The greatest American white guy


A friend of mine reminds me that today, October 16, is the 155th anniversary of John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. My friend says he’s the greatest white guy ever, which is maybe a stretch, depending on how you define ‘white’. But there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s the greatest American white guy ever. No contest. Nobody else even close.

Whenever I’m in the Adirondacks I make a point of detouring to North Elba and laying some flowers on Old Osawatomie’s grave, in the farmstead where he lived before he went to join the immortals. It’s an evocative place: rather bare and windswept, with a distant prospect of the ancient High Peaks. Though it’s quite near horrible touristy Lake Placid, you can still get a sense of what it must have been like in his day — that hard denuded historyless American landscape, the fruit of a recent genocide. God’s unwinking eye above, and a blank slate all around. And yet beneath your feet the lifegiving earth and the sense it imparts that history isn’t over; that seeds are germinating under the windswayed grass, and old moles are digging, unimpaired by age. It’s a haunted spot — haunted in the best possible way, by a ghost who wishes only to introduce us to our better selves.

By force, if necessary. And it probably is necessary. We’re creatures of darkness, and we hate the light even as we desire it.

Thoreau had some eloquent words to say about him:

For once we are lifted out of the trivialness and dust of politics into the region of truth and manhood. No man in America has ever stood up so persistently and effectively for the dignity of human nature, knowing himself for a man, and the equal of any and all governments. He needed no babbling lawyer, making false issues, to defend him. He was more than a match for all the judges that American voters, or office-holders of whatever grade, can create. He could not have been tried by a jury of his peers, because his peers did not exist.

Interesting, innit, that the greatest American white guy — the guy who does us more credit than all the sorry figures on our coinage — has no public buildings, or highways, or naval vessels named after him. The fact is, we still haven’t caught up with him. Will we ever?

28 thoughts on “The greatest American white guy

  1. I don’t know if he was the greatest white guy ever, but we all know who the worst white guys are according to the mass media and the SPLC. Turns out the worst white guys were precisely the ones Brown was hoping to recruit:

    “Another important source of support for the raid was the white mountain population of the region where Brown hoped to establish his base. Barrie Stavis, in John Brown: The Sword and the Word has added this analysis to the understanding of Brown’s strategy. The Southern mountain people, though white, had little else in common with the wealthy plantation owners of the South. The two groups were separated by class, and also by religious and ethnic backgrounds. The mountain folk were, for the most part, Scotch-Irish in descent, belonging to the Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian denominations. The plantation owners, who were predominantly Anglican, had used their great wealth to disinherit their mountain counterparts economically and politically, and referred to them derogatorily as hillbillies and crackers….

    It was estimated that by 1863 one-half of the soldiers from the northeastern counties of Georgia were hiding in the mountains. The Confederate War Office went so far as to declare that: “The condition of things in the mountain districts of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama menaces the existence of the Confederacy as fatally as either of the armies of the United States.”77 This was precisely the area in which Brown intended to operate, and his hopes of winning the mountain people over to his side are reflected in several articles of the “Provisional Constitution” which deal specifically with the relationship between the antislavery bands and the nonslaveholding Southern population.78 Brown expected mountain people would assist him by scouting, tending the sick and wounded, providing food, and concealing the presence of his forces; and he also hoped that some would join his army. It appears that those hopes were firmly based.79″

    “In The Inner Civil War, George M. Fredrickson describes John Brown as “a narrow-minded and possibly insane religious fanatic.”3 This dismissal of Brown as a lunatic or, at best, a religious fanatic, is common among contemporary historians. It is ironic that the Civil War, which cost 600,000 lives, is today considered a “reasonable” or at least “understandable” event in our history, but John Brown’s raid is disregarded as the bloody act of a “madman.”4”

  2. Here I am again in the middle of the night. This brings back haunting old memories. It is late autumn, and the shroud between the worlds is thin.

    Wikipedia — John Brown’s Body

    John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave,
    His soul’s marching on.”

    He’s gone to be a soldier in the army of the Lord,
    His soul is marching on.

    This is how they taught it to me:

    Connecticut School Room, Late 1950s, Negro Spirituals

    John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave,
    His truth is marching on.”

    He’s gone to be a soldier in the army of the Lord,
    His truth is marching on.

    This led to the Battle Hymn of the Republic, sung to the same tune:

    Battle Hymn of the Republic:

    Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
    He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
    He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
    His truth is marching on.

    Glory, glory, hallelujah!
    Glory, glory, hallelujah!
    Glory, glory, hallelujah!
    His truth is marching on.

    Very funny indeed how this is the only use which was ever put to the term “a-mouldering”. You will not hear like “Eisenhower’s body lies a-mouldering…”. You won’t, although we can assume his is a-mouldering just as nicely as John Brown’s is.

