“A call from the Almighty to gird up his loins and go forth to do battle” The Browns go to Kansas, Part 3

John Brown

Parts 1, 2

We left John Brown’s sons, including John Brown, Jr., setting up shop near the Pottawattomie. Proslavery men stole from them, threatened them, and generally made themselves a nuisance on account of the Browns’ antislavery politics. According to James Redpath, they soon came to regret going to Kansas unarmed. They came to win Kansas for freedom with their votes, not their bullets. The proslavery party insisted otherwise, so they wrote to their father asking him to come and bring guns with him.

Here Redpath’s admiration for Brown shines through. He has Brown receive the letter and unable to resist. The abolitionist

undoubtedly regarded it as a call from the Almighty to gird up his loins and go forth to do battle “as the warrior of the Lord,” as “the warrior of the Lord against the mighty,” in behalf of His despised poor and His downtrodden people. The moment long waited for had at length arrived; the sign he had patiently expected had been given; and the brave old soldier of the God of Battles prepared at once to obey the summons.

Gentle Readers, Redpath’s theological take on brown appears elsewhere in his biography. It suits the style of the times and cloaking Brown’s violent actions in holy righteousness. It probably also suited Brown himself, an intensely religious man even by the standards of a far more pious age. For most figures in the era, I would take religious proclamations like this with a few grains of salt. They may mean them, but the standards of discourse essentially demand that they say such things. For Brown it rings more true than most.

That didn’t mean that Brown shot out of the house minutes after receiving the letter, of course. Getting weapons and going to Kansas cost money, something John Brown had trouble keeping in his pockets. He took himself to an abolitionist convention in Essex County, New York. I haven’t found a copy of the speech -sorry; I have biographies on order- but Redpath quotes what appears to be a report of the affair. He uses quotation marks, but doesn’t give us a source. Thanks.

When in session, John Brown appeared in that convention, and made a very fiery speech, during which he said he had four sons in Kansas, and had three others who were desirous of going there, to aid in fighting the battles of freedom. He could not consent to go unless he could go armed, and he would like to arm all his sons; but his poverty prevented him from doing so. Funds were contributed on the spot; principally by Gerritt Smith.

Smith would keep on funding Brown and we know that the old man had the poverty and charisma to arrange such a thing, particularly with a sympathetic audience and an especially sympathetic plea. Brown didn’t want to go just to fight for freedom, a noble goal in itself. He aimed to go to Kansas to rescue his sons from possibly mortal peril.

Brown added another reason, which Redpath quotes from the man himself:

with the exposure, privations, hardships, and wants of pioneer life, he was familiar, and thought he could benefit his children, and the new beginners from the older parts of the country, and help them to shift and contrive their new home.

In other words, John Brown knew his way around the frontier. His boys could use that experience. Here we have at least a hint of the softer side of a famously hard man. He would go to Kansas for the cause, but also with an eye toward making himself of use to the many people there.

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