The sentencing of John Brown

On November 2nd, 1859, a verdict was rendered in Virgina vs. John Brown. The trial had begun just over a week earlier. Technically speaking the crime John Brown had committed was if anything treason against the United States of America, but President Buchanan caved to pressure from Virginia Governor Henry Wise and allowed John Brown to be tried for treason against the state of Virginia.

Governor Wise and other pro-slavery forces were doubtless concerned that a federal trial might result in an acquittal. Trial in a state court in Virginia, on the other hand, virtually guaranteed a conviction and death sentence. And that’s what they got. John Brown was sentenced to hang. After the verdict was announced, he spoke to the court.

. . .Had I interfered in the manner which I admit, and which I admit has been fairly proved (for I admire the truthfulness and candor of the greater portion of the witnesses who have testified in this case), had I so interfered in behalf of the rich, the powerful, the intelligent, the so-called great, or in behalf of any of their friends, either father, mother, brother, sister, wife, or children, or any of that class, and suffered and sacrificed what I have in this interference, it would have been all right; and every man in this court would have deemed it an act worthy of reward rather than punishment. This court acknowledges, as I suppose, the validity of the law of God. I see a book kissed here which I suppose to be the Bible, or at least the New Testament. That teaches me that all things whatsoever I would that men should do to me, I should do even so to them. It teaches me, further, to “remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them.” I endeavored to act up to that instruction. I say, I am yet too young to understand that God is any respecter of persons. . . .

In the month that followed, John Brown wrote many letters, but this was the last speech he gave.


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