John Brown's Last Speech

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John Brown's Last Speech, 1859
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2016 Gale, Cengage Learning
Full Text: 

I have, may it please the Court, a few words to say.

In the first place, I deny everything but what I have all along admitted,—the design on my part to free the slaves. I intended certainly to have made a clean thing of that matter, as I did last winter, when I went into Missouri and there took slaves without the snapping of a gun on either side, moved them through the country, and finally left them in Canada. I designed to have done the same thing again, on a larger scale. That was all I intended. I never did intend murder, or treason, or the destruction of property, or to excite or incite slaves to rebellion, or to make insurrection.

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!

Let me say one word further.

I feel entirely satisfied with the treatment I have received on my trial. Considering all the circumstances, it has been more generous than I expected. But I feel no consciousness of guilt. I have stated from the first what was my intention, and what was not. I never had any design against the life of any person, nor any disposition to commit treason, or excite slaves to rebel, or make any general insurrection. I never encouraged any man to do so, but always discouraged any idea of that kind.

Let me say, also, a word in regard to the statements made by some of those connected with me. I hear it has been stated by some of them that I have induced them to join me. But the contrary is true. I do not say this to injure them, but as regretting their weakness. There is not one of them but joined me of his own accord, and the greater part of them at their own expense. A number of them I never saw, and never had a word of conversation with, till the day they came to me; and that was for the purpose I have stated.

Now I have done.

Source Citation   (MLA 8th Edition)
Brown, John. John Brown's Last Speech, 1859. N.p, 2 Nov. 1859. Smithsonian Primary Sources in U.S. History, go.galegroup.com%2Fps%2Fi.do%3Fp%3DSMPS%26sw%3Dw%26u%3Dgale%26v%3D2.1%26id%3DGALE%257CUOPPVL851355322%26it%3Dr%26asid%3D1506139200000%7Ea804c0b58681d915b3e49975903f78c0. Accessed 23 Aug. 2017.

Gale Document Number: GALE|UOPPVL851355322

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Critical Thinking Questions

  • According to this speech, what was Brown's attitude toward violence? Was this attitude reflected in his behavior?
  • In Brown's reasoning, how would his behavior have been judged if he had fought on behalf of rich and powerful citizens rather than enslaved people?

Quick Facts

Quick Facts

  • Author: John Brown
  • Date: November 2, 1859
  • Location: Charles Town, Virginia, United States
  • Primary source: Speech

About This Primary Source

Abolitionist John Brown's last speech, delivered on November 2, 1859, at the conclusion of his trial. With this speech, Brown explains the reasoning behind his attempt to incite an uprising among enslaved people in the southern states. The dispute over slavery was becoming a national crisis by the late 1850s, with increasingly violent clashes between abolitionists and slavery supporters. Believing he was entrusted by God to destroy the institution of slavery in the United States, Brown began mounting armed attacks on slaveholders and other proslavery sympathizers. In 1859, he commenced implementation of his grand plan to raise an army of freed and runaway slaves to make war on slaveholders in Maryland and Virginia. In October 1859, he led a raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, to secure weapons for his army. The raid failed and Brown's plot was foiled. He was later arrested, tried, and found guilty of treason. Before his execution by hanging, he delivered a speech in which he explained his actions and accepted his sentence. Despite his violent tactics, Brown became a hero to many in the abolitionist movement, as well as a symbol of the extreme measures taken by some activists to advance their cause in the conflict over slavery.

Teacher's Corner

Belief in a Higher Power

Quote

Believing he was entrusted by God to destroy the institution of slavery in the United States, Brown began mounting armed attacks on slaveholders and other proslavery sympathizers.

Rationale

Abolitionist John Brown believed he had been granted divine authority to end slavery.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.2

Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.2

Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text.

NCSS High School – Theme 1. Culture and Cultural Diversity

Knowledge Point 1. Concepts such as: beliefs, values, mores, institutions, cohesion, diversity, accommodation, adaptation, assimilation, and dissonance;

War

Quote

In 1859, he commenced implementation of his grand plan to raise an army of freed and runaway slaves to make war on slaveholders in Maryland and Virginia. In October 1859, he led a raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, to secure weapons for his army.

Rationale

Abolitionist John Brown raided a federal armory in the hopes that freed slaves would wage war on slaveholders.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.2

Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.2

Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text.

NCSS High School – Theme 2. Time, Continuity, and Change

Knowledge Point 5. The impact across time and place of key historical forces, such as nationalism, imperialism, globalization, leadership, revolution, wars, concepts of rights and responsibilities, and religion;

Abolitionism

Quote

Despite his violent tactics, Brown became a hero to many in the abolitionist movement, as well as a symbol of the extreme measures taken by some activists to advance their cause in the conflict over slavery.

Rationale

The actions of abolitionist John Brown in his mission to end slavery inspired other members of the abolitionist movement.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.1

Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.1

Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.

NCSS High School – Theme 2. Time, Continuity, and Change

Knowledge Point 4. Different interpretations of key historical periods and patterns of change within and across nations, cultures, and time periods (e.g., the history of democratic principles and institutions, the development of political and economic philosophies; the rise of modern nation-states, and the establishment and breakdown of colonial systems);

Social/Political/Cultural Environment

Quote

The dispute over slavery was becoming a national crisis by the late 1850s, with increasingly violent clashes between abolitionists and slavery supporters.

Rationale

Tension over the issue of slavery plagued the United States in the decades before the Civil War.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.9

Analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specific work (e.g., how Shakespeare treats a theme or topic from Ovid or the Bible or how a later author draws on a play by Shakespeare).

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.9

Demonstrate knowledge of eighteenth-, nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century foundational works of American literature, including how two or more texts from the same period treat similar themes or topics.

NCSS High School – Theme 2. Time, Continuity, and Change

Knowledge Point 4. Different interpretations of key historical periods and patterns of change within and across nations, cultures, and time periods (e.g., the history of democratic principles and institutions, the development of political and economic philosophies; the rise of modern nation-states, and the establishment and breakdown of colonial systems);

Radicals and Revolutionaries

Quote

Brown became a hero to many in the abolitionist movement, as well as a symbol of the extreme measures taken by some activists to advance their cause in the conflict over slavery.

Rationale

John Brown's radical attempt to end slavery represented the extremist actions of the abolitionist movement.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.9

Analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specific work (e.g., how Shakespeare treats a theme or topic from Ovid or the Bible or how a later author draws on a play by Shakespeare).

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.9

Demonstrate knowledge of eighteenth-, nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century foundational works of American literature, including how two or more texts from the same period treat similar themes or topics.

NCSS High School – Theme 2. Time, Continuity, and Change

Knowledge Point 7. The contributions of philosophies, ideologies, individuals, institutions, and key events and turning points in shaping history;

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