John Brown's Raid on Harper's Ferry

From Ohio History Central
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Brown, John (3).jpg

In 1859, abolitionist John Brown was responsible for one of the most important events that led to the American Civil War.

On October 16, Brown led a group of twenty-one men on a raid of Harper's Ferry, Virginia (modern-day West Virginia). A federal arsenal was in the town, and Brown hoped to capture the buildings and the weapons stored inside of them. He then intended to distribute the guns and ammunition to slaves in the region, creating an army of African Americans that would march through the South and force slaveholders to release their slaves. Brown and his men succeeded in capturing the arsenal, but local residents surrounded the buildings, trapping the abolitionists inside. A detachment of United States Marines arrived and stormed the arsenal on October 18, capturing seven men, including Brown.

The state of Virginia charged Brown with treason. During this time, slave states commonly accused people who encouraged or led slave rebellions of treason against the state. The court found Brown guilty and sentenced him to death. On December 2, 1859, Brown was hanged. He became a martyr for many Northerners. Some of these people feared that the United States had become a government dominated by Southern slave owners. Many white Southerners became convinced that all abolitionists shared Brown's views and his willingness to utilize violence. Brown's Harper's Ferry raid raised issues for the presidential election of 1860. It was also one of the events that led to the eventual dissolution of the United States and the civil war that followed.

Brown's actions also created numerous problems for Ohioans. By the mid 1850s, the Republican Party had formed in Ohio, and its candidates campaigned on a platform of limiting slavery. Many non Republicans believed that Republicans sought the complete overthrow of slavery. Ohio Democrats used Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry to label the Republicans as extremists.

Several of Brown's men were also from Ohio. These men included John Anthony Copeland, Jr., Lewis Sheridan Leary, and Shields Green. Both Copeland and Green survived Brown's raid, but military officials also captured them. Like Brown, they were tried for treason against Virginia, found guilty, and executed by hanging, despite efforts by Ohio Governor Salmon P. Chase to secure either extradition or pardon for these two men.

Brown's actions also created additional problems for Ohioans. By the mid 1850s, the Republican Party had formed in Ohio, and its candidates campaigned on a platform of limiting slavery. Many non Republicans believed that Republicans sought the complete overthrow of slavery. Ohio Democrats used Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry to label the Republicans as extremists.