Nathaniel — impersonal forces, 3D and improv

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Nathaniel — impersonal forces, 3D and improv

Sunday, February 11, 2018

5:20 a.m. The last dream I awakened from was full of English voices, characters. I realized, they were the result of watching so much English drama and documentary lately. And I thought, maybe this is what dreaming is, sometimes: We seize this or that character and get the feel of them and set them to doing improv. Rather like life in general on a larger scale, it seems like, now, writing this.

And perhaps that’s the text for the day’s sermon? For you said last time you might begin to “round things off,” and I’m wondering if this dream isn’t the jumping-off point. You said, to address the question of “toward what?”

You may notice that you are beginning to be led by your dreams in a new way, they orienting you to an emotional point of entry of a topic. Rather than trying to read a dream literally, or as symbols, you are learning to ask why that dream now, and why the effects of that dream now. Of course, what is news for you is yesterday’s news for someone else; it isn’t like a shining new departure for the world at large.

No, I understand that. I’ll settle for “news to me.”

And others, perhaps, of course; we don’t mean to imply it concerns you alone (if there were such a thing as “alone” for anyone). But this is another way in which you are not orphans in the world: The thing you struggle toward [that is, understanding of life] is not impossible of access. Everything has been realized before, at some time or another. It isn’t like the whole thing is on you, no matter what the thing or who the “you” may be. Only, it always is needing to be updated, and that’s your struggle, you see. Now take what we just said and apply it more widely – and here we are very much addressing those reading over your shoulder, for it is a truth that will long outlast you, and them. What we just described is an aspect of life in its underlying nature, which means in its meaning. You are always updating the world’s files, you might say.

The current generation – whatever current generation we may speak of – is always putting into 3D expression certain enduring truths? I know that doesn’t get it, and I know we’ll probably have to go at it slowly, but that’s the sense I’m groping toward.

That’s right. Fast insight and slow exposition. There are worse ways to work.

Remember the continual existence of the vast impersonal forces. They do not exist only in 3D; that would be impossible. But they blow through the 3D world in blowing through the All-D, of course. And it is the 3D’s relative resistance combined with its innate plasticity that allows those forces to be – captured, one might say; shaped; molded into intermediate and creative form.

I get the impression you are finding this difficult to express. Difficult in itself, difficult through me in particular, or what?

That is less of a difference than you might think, but let us not divert to it. We are at the nub of this particular exposition.

All right.

When people ponder the meaning of living, they can bring to their understanding only the things they know or suspect or think they know. You can’t stack blocks you don’t have. So, given that no two people have the same inventory, no two people do the sums and arrive at the same answer, even if they’re all following the same rules of arithmetic – which, by the way, usually they are not. So – trust your own reckoning, but keep in mind that at best you will be only relatively correct, and certainly only somewhat complete. You won’t know everything or understand everything that you know, and so what? You are not so constructed that you could. No one ever had or ever will, and it wouldn’t even be of assistance if someone – or everyone – could. That isn’t the purpose of 3D life. It is viewpoint, not summation, that 3D experience is designed to produce, and if you once really absorb that fact, you’ll see how life is never a failure or a tragedy or a pointless tale told by an idiot, no matter how it seems.

The vast impersonal forces blow through the universe, the weather affecting the atmosphere, so to speak. Only, in the slowed-down 3D crucible, the effect of those winds is embodied, is slowed and shaped and modeled. You begin to see?

I think so. You’ve said we are doing improv, and I’m beginning to see that we are expressing by our natures what we are, animated by the forces that blow through us but are not us.

They are and they are not; that’s a matter of viewpoint too. The spirit bloweth where it will: That isn’t anything to do with your will. Yet, it blows through your shaped and ever-reshaping character, which produces the music, and that is to do with you. You may have been created a harp or an oboe or a guitar, so to that extent the music you produce is limited, but an instrument may be in tune or not, may be adequate to the stress of the music or not, and you and your decisions have something to say about the condition you are in to receive the forces making the music.

Now, it is a difficulty of speech that the high road and the low road may or may not arrive at the same place, but they are more or less impenetrable to each other. So when we give you a high-flying metaphor like the vast impersonal forces blowing through your lives to produce the music that is your lives, we lose the advantages given when we can explain things from your personal experiences. That is why we go so often from one to the other, to try to keep our explanations stitched together.

