Historical Scene Investigations

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Should John Brown Be Praised or Punished?

The case

John Brown portraitJohn Brown stated in a speech in Hartford, Connecticut that he was going to begin a “war to the death on slavery.” He recruited men who shared this same belief and began carrying out this task. He began sending his five sons to the territories of Kansas and Nebraska during the debate over popular sovereignty regarding slavery. After an election full of cheating and scandal, Kansas erupted into its own state of civil war. Proclaiming himself the servant of the Lord, Brown led an attack in the spring of 1856 that resulted in the murders of five proslavery settlers. The incident became known as the Pottawatomie Creek Massacre. This event was part of widespread violence then occurring in Bleeding Kansas, in which over 200 people were killed.

Already a wanted man, Brown was able to set up a base in Virginia with the intent of leading a slave rebellion. On October 16, 1859 Brown and 21 other men (16 white, 5 black) attempted to attack an army arsenal called Harper’s Ferry to steal weapons to give to slaves. Brown was arrested and charged with inciting a slave insurrection and treason. He conducted his own defense, and he was widely depicted in Northern newspapers as a selfless idealist. Nevertheless, he was convicted and hanged in December 1859.

Your job is to examine and analyze evidence in order to decide, for once and for all, how John Brown should be remembered. Should he be praised or punished? His fate for all eternity lies in your hands!

Investigating the evidence

You will now look at ten primary and secondary source documents describing the events leading up to and following John Brown’s Raid. Carefully consider the source of each document and remember that each source will present a different viewpoint of what actually happened.

Searching for clues

You will need to search for clues and gather evidence to help you decide if John Brown should be praised or punished. Use the sources listed on the left to complete the chart. The chart will be used later to help you make your decision.

Cracking the case

Now that you have completed your detective work, it is time for you to close the case. You need to decide if John Brown should be punished or praised for his attack on Harper’s Ferry. Use evidence found during your investigation to support your opinion, following the criteria listed here for your RAFT exercise.

 

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