John Brown's War against Slavery


Drawing on both new and neglected evidence, this book reconstructs Old John Brown’s aborted “war” to free the 3.8 million slaves in the American South before the Civil War. It critiques misleading sources that either exalt Brown’s “heroism” and noble purpose or condemn his “monomania” and “lawlessness”. McGlone explains the sources of his obsession with slavery and his notorious crime at Pottawatomie Creek in “Bleeding Kansas” as well as how the Harpers Ferry raid figured into Brown’s larger vision and why he was...

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Drawing on both new and neglected evidence, this book reconstructs Old John Brown’s aborted “war” to free the 3.8 million slaves in the American South before the Civil War. It critiques misleading sources that either exalt Brown’s “heroism” and noble purpose or condemn his “monomania” and “lawlessness”. McGlone explains the sources of his obsession with slavery and his notorious crime at Pottawatomie Creek in “Bleeding Kansas” as well as how the Harpers Ferry raid figured into Brown’s larger vision and why he was captured in the federal armory there. John Brown’s War Against Slavery chronicles how this aged American apostle of violence in behalf of the “downtrodden,” this abolitionist “fanatic” and “terroriser,” ultimately rescued his cause by going to the gallows with resolution and outward calm. By embracing martyrdom, John Brown helped to spread panic in the South and persuaded northern sympathizers that failure can be noble and political violence “righteous.”

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"McGlone fully captures the complexities in both the man and the times, and his deeply researched, convincingly argued assessment will more than hold its own among the many other treatments of Brown with which it must compete." -John C. Inscoe, North and South

“This biography of John Brown, based on strong empirical evidence from the primary sources, supported by strong theoretical underpinnings, and built on a sophisticated understandings of nineteenth century theology and culture, is a pleasure to read and the most complete story of John Brown that we have. McGlone seamlessly interweaves a narrative of the events and time of Brown with the problems of the interpretative literature on Brown.”
-Orville Vernon Burton, Coastal Carolina University, Author Age of Lincoln

“In this fascinating and nuanced book, Robert McGlone explores in great depth the volcanic life of the most troubling and important terrorist in American history. With meticulous research and always-thoughtful use of personality theory, McGlone challenges earlier, often glib assessments and unravels many of the mysteries of Brown’s psyche. With considerable originality, he explores the deeply meaningful social and psychological patterns of Brown’s extended family, from the experiences of Brown’s grandparents to those of his children. McGlone’s analysis of the Harpers Ferry raid is notable for its accuracy and complexity of meanings. His approach is both detached and compassionate: he seeks to understand what others have merely judged.”
-Michael Fellman, Emeritus, Simon Fraser University, Author of In the Name of God and Country: Reconsidering Terrorism in American History

"This will be the standard for judging John Brown books for years to come. It is the most thoroughly researched Brown book I have ever seen. McGlone has gone everywhere, looked at every known source and found sources that have heretofore been unknown. He has questioned the standard biographers correcting their mistakes in analysis and fact, and explaining where they went wrong. McGlone's analysis of the Harpers Ferry raid is the best I have seen and his analysis of related topics, including the 'forgotten surrender' and the contributions of slaves to the raid is ground-breaking. He interrogates the stories and myths surrounding Brown and shows which will wash and which simply wash out. McGlone offers the most complex, sophisticated, and impressive study of Brown that any scholar has ever written."
-Paul Finkelman, Albany Law School

“Robert McGlone, in his compelling new study of John Brown, has resituated a major figure in American history. John Brown’s War on Slavery carefully dissects the ideals and motives of the controversial Brown. Rejecting conclusions that have polarized our national understandings, McGlone instead presents a nuanced interpretation of John Brown that is thoroughly exhaustive in terms of research, but at the same time, in that most difficult of achievements, immensely readable. McGlone is especially persuasive in his analysis of Brown’s motivations and how his actions, most famously in Kansas and at Harpers Ferry, emerge from his mental life, his family’s circumstances and his religious orientations.”
-Jean H Baker, Goucher College

"With this well-researched and compellingly written work, McGlone (Univ. of Hawai'i-Manoa) has ensured that any future studies of John Brown, slavery, and the sectional conflict will have to begin here. Essential." -Choice

" admirably human portrayal of the controversial abolitionist...and a man both deliberate nad inconsistent in his actions." -Philip Mills Herrington, The Virginia Quarterly Review

"The strength of the book lies in the author's detailed knowledge of John Brown's life and relationships. McGlone's familiarity with what he calls the Brown 'family connection' deepens our understanding of Brown's motivations and his humanity, giving us a real sense of Brown's private troubles and triumphs."
The New England Quarterly, David Reynolds, City University of New York

"In today’s context of increasingly prevalent terrorism, Robert E. McGlone’s Brown biography is especially timely..." -The Journal of American History, Tilden G. Edelstein

"McGlone's book is the new gold standard of Brown scholaship." -American Historical Review, John Patrick Daly

"...required reading for anyone seeking to understand Brown’s crucial role in bringing on the Civil War." -Nicole Etcheson, Civil War History

"...McGlone has set down a marker for the next generation of Brown scholars. This book was worth the wait." -Jonathan Earle, Journal of the Civil War Era

"...pathbreaking work..." -Kristen K. Epps, American Studies Journal

Publishers Weekly

The insurrectionary abolitionist John Brown has been made a caricature of altruism, villainy and madness; this probing biographical study attempts a more integrated portrait. Drawing on detailed exegeses of Brown's letters and other writings, University of Hawaii historian McGlone closely scrutinizes a handful of critical events for clues to Brown's character and motives, including his puzzling and fatal dawdling for hours during the 1859 Harpers Ferry raid, until his escape routes were cut off. McGlone's sympathetic but critical portrait shows an intensely religious but not naïve or delusional man, a fanatical but rational abolitionist capable of ruthless violence, who adroitly used language and symbolism to transform himself from murderer to martyr. The author ties Brown's evolving mission to his religious beliefs, his concerns about his sprawling clan-fear they would be attacked partly motivated his massacre of proslavery settlers at Pottawatomie Creek-and, less convincingly, to conflicts stemming from his relationship with his domineering father. McGlone's prose can be dense, repetitive and larded with psychological analysis, but his careful research and nuanced, many-faceted analysis make this a valuable contribution to our understanding of Brown. (July)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521514439
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 6/15/2009
  • Pages: 462
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert E. McGlone holds a PhD in history from UCLA, and is currently Assistant Professor of History at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He is the author of scholarly articles, which have appeared in journals including the Journal of American History and Civil War History. He has also contributed to several collected volumes and encyclopedias, including His Soul Goes Marching On, The Oxford Companion to African American Literature, and the Macmillan Encyclopedia of World Slavery.

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction: an exalted defeat; Part I. Inclinations of Head and Heart: 2. The connection; 3. First son; Part II. Rebirth: 4. Pilgrim; 5. Steward; 6. Terroriser; Part III. Jeremiads: 7. Monomaniac; 8. God's reaper; Part IV. Strategies: 9. Propagandist; 10. Conspirator; 11. Insurrectionist; 12. Witness; Part V. Messages: 13. God's emissary.

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