The Trial of John Brown: A Commentary

Douglas Linder

University of Missouri at Kansas City - School of Law


The arrest, trial, and execution of John Brown in the fall of 1859 came at a critical moment in United State history. According to historian David S. Reynolds in his biography, "John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights" (2005), Brown's actions and statements following his failed attempt to begin a slave insurrection near Harper's Ferry, Virginia so polarized northern and southern opinion on the slavery issue as to ensure Abraham Lincoln's election and cause the Civil War to occur perhaps two decades earlier than it might have otherwise. Reynolds is quick to point out that not only was Brown right on slavery and other racial issues of his day, but that his conduct - in causing the Civil War to begin in 1861 rather than, say, 1881 - potentially saved hundreds of thousands of lives that could have been lost in a war fought in a time of much greater population and more deadly weaponry and, at the same time, might well have spared an entire generation of African-Americans the humiliating experience of human bondage.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 20

Keywords: Famous Trials, Trial, John Brown, Harpers Ferry, Civil War, Slavery, Slaves, Abolitionist, Abolitionism, Pottawatomie

JEL Classification: K10, K40, K41, K42

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Date posted: October 20, 2007  

Suggested Citation

Linder, Douglas, The Trial of John Brown: A Commentary (2007). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1021330 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1021330

Contact Information

Douglas Linder (Contact Author)
University of Missouri at Kansas City - School of Law ( email )
5100 Rockhill Road
Kansas City, MO 64110-2499
United States
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