The Instigator
iq_two
Pro (for)
Losing
15 Points
The Contender
Princeton_A
Con (against)
Winning
28 Points

John Brown was crazy.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 12/12/2007 Category: Politics
Updated: 9 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 11,576 times Debate No: 314
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (7)
Votes (13)

 

iq_two

Pro

This is a debate we've had several times in my history class. My position is, despite the fact that John Brown used violence for a good cause (ending slavery), he was crazy, in the common use of the word (as in, his actions were not justified, etc.), and also possibly legally insane (as in, did not know the difference between right and wrong).
Princeton_A

Con

I'm not sure why it is you believe that John Brown was not justified in his actions, but I'm going to go ahead and say why violence can be a justified course of action particularly in the case of slavery. Brown's actions were motivated by a belief that slavery was immoral. If simply vocalizing that belief at the time was not causing any sort of social change, an individual ought to be justified in actualizing on his beliefs by acting in some way that would motivate people to deal with slavery. Brown's actions certainly did that.
Brown's violence was in many ways a reaction to the events at the time. Supposedly, the reason Brown went out to Kansas was because he had heard from his son that pro-slavery supporters were becoming violent and he was motivated to both protect his family and fight for the anti-slavery cause. While Brown did make some offensive attacks, it was in response to a group of people who were corrupting the political system in the territory in order to overthrow popular sovereignty and secure another slave state. Violence was already taking place in Kansas. There does not seem to be a compelling reason why Brown ought to have not gotten involved considering his position.
Brown is perhaps most known for his attack on Harper's Ferry. The purpose of the attack was to arm slaves from the region so that they could take down slavery. Why is assisting a slave rebellion an unjustified action? We praise the leaders of slave revolts that were lead by slaves or even free blacks at the time. Why is the use of violent revolt unjustified when it is lead by a white man?
Last, it's kind of important to look at the reason why Brown has commonly been portrayed as a crazy killer. Any pro-slavery supporters from the time were extremely threatened by Brown because they feared that abolitionists would continue to act violently against slave-owners and this would threaten their way of life. The northerners in the government certainly knew that the south felt threatened and if they had any hope of keeping the union together they needed to publicly denounce such actions. Just because abolitionists did not support Brown for political reasons does not mean that his actions were not in fact justified.
Debate Round No. 1
iq_two

Pro

Even accepting the premises that violence can be justified be a good cause, John Browns actions were so extreme as to go beyond being justifiable.In the Pottowatomie Massacre, John Brown led his followers in literally hacking to pieces five men who presumably- not definitely, but presumably- were for slavery. This is not even to say that they had slaves, just that they were for slavery. In other words, John Brown hacked to pieces five people because they had different opinions than him. And yes, their opinions were wrong, and horrible, but that doesn't make John Brown's actions right.
The raid at Harper's Ferry is somewhat more justifiable. However, in it, he killed seven INNOCENT people, including a free black.
And John Brown's actions did nothing to actually help the cause of ending slavery. Sure, he was a martyr to abolitionists, but they were ALREADY against slavery. And such extreme actions most likely turned people who were moderately against slavery away from abolitionism, and gave Southerners something beyond "they want to take our property" to hold against abolitionists. Harriet Beecher Stowe, another abolitionist of the time period, did much more to help end slavery by writing ncle Tom's Cabin, which helped turn thousands of people against slavery and even ensured the North won the civil war by turning the British and French people against slavery. So John Brown, who used violence, actually hurt his cause more than he helped it, while others who used peaceful methods actually helped their cause.
It's the same thing as modern eco-terrorists. Yes, hurting the environment and animals is bad, but that doesn't give people the right to burn Hummers and threaten or kill the heads of big corporations. Or even if you believe that abortion is wrong, blowing up abortion clinics is not justified.
Princeton_A

Con

So, you seem to have two basic arguments: A) violence shouldn't be so violent and B) Peaceful methods are the only effective methods. I'll address both of these.

First your violence point. I'm curious what level of violence you would believe is justified (because it seems as though if he just painlessly killed 5 slave-owners you would have been ok with it?) In the case of the Pottowatomie Massacre, Brown killed 5 men who at least we know he believed were pro-slavery supporters. You take issue with the possibility that they did not own slaves, using that as a reason not to consider them as worthy of punishment, but I'm not sure how you would consider these people innocent. If these people were active pro-slavery supporters, even if they themselves did not own slaves, they are still perpetuating an immoral system. I think there needs to be some reason (and you have not given one) for a moral distinction between people who act on their morals in different, yet equally harmful ways to be judged differently. Holding someone at fault who does not own slaves sends a very clear signal that anyone who supports slavery as an ideology is worthy of blame for the harms it causes. To understand the effectiveness of this sort of tactic, look to the Nat Turner revolt. Even though Turner's master was kind to him, he still killed him. This sent a very clear message that anyone who perpetuates slavery, even if they treat their slaves with respect, is still committing a moral wrong. As for Harper's Ferry, it's not as if most of these people were entirely innocent. Of the people injured or killed, most were townspeople who fired on Brown and his men. Even if someone innocent did happen to get killed in all of this, the deaths of innocents is something that is a necessary evil of the use of violence, and if you agree that a slave revolt is a justifiable use of violent force, then its just a harm that accrues.

