“John Brown’s life is a grand, simple epic that should inspire one to heroism…There are men who have proved their superiority to the pettiness of life, and who seem almost divine. John Brown is one of them. I think he was almost our greatest American. I know that he was the greatest man the common people of America have yet produced.
“He did not become a President, a financier, a great scientist, or artist; he was a plain and rather obscure farmer until his death. That is his greatness. He had no great offices, no recognition or applause of multitudes to spur him on, to feed his vanity and self-righteousness. He did his duty in silence; he was an outlaw. Only after he had been hung like a common murderer, and only after the Civil War had come to fulfill his prophecies, was he recognized as a great figure.
“But in his life he was a common man to the end, a hard-working, honest, Puritan farmer with a large family, a man worried with the details of poverty and obscure as ourselves. Now we are taught as school-children that only those who become Presidents and captains of finance are the successful ones in our democracy. John Brown proved that there is another form of success, within the reach of everyone, and that is to devote one’s life to a great and pure cause.
“John Brown was hung as an outlaw…Some day schoolchildren will be taught that his had been the only sort of success worth striving for in his time. The rest was dross—the personal success of the beetle that rolls itself a huger ball of dung than its fellow-beetles, and exults over it…
“…Working-class Americans, and they are the majority of the nation, did not go to the high schools and universities. Neither did John Brown. But they can read history, as he did at ten years, and they can study and makes themselves proficient in some field, as he made a surveyor of himself by home study. He also read passionately…John Brown never went to school after his childhood; but…he knew how to stir men to great deeds, and lead them in the battle.
“Great men do not need to own a college diploma; they teach themselves, they are taught by Life.
“How meaningless college degrees would sound if attached after the names of…Socrates,…Buddha, Jesus.., Danton, William Lloyd Garrison!
“As for instance: Jesus Christ, D.D.; Robert Burns, M.A.; Victor Hugo, B.S.; John Brown, Ph.D! How superfluous the titles of man’s universities, when Life has crowned the student with real and greener laurels! Yes, there are many things not taught in the colleges!...
“…John Brown saw much farther than his own times. He knew that there were many other things wrong with the social system in America besides slavery….John Brown was one of those early American radicals…who felt that the abolition of slavery was only the first step toward a free America…
“…At first there was a rush of Northern politicians to disavow and condemn John Brown’s deed. Later, there was approval; still later understanding; still later, worship.
“Yes, the old man seemed mad, as all pioneers are mad. Gorky has called it the madness of the brave. But such madness seems necessary to the world; the world would sink into a bog of respectable tyranny and stagnation were there not these fresh, strong, ruthless tempest to keep the waters of life in motion.
“Who knows but that some time in America the John Browns of today will be worshipped in like manner? The outlaws of today, the unknown soldiers of freedom…”
What’s missing in this saga
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