John Brown: Puritan?

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Soli Deo Gloria

Puritan Board Freshman
So, I've been reading the latest biography on John Brown: "John Brown: Abolitionist" by David S. Reynolds.

Early on, Reynolds makes the assertion that Brown was a Puritan and that his Puritanism was what helped formed his views on slavery and how to eradicate it.

I found this to be very interesting. I always knew Brown was raised in a strong Calvinistic tradition and even appeared to be Calvinistic. However, to place the label of "Puritan" on him is rather new for me.

Anyone have any thoughts on this?
 

sastark

Puritan Board Graduate
I suppose it depends on the definition of "Puritan". I always thought Jonathan Edwards was the last of the Puritans.
 

VirginiaHuguenot

Puritanboard Librarian
John Brown the Abolitionist was not a Puritan. He was influenced at various times in his life by the Calvinist tradition, including Presbyterian and Congregational ministries. But in his later life he had no church membership, if I recall correctly.

There are a number of John Browns in the Scottish Presbyterian / Puritan tradition, and it is easy to conflate them, but John Brown the Abolitionist is entirely different, both in historical terms (the Puritan label should not be applied to some in the 19th century, and he was not even Puritan-minded) and in moral character.
 

Don Kistler

Puritan Board Sophomore
Technically speaking, a Puritan was a member of the Church of England who wanted to purify that church from its corruptions. And the time is pretty much limited to the late 1500's to the early-to-mid 1700's.

John Brown, the abolitionist, could not meet those qualifications.

Careless historians often confuse someone with Calvinistic leanings to be a Puritan.

But we often refer to men like Edwards as Puritans, simply because we don't know where else to put them.
 

TimV

Puritanboard Botanist
Andrew's right. Otto Scott has written the best bio of him called "The Fool As Martyr". He had his own personal cult he built around his family and in laws. A notorious and ghoulish murderer, it was actually Robert E. Lee who in his youth led the bayonet charge that finally led to his removal from this earthly plane.
 

Soli Deo Gloria

Puritan Board Freshman
Andrew's right. Otto Scott has written the best bio of him called "The Fool As Martyr". He had his own personal cult he built around his family and in laws. A notorious and ghoulish murderer, it was actually Robert E. Lee who in his youth led the bayonet charge that finally led to his removal from this earthly plane.

Wow, with all due respect Tim...Scott's biography of John Brown is not the best. Scott was very bias in his biography of Brown because his goal was to paint the abolitionist movement in a negative light.

Most biographies of Brown tend to either be very pro-Brown or very anti-Brown. There isn’t much in-between when it comes to one’s opinion of John Brown. Scott was very anti-Brown and it showed in his work. I wouldn't recommend that biography to anyone because the author clearly had an ax to grind with Brown.

The most neutral biography I have read on Brown was by Stephen B. Oates, "To Purge This Land With Blood: Biography of John Brown". I believe Oates is about as neutral on the subject as one can get and that is the one I would recommend for one seeking a fair presentation of Brown.

The current biography by Reynolds seems to be more in the pro-Brown category, but I have yet to finish the entire book.
 

Soli Deo Gloria

Puritan Board Freshman
Technically speaking, a Puritan was a member of the Church of England who wanted to purify that church from its corruptions. And the time is pretty much limited to the late 1500's to the early-to-mid 1700's.

John Brown, the abolitionist, could not meet those qualifications.

Careless historians often confuse someone with Calvinistic leanings to be a Puritan.

Perhaps I misspoke. I believe the main argument that Reynolds is trying to make is that Puritan thought had a greater influence on men like John Brown and on the Civil War then we currently realize. Here is a quote from Reynolds:

Normally, Puritanism does not factor in histories of the Civil War. A wider held view is that Puritanism, far from stirring up warlike emotions, had by the nineteenth century softened into a benign faith in America's millennial promise. Supposedly, it buttressed mainstream culture values fostering consensus and conformity.

For many in the Civil War era, however, Puritanism meant radical individualism and subversive social agitation. In 1863, the Democratic congressman Samuel Cox typically blamed the Civil War on disruptive New England reform movements that he said were rooted in Puritanism. He insisted that fanatical Abolitionism caused the war, and, in his words, "Abolition is the offspring of Puritanism."...Charles Chauncey Burr, another defender of the South, bewailed "this terrible Puritan war."


This is line of reasoning is very new for me. As many of you have said, I am well familiar with the Puritanism of the 16 & 17th century, and even its inroads into the early 18th century. However, Reynolds is claiming that Puritan thought had a huge role to play in the Abolitionist movement (also its leaders, i.e. John Brown) and the start of the Civil War. Indeed, he is claiming that this seemed to be recognized during the Civil War itself. He goes on to say that Brown saw himself as an American Cromwell, and that many after his death agreed with this view....because, as Reynolds claims, Brown could be seen "both as a bloodthirsty terrorist and as as saintly liberator", just like Cromwell.

To me, this is a very interesting new claim that Reynolds is putting forth, if it is indeed new. However, like I said, I haven't came across this view before. Any more thoughts?
 

