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Edward Renehan, historian, on
John Brown's father, Owen Brown

Ed Renehan

RENEHAN: John Brown was literally weaned on anti-slavery sentiment. John Brown's father, Owen Brown, was a strict Calvinist and, as such, he held true to Jonathan Edwards' dictum that slavery was a sin against an angry, implacable God. Calvinists were called upon not just to stay away from slavery as an institution, not just to refuse to participate in slavery, they were called upon to fight slavery and to work for slavery's end. Owen Brown's household was a stop on the Underground Railroad. John Brown, as a child in that household, grew up seeing fugitive slaves come and go every day of the week for years. When the abolitionists' college, Oberlin, was founded, Owen Brown was a trustee of that institution.

Brown was only really his father's son, to my mind, in his inheritance of that abolitionist tradition. In no other way did John Brown resemble his successful, established father. Where the father did very well in business, John Brown did not. Where the father met his debts and kept his family safe economically, John Brown did not or could not. But the one area, the one piece of terrain that father and son shared was this abolitionist sentiment that was true for both of them -- the Calvinistic spin on that abolitionist sentiment that it was the wrath of an angry God that was going to descend on those who perpetuated the peculiar institution of slavery.

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