HIST 4800 Boston (Herndon)


The master narrative portrays a strict boundary between the pacifist abolitionists, and the militant abolitionists. My project looks at the letters of correspondence sent by William Lloyd Garrison in the six months following John Brown’s killings at Kansas in 1856 and Brown’s Raid on Harper’s Ferry in 1859. My research aimed at gauging Garrison’s responses to the militaristic approaches taken by Brown, which differed from his self-proclaimed pacifist views. I looked at fourteen letters from June to November 1856 and ten from November 1859 to April 1860. The recipient of these letters ranged from Garrison’s son, to local ministers, and even established figures in the community like Ralph Waldo Emerson. For the project, I used a quantitative method to gather specific statistics of the number of times John Brown, or the events that he took part in, were mentioned by Garrison. I also used a qualitative approach to pull specific phrases that Garrison wrote referring to, or ignoring, Brown.

The letters that Garrison sent following the Bleeding Kansas incident largely ignored the actions of Brown, and when he did, he brushed off the incident. On the other hand, the letters after Harper’s Ferry saw Garrison become a fanatic praising and legitimizing the violent actions of Brown. My research shows that Garrison made a complete shift in his mentality between these two events. While Garrison brushed off the events of Bleeding Kansas, Brown’s Raid on Harper’s Ferry changed his mentality urging the necessity of violence during the abolitionist movement.

Publication Date

Fall 12-2013