Meteor of War: The John Brown Story

Meteor of War: The John Brown Story


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Few men in American history have been at once as glorified and maligned as John Brown. From his attack of the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Virginia, in October 1859, as part of a scheme to free the slaves, Brown has been called a saint and sinner, rogue and redeemer, martyr and madman. Brown rebelled against the American government, and he murdered men in Kansas in order to end the murderous institution of slavery. He denounced war, but made war on his government in order to end an existing war for slavery.

This anthology, which presents Brown's writings and diverse responses to his life and raid, offers a lens through which to analyze these tensions and contradictions. Extensive introductions to every source offer a close reading of language and provide full historical and biographical background. An introduction to the book traces Brown's changing image across time -- a "John Brown Cycle." An afterword considers the possible futures of the John Brown mythology.


Part I: The Making of a Man and a Militant.
Part II: The Road to Kansas and Harper's Ferry.
Part III: The Harper's Ferry Raid and Aftermath.
Part IV: The Making of a Myth.

David Brion Davis, author of The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture
No figure in American history has evoked such an extraordinarily wide range of praise and blame, and condemnation and deification, as John Brown. Zoe Trodd and John Stauffer's marvelous anthology helps us understand how a supposed madman and brutal terrorist could also be hailed as a saint or as an anti-racist Jesus who turned the gallows into a cross.

Michael Fellman, author of The Making of Robert E. Lee
In their brilliant introduction, Trodd and Stauffer elucidate with precision the still living legend of John Brown, liberator of the slaves. In complex and dramatic ways, Brown remains a mythic figure demonstrating both the structural violence and the potential redemption of American society. Their much needed and judicious selection of letters and other primary documents shows Brown playing out his dramatic life, often in confusion, anger, and defeat, but finally, in imitation of St. Paul and Christ, transforming himself into the American martyr incarnate. As other documents reveal, Brown’s contemporaries immediately reacted to what could be made of the life and death personal and political meanings that revealed the depth of contradiction between liberty and slavery, the paramount American aspiration and the great American evil.

Louis A. DeCaro Jr., author of John Brown: The Cost of Freedom
Trodd and Stauffer have compiled an impressive collection of documents, including many of Brown's personal letters and writings, letters of his contemporaries, newspaper articles, testimonies, reminiscences, and oratorical classics. Meteor of War also includes over 30 images, a scholarly bibliography, and a very helpful chronology that traces John Brown's life in parallel with the major events of the antebellum US, all of which give this labor an added value for classroom use. Equally notable is the well-written introduction in which Brown's historical and cultural image is considered. Stauffer and Trodd are literary scholars, and their opening commentary provides a fascinating interpretation of the Old Man as a mythic figure.... broadly researched and well-written.

Stephen Mintz, Columbia University, author of America and Its Peoples
A brilliant collection of annotated primary sources.