Taken together...David S. Reynolds’s John Brown, Abolitionist: The man who killed slavery, sparked the Civil War, and seeded civil rights and Nicholas Lemann’s Redemption: The last battle of the Civil War suggest that Brown and the Redeemers may be more closely linked than historical memory allows. Both arose at moments when Evangelicals shaped politics and policy. In the antebellum era, abolitionists, fuelled by religious zeal, pushed the nation toward war. The Redeemers, though they interpreted Christianity and citizenship differently, were equally sure of their righteousness. They, too, cloaked ideology – visions of a racially pure state instead of Brown’s multiracial utopia – in Jesus’s humble raiment. Racial violence, moreover, perpetrated by slaveholders, some of whom later became Redeemers, drove Brown on his path to Harpers Ferry. And following the War, the Redeemers were outraged to see the South recast in an image that might have pleased John Brown.
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Photo credit: Kansas State Historical Society.