So, take what we just set out for you, which is accurate enough for all its high flying, and think about the life you are leading, the external and the internal of it, the waking and the dreaming, the practical and the visionary. It’s all true and it’s all accessible, but you have to pay attention to it if you’re to sort it out. And only those who need to do the sorting (need by their own nature, we mean) will be bothered by the need. Others will toss off the idea as idle or fanciful, or even as evasion of “real life.” That’s all just viewpoint as it shapes your lives.

I am again feeling that valedictory feeling as I have before at the end of a particular series of conversations.

You don’t know if this has gone along far enough to provide a book, because you weren’t thinking in those terms. Well, concatenate your transcript files and see. There’s no harm in a short book.

And the central topic or theme?

Read the book! How else have you ever figured out what has been said?

All right. But if I can sort of feel that we have reached a jumping-off point, a rounding off, I’m not at all sure we have even addressed, let alone answered, the question of “toward what?”

Haven’t we? If your lives are designed to allow you to focus and tune (so to speak) vast forces beyond your ken, is that not as much explanation as you can absorb?

Perhaps, but it isn’t really enough to be satisfactory.

We well understand. But you see, just here is where the great danger lies. At the point beyond which you cannot see is the great lure and the great snare. For it is here that you may be tempted to make it up as you go along.

Isn’t that what we do anyway? Necessarily?

Not in the same sense of the word. It is one thing to make it up in the sense of allowing yourself to be carried along rather than trying to steer against the wind or current. It is a different thing to cease to listen and instead impose your own design.

A fine line.

To be sure. An invisible line, sometimes. That’s why intent and character mean so much to ultimate success or failure. If you firmly intend not to deliberately mislead, not to prefer certainty to doubt, not to pretend to know more than you do – all this acts as a safety margin, you see. When you stray – as you will; nobody is perfect every moment – your center of gravity, your character, will pull you back. That’s what the building of character is for, to provide you a reliable center of gravity.

So, the Jung quotes that you entered into your journal many months ago and only now rediscover – “coincidentally” – as you go through old journal books, can you not see that they apply?

Of course I can. He allowed himself to speculate, but he never allowed himself to confuse speculation with experience. He kept in mind just how much he did or didn’t know, in formulating his reports of his long expeditions in the human psyche.

It is a good procedure. Now, Frank, you are not Swiss, and nor are most of your readers. You will not proceed in the same way, will not have available to you a doctor’s training, will not have Jung’s grounding in ancient languages and Swiss culture and the concerns of the 19th and 20th centuries. This is advantage as well as constraint.

None of you is designed to, or supposed to, or allowed to, live another person’s life, but yours. Your advantages, your circumstances, your desires and conflicts and opportunities and constraints are all unique to you, yet are part of the larger improv continually taking place, which without you is incomplete.

Fortunately for you it is not necessary for the actors to understand the plot, for improv has no larger plot within its own terms of reference than to see what happens. So with you. As to the larger meaning beyond the improv itself – whether it is for casting, or for training, or for general entertainment, or for reasons that are not apparent – there’s no harm in looking for them, but no assurance that you’re going to be finding it. Maybe your continuing search is the meaning, eh?

And that’s enough on the subject. If you’ll go back and put together this group of conversations, and see what they come to, we can proceed after that, or not, as you and circumstances allow.

Okay. As always, our thanks and best wishes.



Categories: Intuitive Linked Communication (ILC)

And There Was Light

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In going through old journals, transcribing quotations I had copied out, I find this, well worth sharing. And There Was Light, by Jacques Lusseyran, is a book well worth reading.

From And There Was Light, by Jacques Lusseyran, copied 9-21-13:

And then there were the poets, those unbelievable people so different from other men, who told anyone who would listen that a wish is more important than a fortune, and that a dream can weigh more than iron or steel. What nerve they had, those poets, but how right they were! Everything, they said, comes from inside us, passes through things outside and then goes back in. and that to them is the meaning of life, feeling, understanding, love. P 71.

* * *

From And There Was Light, by Jacques Lusseyran, copied 9-22-13:

And now, in conclusion, why has this Frenchman from France written his book in the United States to present it to his American friends today? Because today he is America’s guest. Loving the country and wanting to show his gratitude, he could find no better way of expressing it than in these two truths, intimately known to him and reaching beyond all boundaries.

The first of these is that joy does not come from outside, for whatever happens to us is within. The second truth is that light does not come to us from without. Light is in us, even if we have no eyes. Pp 311-312.

