Brown’s Address to the Virginia Court

From John Brown’s Address to the Virginia Court at Charles Town, Virginia on November 2, 1859:

John_Brown_hangingUnattributed, 19th Century drawing from the Virginia Military Institute archive.

“[…] I have another objection; and that is, it is unjust that I should suffer such a penalty. Had I interfered in the manner which I admit, and which I admit has been fairly proved (for I admire the truthfulness and candor of the greater portion of the witnesses who have testified in this case), had I so interfered in behalf of the rich, the powerful, the intelligent, the so-called great, or in behalf of any of their friends, either father, mother, brother, sister, wife, or children, or any of that class, and suffered and sacrificed what I have in this interference, it would have been all right; and every man in this court would have deemed it an act worthy of reward rather than punishment.

This court acknowledges, as I suppose, the validity of the law of God. I see a book kissed here which I suppose to be the Bible, or at least the New Testament. That teaches me that all things whatsoever I would that men should do to me, I should do even so to them. It teaches me, further, to “remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them.” I endeavored to act up to that instruction. I say, I am yet too young to understand that God is any respecter of persons. I believe that to have interfered as I have done as I have always freely admitted I have done in behalf of His despised poor, was not wrong, but right. Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I submit; so let it be done!

“An enthusiast broods over the oppression of a people until he fancies himself commissioned by Heaven to liberate them. He ventures the attempt which ends in little else than his own execution.”

Abraham Lincoln

“I have no doubt that our seeming disaster will ultimately result in the most glorious success. I have been whipped, but I am sure I can recover all the lost capital by only hanging a few moments by the neck.”

John Brown

David Bustill Bowser, John Brown, oil, 1860, Historical Society of Pennsylvania. African American, Philadelphia artist, Bowser executed this sympathetic portrait of Brown the year after he was executed. Bowser’s portrait was used by many others who showed Brown, alternately, as a crazed agitator bent on ruining the country or a sainted martyr defending the nation’s most fundamental principles.

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