Greetings Cosmic Americans!
When John Brown was hanged in December 1859 - church bells across New England tolled for abolition's martyr. During the Civil War, Union soldiers marched off to battle with his name upon their lips. "John Brown's body lies a mouldering in the grave...." But he committed treason - he planned an insurrection intent on the murder of American citizens.
I posed the question on Facebook and Twitter as to whether or not John Brown should have a monument and got a number of thoughtful responses. I should point out, as did fellow Civil War historian and blogger Scott MacKenzie, that there are a number of monuments and markers already out there. Early twentieth century monuments in Osawatomie, Kansas and Harpers Ferry, West Virginia offer limited (although differing) analyses of Brown's role in the coming conflagration. If you are among those who subscribe to the idea that our understanding of the past is really a reflection of the present and a reflection of place, perhaps this makes sense.
How then, would our twenty-first century sensibilities inform a new monument to Brown, if one were so conceived? We (most of us, anyway) think emancipation was a good thing. We also live in a world threatened by terrorism. What then do we say about Brown? And where do we say it? Most who commented on my several posts yesterday agree that a comprehensive memorial denoting the fight to end slavery - including Brown - would be best. Memorializing the man would be tough for some people, while they could still celebrate his sentiments overall. And Harper's Ferry would be the most appropriate spot. We would of course have to highlight what he thought would become of a nation plagued by the institution - and be crystal clear concerning exactly what he was prepared to do to end it.
Can we do so without judgment? Can we provide the information and let the informed public decide? Controversy would undoubtedly ensue - but when something like this gets people fired up, then it was probably done right. We may all just have to wait and see what happens. As it stands, I know of no plans....
I will ask you this. Would you support a new monument to Brown? If so, what would you want it to look like? What would be involved?