Categories: Stray Thoughts

Chasing Smallwood — .33. The challenge of our times

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[A book with four interlocking themes:

  • how to communicate with the dead;
  • the life of a 19th-century American;
  • the massive task facing us today, and

the physical world’s place in the scheme of things.]

[Friday, February 17, 2006]

All right. It is 8 a.m., nearly, the start of a cloud-heavy morning. If you’re ready to answer [my brother] Paul’s question – what is the real challenge of our time, what is the equivalent of the Civil War to us – I’m ready to hear it.

You have heard it many times, each time in a slightly different context. You have expressed it many times, enough that it is just another of your beliefs. What is your Iona book about, after all?

Pardon us while we circle around the subject. You know how a dog has to circle before it can lie down and sleep, it is a reassuring habit.

Look at what the crisis can’t be. That will add conviction.

Can it be political? Economic? Ideological? You have already fought those battles, and everyone is sick of them. Can it be religious? Same answer. People have struggled over these questions, and some always will struggle. But they do not define your time.

In the 1500s and 1600s, religious questions – the relation of religious organization to state power and to society and to categories of everyday thought. Once the state monopoly of Catholic thought was broken up, has anyone been proposing to return to it? No, the West moved on to other questions.

In the 1700s and 1800s – again, staying with the West, because that is where the world’s power was – the destruction of the medieval viewpoint and the birth of the industrial viewpoint came in a long series of political and then nationalistic struggles. You have experienced plenty of social upheavals since – but how many fundamentally transforming revolutions? American, French, Russian, in ascending order of fundamental transformation – and of violence. And, the nations expressed themselves. Are there new nations coming forth? Welsh devolution, Scot devolution, the emergence of French Canada, are mere afterthoughts with sometimes slightly comic overtones, in the way that minor actors playing major roles sometimes are.

In the 1900s, ideology. Fascism, Communism, Nazism, and many minor variants not noted. In your day you see the stragglers, your shrill right-wing and left-wing know-it-all podium pounders. Do you imagine that they are the wave of the future rather than the remnants of the shipwrecked past?

What we are saying is that the energy has gone out of all these things. With all the ill-will in the world, with all the cock-sure certainty, no one is going to be another Napoleon riding on revolutionary fervor or nationalism. There are moments of intensity, but it is a fire of straw, quickly flaring up, quickly burning out.

So do not look in old directions for the meaning of your time, or the fundamental challenge. These are shadow puppets that you are projecting against the wall – and scaring yourselves with! And as to partisan politics, we smile. In fact we laugh. The only thing that partisan politics does is to keep people occupied and out of trouble. It keeps lawyers and ad men and activists happy and occupied; it channels vast amounts of otherwise troublesome public emotion; it expresses but does not create public sentiment. This, except very occasionally.

You are fond of quoting Lincoln’s statement about the purpose and nature of politics, which is to create an effect and then fight that effect. Those who understand this have their fingers on the mainspring of things; those who don’t, should ponder the statement. There is a world of practical wisdom there.

But, we say to you – you having asked – politics is not the mover of anything, it is the result. If one of the major parties were to decide to instigate compulsory vegetarianism, say, how far do you think it would get? But if a movement for compulsory vegetarianism were to spring up, how long do you think it would be before one of the parties discovered that compulsory vegetarianism was deeply entwined in its principles? Try not to confuse cause and effect, or perhaps we should say locomotive and caboose.

Neither are the physical and organizational challenges of your day the central crisis of your time. The challenges are very real, and there are a lot of them – and they are all coming to a head just at about the same time. Isn’t that an interesting coincidence?

We smile.

Nothing of your old ways is sustainable in the spirit in which it operates. Does that not tell you something? Your economies, your environment, your animal companions, your social balance – none of it. You are ringed by the desperately poor economically – and by the desperately poor spiritually and mentally. Is it not obvious?

Hopefully this brief circuit is enough to move you from your accustomed thought. If it is not, then either your accustomed thoughts are closer to ours than the average, or we are meeting no response with you. Here is our thesis, and those for whom it is dead should leave it: Not in politics nor ideology nor religious forms, nor social upheaval is your salvation. Not in technology or scientific investigation or social organization and reorganization is your way out. Not in –

Well, no point in continuing; you get the idea or you don’t.