    I have been to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia where Brown was captured (he was subsequently hung). It is a pleasing little hipster village, oddly owned completely by the U.S. Federal Government.

    You may be interested to know that I just cooked up a pan of frozen artichoke hearts. Very healthy, but now I’m now reminded that they leave a most peculiar sweet taste in the mouth. OK, maybe you’re not interested in that.

    I research these comments, don’t just go blabbing my obnoxious opinions in the comments, you know. I come across some very odd things! Like this:

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯ — 10 Reasons You Should Never Get a Job

    Getting a job and trading your time for money may seem like a good idea. There’s only one problem with it. It’s stupid! It’s the stupidest way you can possibly generate income! This is truly income for dummies.

    Why is getting a job so dumb? Because you only get paid when you’re working. Don’t you see a problem with that, or have you been so thoroughly brainwashed into thinking it’s reasonable and intelligent to only earn income when you’re working? Have you never considered that it might be better to be paid even when you’re not working? Who taught you that you could only earn income while working? Some other brainwashed employee perhaps?

    Don’t you think your life would be much easier if you got paid while you were eating, sleeping, and playing with the kids too? Why not get paid 24/7? Get paid whether you work or not. Don’t your plants grow even when you aren’t tending to them? Why not your bank account?

    Who cares how many hours you work? Only a handful of people on this entire planet care how much time you spend at the office. Most of us won’t even notice whether you work 6 hours a week or 60. But if you have something of value to provide that matters to us, a number of us will be happy to pull out our wallets and pay you for it. We don’t care about your time — we only care enough to pay for the value we receive. Do you really care how long it took me to write this article? Would you pay me twice as much if it took me 6 hours vs. only 3?

    What could that possibly have to do with the a-mouldering old John Brown? Well, I got there. It lit up one of my sorely abused brain cells, however. John Brown lived with purpose! Most I know don’t actually live for much of anything. They put in the best eight hours of their lives, hopefully to build some fine thing. But that time is totally subtracted from their existence. Reminds me of the story about that guy who was pouring cement into a new New York City skyscraper, who slipped and fell into the torrent of flowing cement mix, and there was nothing they could do about it, so they just kept on pouring.

    When I see war photos of buildings that were blown up, I see human lives wasted. Someone put their life into that thing that was destroyed. How many of us, like John Brown, get to live for something that will not be wrecked by the Great Ruinators? How many?

  3. When I took the king’s shilling, they put me on a navy corvette that was named after a confederate general. I would go down to Norfolk and defile his grave but it’s not worth the trip.

  4. nice article as always MJS. question: instead of burnin’ up the brair patch, why didn’t sherman & co recruit the mountain crackers and hillbillies?

    and the control of space, geography, that has taken place. hard to even imagine a world, or a US rather, where a band of mountaineers, or a man like J.B., could even exist. Of course there are such spaces in the world, called Waziristan or whatever. and, well, we all know the rest of that story.

  5. Well, if he was half the man the he’s made out to be, seems to me it’d be even more surprising if he inspired a ton of monuments. It’s one thing to take up a cause, it’s another thing to take up a cause that no one else wants to touch. Even with the power of hindsight, that anger he caused I’m sure burned bright enough to smite whatever reformation of memory might have occurred. That’s problem with actually taking a stand, you end up making other people look bad, and they don’t like it.

  6. Here I am again in the middle of the night. This brings back haunting old memories. It is late autumn, and the shroud between the worlds is thin.

    OK. It’s October 18, 2014. Obviously Zombie Love Night. In the town I have occupied for 20 years.

    The Zombies are friendly and offer endless Budweisers (The best beer ever, never mind the hype).

    Not such a bad fate. Let them eat my flesh. My Spirit will surely live on.

  7. that it is, but there are many who chose to join the “political alliance known as the white race” and others who held back from joining this “coalition of the killing”. As for physiognomic characteristics, E.M. Forster wrote almost a century ago that “‘white’ has no more to do with a color than ‘God save the King’ with a god”.

    • That novel has been sitting on my bookshelf — a gift from my wife. Time to pull it down and read it.

      I can’t think of a greater American of any hue. He is the answer and refutation to all “crazy” dismissals.

    • “‘The White Project’? I didn’t know we needed another name for the United States.” “I mean fried-chicken and kool-aid? i don’t know where to draw the line.” funny.

  8. MJS, missed you at the “Klinghoffer” rally last night. Or was that you there with the sign, “If i’d been there, I’da shot him myself”? (for being an annoying windbag, you haters.)

    • I wasn’t able to make it, but I approve of the sentiment. I know dozens of insufferable alterkakers just like Leon, and I’d’ve thrown him off my boat too.

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