today, Brown didn’t have a racist bone in his body. At first optimistic about making his current home state (Kansas) a free state, Brown attempted to grant statehood to Kansas peacefully and legally. However, after the corrupted election of 1856, with the “Border Ruffians” from Missouri, Brown had no choice but to take more drastic measures.
John Brown is not a terrorist, but a man we should all respect for standing up for his beliefs and not allowing anyone to get in his way. Because of Brown (and other tension-increasing events in the antebellum period), the Union and Confederacy fought in the Civil War, which, though it was our bloodiest war to that date, is an incredibly important piece of our country’s history. John Brown was the catalyst for the Civil War and the abolition of slavery (and indirectly, the Woman’s Suffrage Movement), and because of that, should be honored.
Emily S

Kasey L - Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:
Some people would support the pardoning of John Brown as a martyr for African-Americans because of his various efforts as an abolitionist.  But, there are still people who do not see him as a hero and instead view him as somewhat like a terrorist. 

The decision to pardon John Brown is not that simple.  Although it would be easy to simply pronounce him a national hero, both sides of the argument need to be first taken into account.
But, if the President, or even Governor Tim Kaine of Virginia, pardons John Brown, it could open many more eyes to the view that what he did was actually heroic and that efforts to stop slavery could not have been done without some violence during such a explosive time.  He only had the wellbeing of his people in mind.  Pardoning John Brown would be a step in the right direction.  

Kasey L

Response to The New York Times OP-ED Article “The 9/11 of 1859” - Mona M

Response to The New York Times OP-ED Article “The 9/11 of 1859”
Mona M
December 2, 2009
      I must admit I laughed a bit when Tony Horwitz pointed out that both John Brown and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed were bearded.  Though that is an interesting piece of trivia, comparing the two is like comparing coffee and water.  Yes, they are both drinks, but there are innumerable differences between them.  John Brown and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed are the same only in that they are both (once bearded) ideological zealots who believe they are an instrument of God’s will and that terror is the only way to get His point across.  Brown’s raid of Harper’s Ferry was largely unsuccessful—he killed few whites, and the further organized slave rebellions he had hoped to inspire never happened.  Also, treatment of slaves worsened with plantation owners’ fears of such uprisings. The 9/11 attacks were quite the opposite.  Horwitz writes that they caused “mass, indiscriminate slaughter,” and there are many large terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda that are eager to follow in 9/11’s footsteps and continue with the conspiracy encouraged and organized by several leaders including, allegedly, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and Osama Bin Laden.  Again markedly different, Brown was the sole leader of the attacks on Harper’s Ferry.
      John Brown’s purpose was clear-- abolition.  Mohammed and the 9/11 hijackers terrorized for seemingly “inscrutable ends,” possibly just to express their anti-American sentiments.   Perhaps President Obama is overreacting, but without a clear purpose from the opposition, we have no chance of knowing when the terrorists are done so that we may all return to our peaceful lives and rituals, whether they involve coffee or water. 

Kate P Response to the Reynolds article

December 2nd, 2009

Dear Editor,

Here is a response to the article Freedom's Martyr by David S. Reynold.

John Brown demonstrated great racial tolerance and made a "heroic effort to free four million enslaved blacks," but should president Obama pardon him?  In his raid against Kansas pro-slavery citizens and in his attack on the federal arsenal he killed 12 civilians.  These 12 lives were lost in vain.  The differences between the North and the South had been obvious before the incident.  The South had already talked about secession, and would have executed their original plans without Brown’s attack.  The civil war was inevitable, and Lincoln still would have emancipated the slaves.  Neither his raid nor his attack contributed to freeing the slaves after the war.  Therefore, while Brown’s intentions were good, his actions were not worth the consequences of lost lives.  John Brown does not deserve a presidential pardon because his actions did not cause any additional benefit to his cause.

Kate P

Sedona's Letter to the Editor

Editor, New York Times:
It is long overdue that John Brown be granted a posthumous presidential pardon. Not only to clear his name, but also to remind the American people of what a national hero should be.
A hero does not free an enslaved people only to enslave them again by sharing in the era’s relentless and harmful racial prejudices.
A hero has the ability to look past popular opinion and find within himself what he knows to be the moral right. A hero has the strength to act on his beliefs and give his life to support his cause. 
John brown must be saved from the loony bin of history. His raid on Harper’s Ferry was well thought out and only unsuccessful in that he did not accomplish his original goal, to inspire a slave revolt.  His efforts helped start the war that ended slavery and for a time he was rightly esteemed as a hero, a martyr for a higher cause.
Brown’s rightful title as martyr, given to him by many great men of his day, was only taken away when his views were seen as too progressive. Yes, too progressive for an era ruled by segregation and Jim Crow Laws. We have moved passed this era of racism, and we should celebrate this and inspire an end to the discrimination facing us today by clearing John Brown’s name through a Presidential Pardon.
Even today we face discrimination and our politics are plagued with moral hypocrisy. It is time the American people are reminded that a true hero can envision a society in which all men are created equal and give his life to support his belief.
-Sedona S