The crisis in your time is the greatest to be faced in recorded history. (Note the adjective.) it needs to be, to provide the energy to propel you – propel us – to the next stage in human development. And here is where we burst categories. That is what a transformative crisis does – it bursts categories. From the far side of the crisis there is no going back, because everything is different. You are different.

We stress this – and we went on that little survey ramble – because it is easier to say something new than to have it be heard as something new. Without new ears to hear, without (in other words) your being at a new place mentally and spiritually, the news will be filtered through your old categories and will seem embarrassingly vapid, or obviously ridiculous, or – favorite thing of the academic habit of mind – “nothing but” that and that comprising element. Why do you think Jesus kept saying “let those of you who have ears, hear.” He was saying “these words will mean one thing to many, but something much more to those who are in a place to really hear them.” So, here. The ears you bring to the message determine what you hear. It can be no other way.

And this, incidentally, explains or should explain why so much that is precious and even vital has not been absorbed. It isn’t that the masters ever wanted to keep it secret! They wanted to give it away freely, but could find only a few ears able and ready to hear. Think of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, whose forthcoming destruction must have been plain to him. “How many times did I try to give you the key,” he said, “and yet you wouldn’t and couldn’t hear me.” And – just for an aside to an aside – we deliberately used “wouldn’t” and “couldn’t” to remind you that Jesus wasn’t speaking English! Revere the spirit, not the form.

What can the defining crisis of your time be but a spiritual one? And yet, to say “spiritual” is to mislead. Again, the crisis will burst categories.

In your time the destruction of the materialist illusion proceeds from all sides. It loses its scientific underpinning. It fails the practical test of providing meaning. It offers no hope of a better future. Each of these sentences is an essay in itself, but for the moment we will not stop to provide them. Thought and meditation will provide them for you.

The death of materialism as an operating principle leaves your time as a loss. The poor cannot look to achieving your American standard of living. Americans living it – and Europeans – know that it isn’t an answer to meaning anyway. And the hypertrophy of concentration of wealth demonstrates in any case that a society’s accumulation of wealth is not necessarily to the benefit of any but a predatory few. (And this is how it always has been in uncontrolled society. Remind us sometime to speak of the models that have succeeded.)

You may have guessed that we had a reason for discussing the Civil War. It is the previous step taken. And Abraham Lincoln played a major role in the history – and future – of the world, as is recognized already but only in a restricted context. As matters play out, his ultimate significance will be seen more clearly.

So many essays and side-trails, and we cannot pause for them!

The struggle in your time is between inclusion and exclusion. Here you will find the key to every specific, for every problem in your time will naturally align itself in the magnetic field of the defining polarity. And so you see that Lincoln’s role was to make a major inclusion – bringing the inclusion of another race into the shared idea that was America. In other words from that time it was no more a dream of one race – even a race of many nations but all European “whites” – but now a totally unprecedented expansion to be more than one race. And once black, then there was no logical barrier to yellow, red, and brown. Of course you are still in the initial stage of working all this out – of living the expanded ideal – but the decision was made, and ratified in blood and military success, and there was no going back for the human race.

Yes, for the human race. The American experiment was unique, and might have been held to one race, and would have failed and could not have been re-created. It was to preserve this over-archingly important pattern that states rights was sacrificed, and much more would cheerfully have been thrown onto the fire from this side as best we could.

The struggle is between two ways of seeing things – inclusive and exclusive; unitary and divided; and this means, ultimately, it is between two forces, Love (attraction and interpenetration) and Fear (repulsion and attempted separation.)

Now, don’t say “oh, that’s only Course in Miracles” or “that’s only” anything! You cannot hear without new ears to hear with. But once you have new ears, of course you will find that it has all been said – but you will understand it perhaps for the first time.

Love versus Fear. Faith versus fear. Courage, joy, life – versus fear.

This is the crisis of your time. But you may ask – how is this a crisis? What is the practical working-out of this?

Those of you who are willing to live in love will find your way by always seeking to include, rather than drawing logical or other distinctions and drawing lines saying “us” versus “them.” Now of course this immediately brings in a paradox, in that we’re saying in effect, “the world must not be divided, so don’t be like those who divide things.” This too can be transcended by realizing that everything may be seen as part of a polarity rather than as opposition. If you are a part of a polarity, you are a necessary part; something had to be playing that part. So it takes you beyond the blaming and the excluding. Hitler, Stalin, played their part. They were not arbitrary occurrences – nothing in life is arbitrary, despite appearances. They were, you might say, the personification of social forces.

