To the slave owners, he was a terrorist. To his friends such as Harriett Tubman, he was a brave man. History has both considered him a martyr and insane. Daring men and women who put their lives on the line to change the course of the river of history need to be a bit mentally disturbed. His life has been written about extensively, including books by the great African American scholar W.E. Du Bois.
Had not Brown taken up weapons and attempted to start a violent overthrow of slavery, one can only speculate how much longer slavery would existed. Obviously enslaved Africans were not going to go on in that condition forever, so no doubt eventually, with or without the help of abolitionists, they would have risen up to slay all the white slave owners and plantation overseers, and their families. So the days of the old South were numbered, if only God knew the last days.
In 1859 John Brown had gathered men to his cause, and they attacked the armory at Harper’s Ferry. While he succeeded, in the end he lost this battle, as he was captured along with a number of his men. Tried and convicted, he and the men were hung.
But John won the Civil War to which he helped give the incipient momentum.
Vitor Hugo wrote, before the execution:
Politically speaking, the murder of John Brown would be an uncorrectable sin. It would create in the Union a latent fissure that would in the long run dislocate it. Brown’s agony might perhaps consolidate slavery in Virginia, but it would certainly shake the whole American democracy. You save your shame, but you kill your glory. Morally speaking, it seems a part of the human light would put itself out, that the very notion of justice and injustice would hide itself in darkness, on that day where one would see the assassination of Emancipation by Liberty itself. …
Let America know and ponder on this: there is something more frightening than Cain killing Abel, and that is Washington killing Spartacus