Thursday, October 16, 2008

More Distorted History From The Santa Fe Trail, Plus A Rebuttal

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I'll counter the above with this
A recent podcast done at the Gilder Lehrman Institute by historian David Reynolds

At eight o'clock on Sunday evening, October 16, 1859, abolitionist John Brown led a party of twenty-one men into the town of Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in an attempt to free slaves. The plan soon went awry. Brown was found guilty of treason, conspiracy, and murder, and was sentenced to die on the gallows. Click on the link below to read the address he gave at his sentencing:
David Reynolds, Distinguished Professor of English at the CUNY Graduate Center, reassesses the legacy of John Brown, who was hanged for his role in the October 1859 raid on the federal armory at Harper’s Ferry. Brown, a devout Calvinist possessing unshakable integrity and faith in the righteousness of his violent actions against slavery, was the only abolitionist in the years before the Civil War to live among blacks, advocate a rewritten constitution that would make slaves citizens, and ultimately to take up arms and give his life for the abolitionist cause.

A biography from the Kansas Historical Association
John Brown: May 9, 1800 - December 2, 1859, Of all the characters that played significant roles on the Kansas stage during the drama that was Bleeding Kansas, none left a legacy that compares to the controversial abolitionist, John Brown. Born in Connecticut in 1800, "Old" John Brown was only fifty-five years old when he followed his sons to Kansas just as the struggle for control of the territory was taking shape. The family settled in rural Franklin County, just southwest of Osawatomie, the home of the Rev. Samuel and Florella Adair, Brown's half-sister.
John Brown absorbed a deep hatred for the institution of slavery early in life, eventually dedicated his life to its eradication, and quickly made his presence known during the Kansas struggle. He was involved in or responsible for the "Wakarusa war" at Lawrence, the Pottawatomie Massacre, the battles of Black Jack and Osawatomie, and the liberation of dozens of slaves from nearby Missouri.
After leaving Kansas for the last time early in 1859, the crusade continued; Brown, with several of his sons and other followers, planned and conducted the ill-fated raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. He was tried and convicted on conspiracy, treason, and murder charges stemming from this incident and was executed on December 2, 1859.
This almost mythic figure in the history of Kansas and the nation still elicits emotional reactions from students, scholars, and the general population, and history has not always been kind to this complex personality. To some of his contemporaries, Brown was a maniacal, bloodthirsty old fanatic. To many others, black and white, he was a martyred saint. He was "a moral Genius," according to a prominent late-nineteenth-century Kansan, whose life and death "brought about the abolition of slave labor years before" it would have otherwise occurred. "No man whose name appears in the annals of Kansas can begin to stand beside John Brown."

Octobr 16th: The Anniversary Of John Brown's Raid

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The final scene from Santa Fe Trail
A 1940 view of John Brown. From wikipedia:

Santa Fe Trail is a 1940 western film directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. Despite glaring historical inaccuracies, the film was one of the top-grossing films of the year, being the seventh Flynn-de Havilland collaboration. The film also has nothing to do with its namesake, the famed Santa Fe Trail except that the trail started in Missouri. Instead, it follows the life of Jeb Stuart, a cavalry commander (and future Confederate Army general). The film purports to follow the life of J.E.B. Stuart (Errol Flynn) before the outbreak of the American Civil War. Among its sub-plots are a romance with the fictional Kit Carson Holliday (Olivia de Havilland), friendship with George Armstrong Custer (Ronald Reagan), and battles against abolitionist John Brown (Raymond Massey). One glaring inaccuracy has Stuart leading a cavalry charge against John Brown "fort" in Harper Ferry. In fact Stuart was at Harper's Ferry-but John Brown was captured in an infantry assault by US Marines under command of US Army Colonel Robert Edward Lee. Another inaccuracy is the film has Stuart, Custer, and Philip Sheridan all having been part of the West Point graduating class of 1854. In fact, Sheridan was the class of 1853, Stuart 1854, and Custer not until 1861-a year early because of the onset of the Civil War.
The movie is drastically critical of John Brown, portraying him as a bloodthirsty villain and blaming him for causing the Civil War, thereby exonerating the Confederacy for seceding. African-Americans are portrayed as practically content to be slaves and too fearful to fight with Brown in his abolitionist crusade, whereas in reality about one fourth of Brown's group were African-American. After being freed, some African-Americans in the film chant "We's free! We's free!", but later freed slaves say "We don't want it" with regards to freedom.
Massey's John Brown eagerly endorses breaking apart the union of the United States, as though abolitionism was the threat to the union rather than slavery. The movie was made on the eve of World War 2, and its tone and political subtext express a desire to reconcile the nation's dispute over slavery which brought about the American Civil War and appeal to moviegoers in both the southern and northern United States. The American Civil War and abolition of slavery are presented as an unnecessary tragedy caused by an anarchic madman. The heroic protagonists such as Flynn's Jeb Stuart and Reagan's Custer seem unable to conceive how the issue of slavery could place them at odds in the near future, even though by 1859 hostility between the pro/anti-slavery states had reached a boiling point.

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