You will live in love, and will continuously draw nearer to all people, to all animals and birds and fishes, to all things created, to all things not physically manifest. You will rejoice in what is, and will not fear the future, even as you work to affect that future in what you do and – more vitally – in what you are.

Or – you will express the other side of the polarity and will live in fear, and soon in hatred and despair. You will divide, and divide, and divide, until you whittle away your standing-place and are alone in a howling wilderness.

You will contribute toward the creation of a new consciousness – for that and nothing less is what is at issue here – or you will lose yourself in a wilderness of repelling mirrors behind which (you will fear) are unnamed horrors.

This is the challenge of your times, nothing less. Do you think, now, that environmental cleanup or political triumph or any other issue is at the same level?

And, Frank, do you see why we did not begin this last night or yesterday? This has taken an hour and a quarter and you are already tired at 9:15! How far would we have gotten yesterday afternoon?

Yes, well, as always, my thanks, and presumably the thanks of those with ears to hear. I am tired. I hope I will be able to decipher to transcribe.

Categories: Past And Future

Connection as a way of living

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Saturday, February 17, 2018

7:05 a.m. I started work trying to carry on from yesterday’s beginnings [on another book], and other than some editorial changes to yesterday’s page, I have mostly crossings-out. Then I remembered, it’s a matter of being in connection. So I thought, I’d better check in.

Spinning your wheels isn’t a necessary part of the process. Sometimes, connectors don’t arrive when needed. When that happens, do as you do with these conversations: Start again somewhere else. Not far away, just slightly elsewhere. It’ll restore traction, and as you well know by now, bridging is an easier task than producing what is to be bridged.

Okay. Can we talk about life otherwise than in the context of the book?

It’s always up to you. The questions are there, but you cannot always let yourself hear the answers.

No. I clutch emotionally somehow.

So – just intend to not clutch. It is truly that simple, though it seems not. It is a matter of disconnecting from result. If you allow it in, that does not automatically mean you must carry it out or share with another.

Yes, but I don’t think that sharing is the problem. It is that something within me can’t bear to know. At least, that’s what it feels like.

So, in that case, patient reassurance, centering not on the crippling question but on what it is that feels threatened by the question, and things will loosen up. You will learn something else, the change in you will mean the same question is now something different – because you will be different – and matters can proceed. Try. You’ll see.

All right, I’ll try. What is this sense of emptiness when I’m not connected? I see that I wrote out the question in a different way from how I have been thinking of it, and so answered it.

You didn’t exactly answer it, but you moved to an attitude that allows the answer to come into view. When you are connected, you don’t have a sense of futility and ennui. That is in itself progress, or rather the result of progress. Remaining in connection – in conscious connection, naturally we mean – is your new default condition. This is good. Think back to your college days for a vivid example of how life felt when your 3D ego was trying to live on its own. Those are two poles – connection and isolation.

But you have not lived in isolation for many a year. Instead, you have lived half-awake.

Just as [psychic]Maya Perez said, so long ago.

There is no describing the difference between waking and sleep to a sleeper, or even to one half-awake. But now you know.

When you are half awake, you are half-aware of your connection. At first this connection may manifest as discontent or even as restless irritability. You can feel that you aren’t living right, but you don’t know what “right” would mean or what it would feel like or how to get there. Now it’s more like – “I shouldn’t be doing this, this is wasting valuable time,” but it is no less a puzzle as to how to stop wasting time.

That’s about it.

Live it. Live in faith hope and charity, exercising prudence justice temperance and fortitude as occasion requires. That’s really all you need to do.

Not obvious how that will overcome feelings of futility.

No? Faith is exactly that. You can’t prove that life is worthwhile, not that your life is being lived correctly for you. But you can live in faith that it is, and you can hope (when faith wavers) that it will come out all right, and, knowing your own intentions, can live in charity toward yourself, and therefore toward the life you lead. In judging your life as you go along – for of course you can’t help measuring, although you can help condemning – you can be prudent (not expecting the impossible nor attempting the impossible), and just, seeing things straight, and temperate, avoiding destructive extremes, and brave, refusing to despair. Is there any way this cannot help?

I just re-read this to see if I can send it out, and I think I can, which I am glad of, as it surely will help others besides me.

That’s our intent, no less than yours, of course.

Really it is as simple as being resolved to carry on in the teeth of contrary evidence, isn’t it.

