Horwitz, Tony. Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War. 2012.
Years before the American Civil War (1861-1865), African Americans were considered property to the whites as per the slavery institution present at the time. Slavery in the northern states was however not the same as that in the southern states as the latter was vast with cotton plantations that depended on the free labor availed by black slaves. Therefore, the difference solely lay in the economic functions of the two states with the north adjusting to the newly emerging industries and the north practicing the aforementioned large-scale cotton farming. With time, the different ideologies that governed the two parts of the country emerged as the north proclaimed itself anti-slavery while the south assumed the other position while proclaiming itself pro-slavery. Horwitz’s book gives an account of John Brown and the role he played in pushing the two conflicting sides to war. In turn, this paper seeks to identify and expound on the author’s opinions on the motivators of Brown’s mission against slavery and in turn, provide a sociological assessment on the same.
Horwitz begins his narration with a “Prologue” section that gives his views of John Brown’s Raid on Harpers Ferry (1859) as he compares it to 9/11 when the radical group al-Qaeda attacked the United States of America (3). As part of the prologue, Horwitz informs his readers that history textbooks in his high school days carried little information on the raid when compared to that of his son (3). Changes in textbook information are a direct implication on the changed views regarding Brown as in recent years he has been regarded a hero rather than the lunatic seen by Americans. Horwitz winds up the prologue while pointing out that “John Brown’s Raid” was at first referred to as the “Invasion” or “Uprising” (4) and that Lincoln Abraham had no foresight of the Civil War and advocated for the deportation of liberated slaves to Africa (4-5).
Chapter 1 titled “School of Adversity”, gives an account of Brown’s early life beginning with the fact that he is named after a grandfather who died while fighting in the Revolutionary War of 1775 to 1783 (10). His grandfather is the motivator behind Brown’s readiness for war as evidenced by his ability to engage the southerners in battles. The next section of the chapter gives an account of Brown’s losses including a yellow marble given to him by an Indian friend and the loss of his bobtail squirrel, for the latter, he was in mourning for a an estimated two years. However, the death of his mother at childbirth is the worst (11) and propelled to his terming of the losses as “the beginning of a severe but much needed course of discipline” (11). With regard to his religion, Brown’s beliefs found basis on Calvinism, “a faith ever vigilant against sin and undue attachment to the things of this world” (1) Said beliefs play a major role in shaping Brown’s religious upbringing and later the ideologies against slavery (9-13). The first chapter forms the basis to Brown’s mission against slavery as his losses allow him to empathize with the black slaves and his religion stands against the same as it is viewed as sin.
Chapter 4 to 8 gives the road to Harper Ferry. The accounts of the caning of Sumner Charles of the north by Brooks Preston of the south and the “Sack of Lawrence” where pro-slavery forces attacked Lawrence, Kansas and the roles both incidents played to further propel Brown’s cause (47-50). From then on, readers gain insight on the targeting of Harper’s ferry in a bid to disarm the pro-slavery forces (68-72). While taking part in the “Underground Railroad” (88-93), Brown manages to gather recruits whom readers are aware were either in their early twenties or in their teenage years (112-116). Without the support of other “Underground Railroad” abolitionists like Tubman Harriet (80-83) and Douglass Frederick (112-116), details on Brown and his men’s attack on Harpers Ferry are present in Chapter 8, “Into the Breach”. First, Brown and his men take Washington Lewis as a hostage (133-137), then he let the B&O train full of passenger go free (141-143) with the risk of his plans becoming known therefore leading to the West Virginia residents coming out to prevent the raid (148-149).
“I Am Nearly Disposed of Now” is the heading of chapter nine, it is here that Lee Robert, and James Stuart’s men engage Brown and his men in battle (174-180). However, Brown’s attitude shocked the Southerners as he refused to surrender and when caught showed no fear (185-187). The trial and execution of Brown and his men are present in Chapters 10 and 11. The fairness of the trial has been in debate as the jurors mainly encompassed pro-slavery southerners who were against Brown’s abolitionist movement (192-195). It is important to note that Brown’s lawyers went on defense while pleading insanity (204-206) but with the Southerner’s determination to hang the man. Consequently, the court passes a guilty verdict leading to Brown’s hanging on December 2, 1859 (255-257). From there to the final chapter, Horwitz takes the readers through Brown’s courtroom speech that he believes to be the first incitement of the Civil War. Horwitz’s views originate from the perception that, the northern States saw Brown’s actions as that of a martyr when taken to the gallows. Consequently, the author informs readers on his thoughts regarding the Harpers Ferry raid, Brown’s capture, and later his execution (233-239).
