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John Brown's War against Slavery


  • 32 b/w illus.
  • Page extent: 462 pages
  • Size: 234 x 156 mm
  • Weight: 0.78 kg


 (ISBN-13: 9780521514439)

Drawing on both new and neglected evidence, this book reconstructs Old John Brown's aborted 'war' to free the 3.8 million slaves in the American South before the Civil War. It critiques misleading sources that either exalt Brown's 'heroism' and noble purpose or condemn his 'monomania' and 'lawlessness'. McGlone explains the sources of his obsession with slavery and his notorious crime at Pottawatomie Creek in 'Bleeding Kansas' as well as how the Harpers Ferry raid figured into Brown's larger vision and why he was captured in the federal armory there. John Brown's War against Slavery chronicles how this American apostle of violence on behalf of the 'downtrodden', this abolitionist 'fanatic' and 'terroriser', ultimately rescued his cause by going to the gallows with resolution and outward calm. By embracing martyrdom, John Brown helped to spread panic in the South and persuaded northern sympathizers that failure can be noble and political violence 'righteous'.

• New approach to a biography of Brown grounded in the cognitive study of memory, perception and judgement, which shows his world as he understood it • Considers the widespread idea that Brown suffered from a 'monomania' • Grounds Brown's commitment to the abolition of slavery in factors including family roles, economic trends, and an emerging democratic political culture


1. Introduction: an exalted defeat; Part I. Inclinations of Head and Heart: 2. The connection; 3. First son; Part II. Rebirth: 4. Pilgrim; 5. Steward; 6. Terroriser; Part III. Jeremiads: 7. Monomaniac; 8. God's reaper; Part IV. Strategies: 9. Propagandist; 10. Conspirator; 11. Insurrectionist; 12. Witness; Part V. Messages: 13. God's emissary.

Prize Winner

Choice Outstanding Academic Title 2009 - Winner


'Robert McGlone, in his compelling new study of John Brown, has resituated a major figure in American history. John Brown's War on Slavery carefully dissects the ideals and motives of the controversial Brown. Rejecting conclusions that have polarized our national understandings, McGlone instead presents a nuanced interpretation of John Brown that is thoroughly exhaustive in terms of research, but at the same time, in that most difficult of achievements, immensely readable.' Jean H Baker, Goucher College

'This biography of John Brown, based on strong empirical evidence from the primary sources, supported by strong theoretical underpinnings, and built on a sophisticated understandings of nineteenth century theology and culture, is a pleasure to read and the most complete story of John Brown that we have.' Orville Vernon Burton, Coastal Carolina University, author of Age of Lincoln

'In this fascinating and nuanced book, Robert McGlone explores in great depth the volcanic life of the most troubling and important terrorist in American history. With meticulous research and always-thoughtful use of personality theory, McGlone challenges earlier, often glib assessments and unravels many of the mysteries of Brown's psyche.' Michael Fellman, Emeritus Simon Fraser University author of In the Name of God and Country: Reconsidering Terrorism in American History

'This will be the standard for judging John Brown books for years to come. It is the most thoroughly researched Brown book I have ever seen. McGlone offers the most complex, sophisticated, and impressive study of Brown that any scholar has ever written.' Paul Finkelman, Albany Law School

'… John Brown's War against Slavery emerged as a formidable and felicitous labor of scholarship, the nature of which merits recognition as a landmark contribution to the literature. … excellently written and thoroughly annotated so that John Brown students will find it an extremely helpful volume, both for its depth of research and for its insightful interpretation. … [This book] is a formidable work and noteworthy contribution to the literature …' The Journal of American Studies

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