Yes, provided you remember the difference between resolution and pig-headed-ness. That was Winston Churchill’s problem, you see. The quality that saved the West in 1940 caused him immeasurable grief through his own idea of resolution in incidents like Edward [the abdication crisis of 1936], Gandhi [the independence movement in India in the 1930s], revaluing the Pound [while Churchill was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the 1920s], etc.

Glad to see you so well-versed in history.

We have a good library to consult, and of course you and we know we’re both smiling, but your readers may not.

Many thanks for this. It does help.


Categories: Intuitive Linked Communication (ILC)

America’s Journey: John Brown’s raid

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John Brown’s raid

The single most important event that brought sectional tensions to the boil – beyond the boil, to hysteria – was the seizure of the U.S. arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, by abolitionist John Brown, “Old Brown,” who had become known nationally for his involvement with “bleeding Kansas” two years earlier, which we will discuss as part of the territorial question. It would be hard to overstate the emotional importance of the raid, and the supportive Northern reaction, and the infuriated Southern reaction to both. To Southerners, the raid seemed like evidence for the accusation fire-eaters had been making for years, that Northerners were inciting a race war that would leave the whites murdered in their beds.

It wasn’t the final spark that lit off the powder – not quite – but the raid and the reaction convinced many more southerners that coexistence of the two sections in one government was no longer possible, and it made certain that the following year’s presidential campaign would be fought at fever pitch.

The facts are beyond dispute. Brown was acting on his own initiative, but at least 80 others in the North are believed to have known of his plans. He rented a farmhouse 4 miles north of Harpers Ferry in Washington County, Maryland, under the name Isaac Smith. He had with him a small group of 16 white men, 3 free blacks, 1 freed slave, 1 fugitive slave, and two women (his daughter-in-law Martha, to serve as cook and housekeeper and his daughter Annie, who served as lookout). They were carrying with them 198 breech-loading .52 caliber Sharps carbines and 950 pikes, arms contributed by Northern abolitionist groups. Brown expected to use these, plus whatever arms he captured in the arsenal, to arm the runaway slaves he hoped to attract. His larger scheme appears to have been to begin a long-term guerrilla operation, setting up a de facto free area all along the Appalachian chain, which would then serve as a magnet for runaway slaves and eventually destabilize the entire slavery system.

On Sunday night, October 16, 1859, Brown’s men captured several watchmen and townspeople in Harpers Ferry, cut the telegraph wire and seized a train that was passing through. (And then let the train proceed! Naturally the conductor alerted the authorities down the line.) That night they captured the armory.

The next day, local militia, farmers and shopkeepers surrounded the armory and captured the bridge across the Potomac River, cutting them off from escape. During the day two of Brown’s sons were killed, one while under a white flag. The only government troops in the immediate area was a detachment of U.S. Marines. President James Buchanan ordered it to Harpers Ferry, under the command of a Brevet Colonel named Robert E. Lee, of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry, who was recalled from leave. The following day, the 18th, a platoon of marines stormed the engine house and within three minutes, all the raiders were dead or had been taken prisoner.

The troops searched the surrounding country for fugitives. The governor of Virginia added to the hysteria by marching militia back and forth in search of additional conspiracies. Brown was tried in nearby Charles Town and found guilty of treason against the commonwealth of Virginia and was hanged on December 2. On the day of his execution, Brown wrote, “I John Brown am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty, land: will never be purged away; but with Blood. I had as I now think: vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed; it might be done.” He was right, and the purging was not far off.

Republican politicians including Abraham Lincoln disclaimed responsibility for Brown and condemned the raid as morally wrong and effectually futile. Even noted abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison called the raid “misguided, wild, and apparently insane.” But Emerson and Thoreau, among others, defended him because he had put his life, and the lives of his sons, on the line in an attempt to overthrow an immemorial wrong. “I think that for once the Sharp’s rifles and the revolvers were employed in a righteous cause,” Thoreau said.

How shall we think of John Brown? It was acknowledged that he was fearless and his motives altruistic. If he helped bring on a war that would kill 600,000 men – and he did – he certainly wasn’t the only one. Yet it is a fact that slavery had lasted on the North American continent for 250 years, and a sizable and politically strategic element was determined that it should continue into the far future. The day before John Brown’s raid, probably few expected (though some hoped) to see an end to slavery in their lifetime. The day after the raid, slavery seemed no closer to extinction than ever, and yet in half a dozen years it would be gone.


Categories: History