John Brown Day

Yesterday was the anniversary of John Brown’s failed insurrection at Harpers Ferry. As I’ve mentioned before, John Brown was such a humorless bastard that there’s really no way to inject even an ounce of humor into this holiday. But to celebrate, here’s a excerpt from The Minotaur & The Midwest that connects John Brown’s insurrection and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche:

At 8:00 pm on October 16, 1859, John Brown spoke the words, “Men, get on your arms; we will proceed to the Ferry.”

The group marched from the Kennedy farmhouse to Harpers Ferry in total blackness. All around them was still, and there was no moon. No one spoke. The march was “as solemnly as a funeral procession.”

In the end, the march was a funeral procession. The raid only lasted thirty six hours. In those hours, seventeen lives were lost. Of John Brown’s initial twenty-one recruits, ten were killed or fatally injured. Seven men were captured or soon to be captured.

What is there left to say about such a dismal failure?

In the dim twilight of October 16, 1859, John Brown lit a lantern and ran into the marketplace of slavery, crying “I seek God! I seek God!” As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. “Why, did he get lost?” said one. “What was your object in coming?” said another. “How many men, in all, had you?” said another. “What in the world did you suppose you could do here in Virginia with that amount of men?” Thus they laughed. John Brown jumped into their midst and pierced them with his stare.

“Whiter is God,” he cried, “I shall tell you. We have killed him– you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the Sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained this earth from its sun? Has it not become colder? Is not night and more night coming on all the while? God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.”

Here John Brown fell silent and looked again at his listeners; they too were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, where it broke and went out. “I come too early,” he said then, “my time has not come yet. This tremendous event is still on its way.”


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