Monday, December 20, 2010

John Brown's Raid

"I just feel like marching, always, when that tune is played." 
-President Abraham Lincoln
John Brown's Harper's Ferry raid was a watershed moment in defining the limitations of inalienable rights after the American Revolution. While the cultural, religious, and economic differences heighten tensions in the relationships between the North and South, Brown's raid becomes an exemplary embodiment of the ideological and regional struggle. Brown's martyrdom represents the realization of the hopes of the North and the fears of South. Brown's paradoxical “patriotic treason” highlights a cognitive dissonance between the values of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Brown's raid highlights the ideological inconsistency in both regions' irrational response of violence, which heightens the distrust that brings about the American Civil War.
"When I hear music, I fear no danger.
I am invulnerable. I see no foe.
I am related to the earliest times, and to the latest."
-Henry David Thoreau
While Northerners had condemned slavery, declaring it a threat to Union and a sin against humanity, John Brown's armed insurrection declared black liberation as an inalienable right. Brown argued he was compelled by the law of God to eliminate the sin of slavery. While many abolitionists saw slavery's extinction as necessary, they could not envision the means to achieve this goal without infringing upon state sovereignty protected by the Constitution.
"I do not think this army could survive without music."
-General Robert E. Lee
John Brown's vision of a utopian society provides a clear foil to Northern ambivalence towards the question of slavery. His constitution reflects his individual interpretation of the role government ought to play in society. His Provisional Constitution for the state of Virginia ambitiously asserts the priority of individual and human rights over state sovereignty. Brown asserts the ability to confiscate property from slaveholders and enforce religious doctrines. He envisioned an ideal society where all property is held common between those he deems qualified for membership (68).
"I know only two tunes. 
One of them is Yankee Doodle and the other isn't." 
-General Ulysses S. Grant
In the pursuit of these religious and moral ideals, John Brown was adamant about his right to self defense in response to the violent forces that maintain slavery. He argued that he did not wish to overthrow the United States government violently but was asserting his right to bear arms in order to protect the inalienable rights of the slaves he sought to free. Brown objected to the argument that the struggle against slavery was a struggle against the United States. He claims he sought the nation's salvation, not its destruction. Slaveholders were traitors, not freedom fighters. Brown argues only through armed resistance will “the desired end may be effectually secured by the means proposed; namely, the enjoyment of our inalienable rights”(22).
"Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees..." 
-General Stonewall Jackson
The raid revealed divisions within the North over these violent means to eliminate slavery in the South. The Democratic New Hampshire Patriot argued that the raid “shall serve to recall the public mind from prejudice and excitement to a clear and honest consideration of the dangerous tendencies of pernicious doctrines.” The paper questioned whether the violence at Harper's Ferry was a “fair and natural consequence” of black republicans' rhetoric in response to the events in Kansas. They attacked William Seward's assertion that the economies of the North and South were incompatible because they were dictated by a “doctrine of 'irrepressible conflict'” as the most troubling “sum and substance of their political faith” (107). John Brown's massive business failures and family fatalities could arguably be attributed to the effect slavery had on free labor. Seward's Republican nomination opponent, Abraham Lincoln, later argued that the effects slavery had in stoking problems in interstate commerce and domestic tranquility that required the use of force, fulfilling the promise of the Declaration without subverting the Constitution.
"To be interested in the public good we must be disinterested, that is, not interested in goods in which our personal selves are wrapped up."  
- General George Meade
The Albany, New York, Evening Journal article “From the Philadelphia Press, argues that “whatever sympathy the fate of John Brown awakens, will be occasioned by his bearing through an ordeal so trying, rather than any complicity of feeling in his lawless enterprise” (109). While the majority of the North is unwilling to endorse Brown's methods, Henry David Thoreau argues Brown's “commitment to justice and equality” forced him to use civil disobedience to act upon his own conscience (111). He criticizes newspaper editors that characterize Brown as “insane” or acting out of “revenge” against the South. Thoreau pleas not for Brown's life but rather his “immortal soul,” arguing that the North will not have their revenge until slavery is no more.

Arguing against the insanity defense, Brown cites the Golden Rule as justification for his actions at trial. He cites the Bible stating “remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them,” even if he must forfeit his life to “mingle my blood...of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicket, cruel, and unjust enactments (87). Brown's prophecies affirmed the South's greatest fear: bloody conflict.

