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Edward Renehan, historian, on
John Brown's many faces

Ed Renehan

RENEHAN: : I don't think there's any more enigmatic fellow in our national past than John Brown. Look at all his many faces: the devout Christian, the lying, swindling businessman, the con man, the selfless martyr, the murderer, the terrorizer, the killer of fathers ... while children look on. He is all these people, and he's a very hard guy to get a bead on him -- not just now, so many decades later. But I think even then there were mixed, confused emotions about Brown. Thomas Wentworth Higginson, writing about Brown many decades after Brown was dead, talked about the insanity that sat within the great hero -- the selfless martyr -- and Higginson always blamed himself. Higginson, in retrospect, decided that John Brown was a self-destructive force, and Higginson blamed himself for not realizing that John Brown was bound to doom himself in some way, shape, or form on his fight. And, in the end, Higginson viewed it as an unnecessary martyrdom that John Brown had surrendered himself to.

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