In the course of American history few events have proven more influential than the Civil War. One could probably argue that, given the questions left unfinished by the country's founding, the Civil War was inevitable. One can also argue that, given how the Civil War and Reconstruction divided the country, we are still living with its aftermath. The country's "original sin" of slavery, while ended by the sword (and constitutional amendment) has left a legacy--far more intractable--of racism and inequality.
In the march toward the Civil War, few events were more "catalytic" than the raid on Harpers Ferry Virginia by John Brown. This weekend marks the 150th anniversary of Brown's ill-fated attempt to mobilize an armed insurrection of slaves and abolitionists and lead them throughout the countryside, striking a mortal blow to bondage in America. The story of John Brown is incredibly fascinating, despite the fact that his raid on Harpers Ferry ended in failure and his hanging. While his rag-tag band, in retrospect, seemed destined to fail (a judgment made at the time by abolitionist Frederick Douglass), what John Brown did, in many people's eyes, was send a shock wave throughout the south and move the country, perhaps inextricably, toward war. Whether John Brown was a prophet or terrorist, his place in American history cannot be denied.
To get a sense of John Brown, his raid, and its effect on the country, please check out this lecture by Yale historian David Blight. In fact, spend some time with his entire course on the Civil War and Reconstruction. This series of lectures is absolutely riveting. I'm only half way through them and have been deliberately pacing myself. Each lecture sends me to the library and the internet to further immerse myself in this most important episode of our history.