The presentation of information regarding the events led up to John Brown’s execution follow a systematic formula in that it covers Brown’s life from childhood to his adult life. In addition, the inclusion of childhood, that explains his attitude and actions later in life, are the author’s means of ensuring readers see Brown as a normal child that grows up learning different concepts about life. It is safe to argue that Horwitz’s intentions find basis in the historical views attributed to Brown with the anti-slavery and pro-slavery forces having different feelings towards the man. Horwitz’s views are however inclined on the notion that despite the notions about Brown’s sanity, the man knew exactly what he was doing the whole period of his abolitionist activities.
Brown’s sanity is according to Horwitz’s reasoning, evidenced by his past and the society in which he grows up. The death of his mother allows him to identify with the sufferings of the African American slaves and witnessing the mistreatment of said slaves are his motivations. As he seeks the help of other abolitionists, including liberated blacks, none is forthcoming and so he resorts to other means of gaining the needed support. Horwitz including these details is not by chance, as he gradually builds the idea in his readers’ minds. However, it is not until the end of the text where his true intentions are clear.
The connection between John Brown’s actions and the incitement of the American Civil War are evident in “Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War”. From the details of his childhood to his participation in the emancipation of slave, the book highlights the impact of John Brown on the abolitionists. However, the text also suggests a martyr death of the protagonist. This paper will explore the identified relationships between Brown and the societal normality of slavery, Brown and the abolitionist movement and that between Brown’s death and the American Civil War. These structures allow Horwitz to present his ideas on the role Brown plays in the American society before the Civil War.
Brown’s religious views, family upbringing, and personal experiences are the main causes behind his inability to reconcile with slavery. The condemnation of the act of slavery in the Calvinism religion acts as propeller of Brown’s life. The Brown family never owned slaves and show compassion for the black slaves’ mistreatments at the hands of their masters. Both factors lead to his abhorring slave ownership and decision to fight the same. Another factor is Brown’s loss of his mother that allows him to relate to the blacks. Since the whites forcefully separate black children from their mothers, the idea of Brown pitying the slaves is well founded. A good example is Douglass Frederick, sold to another plantation away from his mother owner at a young age. Moreover, Brown suffers other losses aside from that of his mother and the feeling of loss, such as his mourning the bobtail squirrel, drives his empathetic feelings deeper.
Brown’s involvement in the abolitionist movement saw to his fulfillment of a lifelong dream. As evidenced by his childhood and family ideologies, Brown’s destiny shows inclination towards taking action against slavery. From his rallying of followers to the meetings with other abolitionists to persuade them into joining his cause, Brown exhibits determination to bring down the slavery institution. At the same time, Brown aims at bringing about some change in America. Despite the brand of a lunatic killer, he still shows moments of compassion in the book. A good instance is his decision to let a passenger train pass with all its occupants intact knowing very well the people will tell of his intent to raid Harpers Ferry. Aside from this, the notion of his lunacy originates from other white men who believe him to be a traitor. Blacks’ views of his heroic acts of helping them flee to Free states, through the” Underground Railroad”, and determination for their emancipation, portray a hero.
Upon his death, Brown’s goals reach fulfillment although he is not there to witness the indirect victory. As aforementioned, the northern states and the black people view Brown as a martyr. In addition, the unfairness the people witness during his trial and execution at the hands of the Southerners’ confederate courts, propel the determination of the abolitionists. Consequently, his bravery acts as a motivator while his acceptance to die at the hands of the enemy calls for retribution by those with a similar cause. After his death, the northerners engage the south in battles that eventually lead to full blown Civil War. These factors directly forms the basis to Horwitz’s title “Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War”, while projecting his ideas on John Brown’s actions in the years prior the Civil War.
Two sides of John Brown’s life history are present in Horwitz’s narration. While one side presents a possibly psychotic man who betrays his race and leads to the loss of his peoples’ economic backbone, the other portrays a hero who dies for a human race because of his beliefs. Each of the said sides finds basis on its political, societal, and economic ideologies that are different, hence leading to the opposing forces that emerge and fight in the American Civil War. Horwitz’s decision lies with the anti-slavery forces as he opts to see John Brown as a hero and therefore, embarks on an analytical journey to prove his theory. From the anti-slavery’s perspective, it is clear that John Brown is indeed a hero and the lunacy claims are baseless. Brown’s heroism is the most plausible argument, as slavery was a degrading and inhumane practice regardless of skin color. The idea of one race being superior to another is also unfounded as humans are equal, very much in the nineteenth century as it is in that of twenty-first. However, without the insanity, from the pro-slavery’s point of view, John Brown is a traitor to the white race for fighting against them instead of assuming the opposite position by strengthening their forces.
Horwitz, Tony. Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War. Michigan: Large Print Press, 2012. Print.