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The American Experience
The Film & More
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David McCullough, Series Host: Hello and welcome to The American Experience. Long before the Civil War, long before Abraham Lincoln or Robert E. Lee were even born, thoughtful men and women North and South could sense the coming storm.

In the midst of the Revolutionary War, Abigail Adams of Massachusetts, in a letter to her husband John, pondered whether the agonies and bloodshed of the time were God's punishment for the sin of slavery, and if worse was yet to come.

In Virginia, where hundreds of his own slaves tilled his fields, Thomas Jefferson, dwelling on the evils of slavery, wrote, "I tremble for my country when I reflect God is just."

And when the storm came, generations later, it was little wonder that its vivid harbinger, Old John Brown, was seen by so many as a messenger of God. He himself had no doubt of it.

But who could have ever predicted that so strange and self-contrived a figure would be the one to set history on fire -- a red-faced,thread-bare, scare-crow of a man with wild reddish brown hair and sky-blue eyes with a look in them that to many bespoke madness, and who one terrible night in Kansas committed cold-blooded murder. Who could have ever forseen that it would be he as much as anyone who brought on the bloodiest American upheaval ever?

Our film is John Brown's story -- the history, the myth, the place he commands in the imagination still, and always will. For there are certain figures in the American story that loom large, no matter time's passing, indeed, whose stories must be understood if there is to be any real understanding of American history.

"John Brown's Holy War" by producer Robbie Kenner.

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