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.