Erica L's Response

      In 1859, when John Brown raided Harper’s Ferry, the United States government had only one option to deal with the insurrection. They were forced to only recognize the acts of John Brown but not the motives behind the acts. As mentioned in the editorial, Brown’s plan was not absurd. He was even supported by many radical abolitionists in the North. They supplied him with both money and encouragement. Although his actions were questionable, dangerous, and extremely risky, they were supported by legitimate and honest motives. Brown was one of the first devoted and dedicated martyrs during the abolition movement Without people like him to question the values of society, it is quite possible that we would still live in a divided society. We are in an era where we can now appreciate the rebellion that caused so much fear 150 years ago, and we can pardon the “loon’s” actions.

Erica L

Natasha vK's Response

Dear Editors of the New York Times,

          Comparing John Brown, a passionate, tactful revolutionist, to an indifferent, mechanical airplane pilot, Charles Winter, is absurd.  Although both of these figures made controversial decisions–Brown leading revolts in 1859 and Winter supplying bombers in Israel in the 1940s–the unsurpassable difference between the two is each man's motivation.  Charles Winter seems no more than a conveniently willing pilot.  But James Brown was morally invested in his defying action.  As Reynold mentions, Brown's plan was well thought-out.  It shocks me that a man so intelligently rebellious is compared to a man who was neither physically nor emotionally invested in his scheme.  In this respect, John Brown is even more deserving of a presidential pardoning in order to recognize the government's mistake in executing this hero, and also to appreciate the sacrifices that revolutionists, such as John Brown, made for the betterment of our country.  

Thank you very much,
Natasha vK

Rachel's Response

Dear Editor,
     Abraham Lincoln’s response to John Brown’s brutal attack on slavery supporters in the Pottowatamie Massacre accurately captures Brown’s historic role. Lincoln viewed him as a man with good aims but disavowed actions. As Tony Horwitz mentions in “The 9/11 of 1859,” “Few if any Americans today would question the justness of John Brown’s cause.” Brown may have been fighting for a worthy ideal, but his execution was all wrong. Answering the South’s truly “peculiar institution” with violence was only adding to the growing corruption of the era and sinking to the Southern level that Brown so scorned. When John Brown took up arms against the South, he was acting as “God’s messenger” in an impassioned terrorist attack. Reaching back into history to pardon a man compared to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is a frightening thought. He may have been forward-thinking ideologically, yet most people today still view him as a deranged fanatic. A man who is, 150 years after his death, not publicly recognized as a martyr has obviously not transcended the then-crazy-but-now-a-hero label. What if 150 years from today our society has revolutionized so much that people consider Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to be such an “honorable terrorist” and want to pardon him?
Thank you!
Rachel B

Friday, December 4, 2009

Response to “The 9/11 of 1859” ~ Courtney C

Response to “The 9/11 of 1859”

Similarities in “strike force” and belief in religious purpose do not justify even a mild comparison of John Brown and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. For starters, John Brown was not solely dedicated to the suffering of others. Rather he was a man dedicated to creating a free and just country who acknowledged the cost of the emancipation of slaves. Free from the constraints of racism, John Brown died “for the furtherance of the ends of justice.” Although his actions were, admittedly, slightly misguided, would anything less have brought significant attention to slavery, an institution oppressive in itself? In the name of white supremacy, thousands of slaves were murdered, overworked, punished for disobedience. John Brown brought the issue of slavery, as an institution, to the forefront rather than masking it in a veil of free-soil advocacy, which manipulated slavery as a means to achieving a political and economic advantage.

I would be remiss if I do not acknowledge the complexity of the civil war. Yes, John Brown helped catalyze the civil war, a war that would lead to tremendous casualties on both sides. But he did so as part of a multitude of other accusations the South would levy against the North, in respect to “Southern Rights.” The civil war was not simply an overreaction to John Brown’s raid. Most importantly, his actions were guided by a just and moral desire to abolish human bondage. What was Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s, “the architect of the 9/11 attacks”, cause? A global jihad designed to create as much carnage as possible.