Southern fears of revenge weighed heavily on Governor Henry Wise's decision to approve the Virginia jury's conviction Brown of treason, murder and inciting a slave insurrection against Virginia, sentencing Brown to death. Having earned respect for Brown's eloquent defense, he was left with the decision of either declaring Brown insane and commuting Brown's sentence or going forward with Brown's execution, making him a martyr.
"I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation.  
War is hell."
-General William Tecumseh Sherman 
Arguments about state sovereignty rang hollow to Northerners who watched slave owners willingly invade free states, calling on the federal government to enforce the Fugitive Slave Law and the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision. The federal government's relinquishing of power in the Brown trial, despite the fact that the raid was on a federal armory and was enforced by the Marines, undermined states rights arguments from the South. The Mason Report investigating the suppliers of money, guns, and ammunition attempted to use federal powers to implicate Republicans.
"I have always thought 'Dixie' one of the best tunes I have ever heard. That tune is now federal property and it is good to show the rebels that with us in power, they will be free to hear it again."
-President Abraham Lincoln
The Petersburg (Virginia) Express called the raid “The Harper's Ferry Conspiracy” and implicated Republicans with sowing seeds of rebellion against the South through their thefts of slave property. Security and Southern state sovereignty became a call to arms in prevention of an abolitionist invasion (108). These pressures force a conviction for Wise because despite “general appeal of sympathizers with the crimes” he could not pardon Brown's acts “without exciting bad men to action of rescue or revenge”(129).
Henry David Thoreau
Henry David Thoreau condemned popular sovereignty as the judgment of sanity. 
He asked, 
“How then can they print truth? If we do not say pleasant things, they argue, nobody will attend to us. And so they do like some traveling auctioneers, who sing an obscene song in order to draw a crowd around them”(116). 
Like music, in the triad of inalienable rights—life, liberty, and property—we can determine the quality of relationships as major or minor according to what we consider “home” but everyone only needs to hear that one inconsistent note for Americans to feel the dissonance.

"The nation which indulges toward another a habitual hatred or habitual fondness is in some degree a slave..."

-President George Washington, Farewell Address

Works Cited
John Brown's Raid on Harper's Ferry: A Brief History with Documents- Jonathan Earle

Saturday, October 23, 2010


"Just because something doesn't do what you planned it to do doesn't mean it's useless."
—Thomas A. Edison

"If I find 10,000 ways something won't work, I haven't failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward."
—Thomas Edison

"I am proud of the fact that I never invented weapons to kill."
—Thomas Edison

"There is no expedient to which a man will not go to avoid the labor of thinking."
—Thomas Edison

"The value of an idea lies in the using of it."
—Thomas Edison

"To my mind the old masters are not art; their value is in their scarcity."
—Thomas Edison

"Your worth consists in what you are and not in what you have."
—Thomas Edison

"One might think that the money value of an invention constitutes its reward to the man who loves his work. But... I continue to find my greatest pleasure, and so my reward, in the work that precedes what the world calls success."
—Thomas Edison


“I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success... Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything.”
-Nikola Tesla

The practical success of an idea, irrespective of its inherent merit, is dependent on the attitude of the contemporaries. If timely it is quickly adopted; if not, it is apt to fare like a sprout lured out of the ground by warm sunshine, only to be injured and retarded in its growth by the succeeding frost.”
-Nikola Tesla

The spread of civilisation may be likened to a fire; First, a feeble spark, next a flickering flame, then a mighty blaze, ever increasing in speed and power.”
-Nikola Tesla

"If Edison had a needle to find in a haystack, he would proceed at once with the diligence of the bee to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search.
I was a sorry witness of such doings, knowing that a little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety per cent of his labor.”
-Nikola Tesla

“My method is different. I do not rush into actual work. When I get a new idea, I start at once building it up in my imagination, and make improvements and operate the device in my mind. When I have gone so far as to embody everything in my invention, every possible improvement I can think of, and when I see no fault anywhere, I put into concrete form the final product of my brain.”
-Nikola Tesla

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Frederick Douglass on struggle and progress

"If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning.

It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake."
-Frederick Douglass

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Practice without theory - Da Vinci

He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast. 

– Leonardo da Vinci

Friday, July 16, 2010

Long for the sea...

"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people together to collect wood and assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea." 

-Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Monday, June 28, 2010

Wading the River

A man on foot, with his clothes in a bundle, coming to a stream which he must ford, made elaborate preparations by stripping off his garments, adding them to his bundle, and tying all to the top of a stick, which enabled him to raise the bundle high over his head to keep them dry during the crossing. He then fearlessly waded in and carefully made his way across the rippling stream, and found it in no place up to his ankles.

-Abraham Lincoln

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Edgar Allan Poe

Music, when combined with a pleasurable idea, is poetry; music without the idea is simply music; the idea without the music is prose from its very definitiveness.
-Edgar Allan Poe

Robert Frost

Words exist in the mouth not in books. You can't fix them and you don't want to fix them. You want them to adapt their sounds to persons and places and times. You want them to change and be different.

...Take, for instance, the expression 'oh.' The American poets use it in practicallly one tone, that of gradeur: 'Oh Soul!' 'Oh Hills!' 'Oh Anything!'That's the way they go. But think of what 'oh' is really capable: the 'oh' of scorn, the 'oh' of amusement, the 'oh' of surp[rise, the 'oh' of doubt- and there are many more."

- Robert Frost

Monday, May 31, 2010

Einstein - "Joyfully marches to music rank and file"

"He who joyfully marches to

music rank and file, has already earned my contempt. He has been
given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord
would surely suffice. This disgrace to civilization should be
done away with at once. Heroism at command, how violently I hate
all this, how despicable and ignoble war is; I would rather be
torn to shreds than be a part of so base an action. It is my
conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an
act of murder." 

-Albert Einstein

"One of the strongest motives that
lead men to art and science is escape from everyday life with its
painful crudity and hopeless dreariness, from the fetters of one's
own ever-shifting desires. A finely tempered nature longs to escape
from the personal life into the world of objective perception and

-Albert Einstein