TimV

Puritanboard Botanist
Wow, with all due respect Tim...Scott's biography of John Brown is not the best. Scott was very bias in his biography of Brown because his goal was to paint the abolitionist movement in a negative light.
He was against racial slavery. He detailed the history of Brown, and it came out negative. You don't mutilate people to make political points and have an impartial historian make you come out like a hero. Lee considered it an honor to take the swine down, and he was right. Nothing to do with slavery, which Lee didn't approve of as I think you know.

Have any of the others here read Scott's book?
 

Soli Deo Gloria

Puritan Board Freshman
He was against racial slavery. He detailed the history of Brown, and it came out negative. You don't mutilate people to make political points and have an impartial historian make you come out like a hero. Lee considered it an honor to take the swine down, and he was right. Nothing to do with slavery, which Lee didn't approve of as I think you know.

I never said that Scott wasn't against racial slavery.

What I said was that it was clear Scott had an ax to grind with abolitionism and he CLEARLY was not impartial.

Scott's biography painted Brown in a negative light...just like Richard Boyer's painted him in a very positive light. It all depends on how you approach Brown when writing about him, because there is enough there about Brown for you to go either way.

For example, one can write that "Lee considered it an honor to take the swine down, and he was right". Or one could write, "Fredrick Douglass considered John Brown to be one of the greatest men to ever live."

It is all about perspective when it comes to John Brown. That is why I appreciate Oates' biography. He tried real hard to be neutral, unlike Scott.
 

TimV

Puritanboard Botanist
You can't make this up. We typeset one of the last, if not the last, book Otto ever wrote, and when I read this

recent discussion thread on a Calvinist website, The Puritan Board, fairly well demonstrates how the Abolitionist is viewed from within his own religious community. Though relatively brief as discussions go, this thread has a handful of interesting contributors, having been initiated by a student at The Southern Baptist Seminary named Tripp Spangler, who has become somewhat conversant in John Brown biography, and was reading David Reynolds’ biography. His question pertains to whether Brown can properly be referred to as a Puritan. The question elicits several responses as to the historical usage of “Puritan” and then, perhaps inevitably, the bitter input from an anti-Brown contributor whose main influence seems to be the poisonous biographical work of the late Otto Scott, a “Christian” historian who labored faithfully (if not maliciously) in the service of the Neo-Confederate movement.

According to scholar Edward Sebesta, who is an authority on the rise of the Christian neo-Confederate movement, Scott was a regular contributor to the Southern Partisan and co-produced a set of videos outlining neo-Confederate political, social, and theological interpretations in conjunction with the League of the South, a neo-Confederate organization. In short, a revival of Confederate idolatry, fused with conservative Calvinism, is taking place in the South. Scott acted as the faithful servant to this movement by attacking the legacy of the abolitionist movement, and especially John Brown, as both a political and religious apostasy.1 Considering that Otto Scott was opposed to the Civil Rights and the anti-apartheid movements as “detrimental” to society, it is no wonder that he so hated John Brown.

It shocked me, since even though I got to know him well I'd never heard of any connection to Confederate idolatry, so I did some looking and the only thing I can find linking him to neoconfederate movements was that he had works published in papers and magazines Los Angeles Times, San Diego Union, San Diego Tribune, Chronicles, Salisbury Review (London), Conservative Digest, Human Events, Tabletalk, Chalcedon Report, Southern Partisan, and Imprimis, the Wall Street Journal, etc...

When we launched the Conservative Party with Howie Phillips Otto spoke, and absolutely demanded that our platform would be totally non-racial, and after two years of talking to him several times per week, and even cataloguing his library for insurance reasons, I never even got a hint of him having any particularly strong attachment to the Confederacy. His family was from South America, and I could go on.

So, looking at the author of the the blog Andrew linked to, I find he is Louis
A. DeCaro, Jr. Ph.D., is an ordained minister, seminary professor, and dedicated researcher and student of the life and letters of John Brown the abolitionist.

and his entire theory seems to come from this blog

Anti-Neo-Confederate: Malignant Homphobe Dies, Good Riddance to Otto Scott

written by
Edward Sebesta
I am one of three editors of the book, "Neo-Confederacy: A Critical Introduction" which is published by the University of Texas Press.

who is really, really glad Scott died because he was a "malignant homophobe".

Sebesta also reports

Otto Scott also wrote a book, "Other End of the Life Boat," defending apartheid in South Africa and denouncing the opponents of apartheid as neo-abolitionists and intellectual descendents of the opponents of slavery and the Confederacy. The introduction was excerpted and published in the Southern Partisan, Vol. 5 No. 1, Winter 1985, page 30. Scott was part of the Southern Partisan anti-anti-apartheid movement.

I have read the book, and it is more of an economic/geopolitical treatment based on the realities of the then Cold War and strategic minerals like titanium, vanadium etc..His concern was that a pro-Soviet ANC South Africa would start a strategic metals cartel with the USSR. I'll bet money Sebesta never read the book.

So, tentative conclusion. Two ignorant, liberal unknows have established a fact by quoting each other.

I'd offer to debate them on the matter, but those types usually run. Still, for form's sake, anyone reading this is welcome to forward my challenge.
 
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