John Brown and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed simply cannot be rightly equated, on any level.

Courtney C

A Response to Tony Horwitz’s Article “The 9/11 of 1859” ~ Evan C

Letter to the Editor
A Response to Tony Horwitz’s Article “The 9/11 of 1859”

Dear Editor,
      I am a high school junior in an AP US History Course that is currently studying the Civil War and John Brown’s raid. As a student interested in politics, this article made history seem all the more relevant.
      In 1859, the United States chose to punish John Brown’s violent acts with an act of violence. They hanged John Brown and sunk to his level. John Brown was acting violently toward slave owners, because slave owners had acted violently toward slaves. This circular process of treating violence with violence is as effective as fighting fire with fire. Punishing murder by killing the murderer can turn murderers who claim an ideological or political cause into martyrs, and degrades moral societies in the process.
      The purpose behind John Brown’s violence was the abolition of slavery. He was opposed to the ownership and cruel treatment of human beings. That Brown could kill humans in the hope of abolishing slavery shows that he was passionate about the cause, but also hadn’t thought through the logic of his actions. His plan was to arm black slaves to revolt and gain their freedom. His act was one of violence, in a response to the horrible treatment to which slaves had been subjected. His punishment was hanging for a violent act to end a violent and unfair establishment.
      If someone is so willing to fight for the cause for which they stand, as John Brown and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed were, a suicide mission is an acceptable outcome for them as long as their desired outcome is achieved. John Brown’s desired outcome was not accomplished, and ironically an innocent free black was shot during the raid.
      Today, violence is in our daily lives (on television shows, in movies, on the streets, in our neighborhoods). When violence becomes "normal," the degree of violence increases. Everything is relative. This explains the comparison made between Brown feeding "breakfast to his hostages" and the hijackers slitting "throats with box cutters." As the times change and violence becomes a norm, violent acts become increasingly malicious.
      John Brown and his followers succeeded in their goal of terrorizing the South, which was a catalyst for the Civil War. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his followers succeeded in changing the American way of life. Their violent acts were “successes.” Perhaps violence begets violence, because if violence works the first time, it should in theory work as a counter-attack. When people are prepared to die for their cause, martyrdom is a goal along with attacking for their cause.
      If 9/11 had been treated as no more than a criminal act, the perpetrators could have been extradited and tried for their crimes, but instead our government launched into the war on terror, in which huge numbers of people have died. Just as John Brown’s raid was a catalyst for the Civil War, the 9/11 attacks accomplished huge disruption beyond the horror of that day in 2001. The economy of the United States and our standing in the world were negatively affected. As the times change, so do the forms of violence. While justice must be served, should punishment stay the same or is it the case that as Mahatma Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” 
            ~Evan C

A Response to Freedom’s Martyr - Megan C

Dear Editor,
   I felt David Reynolds did not properly portray John Brown's raid and failed to realize the impact his raid had on the South. Here is my response to Freedom's Martyr:

A Response to Freedom’s Martyr
John Brown’s raid destroyed the unity of the nation and created extreme resentment and increased racism that is still present in the South. John Brown was a radical. At the time of his raid in 1859, abolitionists only accounted for a small minority of the population in the North.  In the late 1950’s, even Abraham Lincoln did not care if slavery was “voted up, or voted down.” But, most southerners believed John Brown had the support of all northerners. The raid further isolated the South from the North and led southerners to believe that they could no longer live peacefully in the Union.
After the Civil War ended, Southerners began to romanticize life in the South during the antebellum period. In order to prevent the four million freedmen from upsetting the already established southern aristocratic hierarchy, southern state legislatures passed Jim Crow laws, which disenfranchised virtually all southern black men. The Jim Crow laws were not only a result of extreme racism, but also an attempt to keep African Americans in poverty and without a voice. Because of John Brown’s raid, southerners still feared the freedmen would rebel against white culture during the Reconstruction period. To many in the South, giving freedmen a voice in politics was no better than the slave insurrections John Brown hoped to create. Both had the power to destroy the culture of the Old South.
John Brown ultimately increased the prevalence of white supremacy ideology in the South. The raid of the United States arsenal in Harper’s Ferry and the Pottawatomie Massacre, which Brown also led, created a deep seeded resentment throughout the South that inflamed levels of segregation, lynching, and racism. 
Although “John Brown did not have a shred of racism,” he helped preserve white supremacy ideology in the South. John Brown should not be pardoned because his raid was the catalyst of the Civil War, which took the most American lives of any other war in history, and a source of extreme resentment in the South.

Megan C