[Marxism] Re: Happy Birthday, John Brown "It would be in vain to kill him."
Brian_Shannon at verizon.net
Tue May 10 09:07:45 MDT 2005
When I was young I read Thoreau. And even reread him a few times. But I
never read this essay until I became an active socialist.
I had read of it in a biography of him, and it had slipped to the back
of my mind. I recalled it when reading the differences between Martin
Luther King and Malcolm X. It was claimed that MLK was inspired by
Gandhi and Thoreau's pacifist essay "On the Duty of Civil
But I knew that Thoreau was not a pacifist and that he had defended
John Brown. So I began looking for the essay. I found seven collections
of essays by Thoreau. Only one of them had his defense of Brown. The
other collections presented Thoreau as a pacifist and each discussed
his influence, along with Gandhi, on pacifism. Two referred to his
influence on MLK.
If you haven't read this essay before, perhaps these quotes will lead
you on. To present Thoreau in extracts is almost a physical violation.
However, it is all available on the Internet.
A PLEA FOR CAPTAIN JOHN BROWN
by Henry David Thoreau
[Read to the citizens of Concord, Mass., Sunday Evening, October 30,
[Compared to American Revolutionists]
He was like the best of those who stood at Concord Bridge once, on
Lexington Common, and on Bunker Hill, only he was firmer and higher
principled than any that I have chanced to hear of as there. It was no
abolition lecturer that converted him. Ethan Allen and Stark, with whom
he may in some respects be compared, were rangers in a lower and less
important field. They could bravely face their country's foes, but he
had the courage to face his country herself, when she was in the wrong.
He did not go to the college called Harvard, good old Alma Mater as she
is. He was not fed on the pap that is there furnished. As he phrased
it, "I know no more of grammar than one of your calves." But he went to
the great university of the West, where he sedulously pursued the study
of Liberty, for which he had early betrayed a fondness, and having
taken many degrees, he finally commenced the public practice of
Humanity in Kansas, as you all know. Such were his humanities and not
any study of grammar. He would have left a Greek accent slanting the
wrong way, and righted up a falling man.
[Not an ABBer]
He was one of that class of whom we hear a great deal, but, for the
most part, see nothing at all,--the Puritans. It would be in vain to
kill him. He died lately in the time of Cromwell, but he reappeared
here. Why should he not? Some of the Puritan stock are said to have
come over and settled in New England. They were a class that did
something else than celebrate their forefathers' day, and eat parched
corn in remembrance of that time. They were neither Democrats nor
Republicans, but men of simple habits, straightforward, prayerful; not
thinking much of rulers who did not fear God, not making many
compromises, nor seeking after available candidates.
[On Being in a Minority]
The newspapers seem to ignore, or perhaps are really ignorant of the
fact, that there are at least as many as two or three individuals to a
town throughout the North who think much as the present speaker does
about him and his enterprise. I do not hesitate to say that they are an
important and growing party. We aspire to be something more than stupid
and timid chattels, pretending to read history and our Bibles, but
desecrating every house and every day we breathe in.
["the present form of slavery shall be no more here"]
I foresee the time when the painter will paint that scene, no longer
going to Rome for a subject; the poet will sing it; the historian
record it; and, with the Landing of the Pilgrims and the Declaration of
Independence, it will be the ornament of some future national gallery,
when at least the present form of slavery shall be no more here. We
shall then be at liberty to weep for Captain Brown. Then, and not till
then, we will take our revenge.
from Brian Shannon
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