As for the second idea, that peaceful methods are the only ones that are effective, I'm not sure that I really agree with that. I would argue that a mixture of peaceful and violent methods is often necessary for change. Take for example the civil rights movement that took place later in history. While Martain Luther King Jr. did a lot to help the movement, groups that advocated taking any means necessary including violence such as the Black Power movement were necessary to show white supremacists that they would fight back if harmed. Violence scares people and people who are scared are forced to react. When pro-slavery advocates were already striking out violently against abolitionists (look to the murder of Lovejoy) a certain amount of action is certainly justified in response. Sure he didn't change the minds of southern slave owners, but a book was not going to do that either. What he did do, and what a book couldn't do, is violently confront people to let them know that abolitionists would force them to change if they did not change themselves.
Debate Round No. 2
iq_two

Pro

You said that "anyone who supports slavery as an ideology is worthy of blame for the harms it causes." Do you really agree that everyone who supported slavery deserved to be chopped into pieces? Just because something is morally wrong does not mean that evryone who agrees with it should be killed. Remember, during John Brown's time, almost half the country believed in slavery, and many more people were on the fence about it. I am absolutely not saying that slavery is or ever has been okay. But should all those people have been killed? And if not, what makes the people that John Brown killed any dofferent? Killing people for their beliefs is wrong. Yes, slavery is wrong. But murder is wrong too. Although its a cliche, two wrongs do not make a right.

And it's not so much that peaceful methods are always the only effective methods, but that any positive effects John Brown's methods may have had do not justify his actions.

My argment is not that, as you put it, "violence shouldn't be so violent." What I am saying is that commiting such extreme violence against people who might have different views than you is wrong. Just because slavery is wrong doesn't mean that all the people who agreed with slavery deserved to be killed.
Princeton_A

Con

You ask whether or not everyone who supported slavery deserved to be killed. To answer your question, yes if "supported" means that they did not just hold the belief that slavery is wrong but also acted on it. By this definition obviously I would not advocate killing individuals who were on the fence over this issue, but those who clearly actively supported it are fair game. If you are willing to say that we are ever justified in taking violent action to stop slavery (which you agree we are), then yes, everyone who believed in and advocated the perpetuation of slavery be it by owning slaves, by moving to Kansas to abuse the political system in place there, by threatening or committing violence against abolitionists, or by simply publicly advocating the belief is equally deserving of punishment.
I asked you to propose some sort of moral reason why there should be a distinction between any of these types of supporters and all you said in response is "but then we would have to kill everyone!" No, no we wouldn't. My argument suggests that an act of violence against any of these individuals is equally justified, not that John Brown should have led the abolitionists in an all out total war to cleanse the land of any pro-slavery advocate. My argument also suggests that even innocent casualties at Harper's Ferry are a necessary evil of justified violent acts. In addition to the philosophical justification I provided, in my last post I gave several tangible reasons why the use of violence was justified (Slave revolts are an attempt to stop the physical abuses you clearly agree needed to stop, abolitionists had already been violently attacked, the threat of violence forces slavery advocates to react when peaceful methods can't change their actions) and you failed to respond to any of those justifications for the use of force. At this point, even if you do not believe that the individuals killed were deserving of death (which you failed to prove), I still prove why their deaths were still justified.
Your only other argument is that we ought not use violence against people who have different views than us. The problem is that all wars are fought against people with different views. You do not seem to be willing to suggest that the violence against slave-owners was not justified. Why not? This is also harming individuals because of a particular moral view they hold. The reason why we believe fighting to stop slavery is justified is because those moral views do not just remain in the minds of individuals, they are acted upon and result in horrific abuses of the natural rights of other individuals. Killing people based upon their moral code is certainly immoral if we are killing them because of something private, such as the God they worship. However, the moment those moral beliefs infringe upon the rights of other individuals we are certainly justified in taking action. After WWII we did not just try the Nazis who worked at the camps or made the orders to kill people. We also tried the people spreading pamphlets, talking on radio stations, and endorsing the cause in other ways. We also killed innocents, or men pulled into battle that did not support the cause. Despite their various levels of participation, they are all responsible in some way for the immoral acts of Germany. You fail to explain why the situation of slavery is any different.
In conclusion, I think I pretty clearly showed why Browns actions were justified no matter how innocent or guilty you perceive his victims to be. I've shown the important effects his and other violent actions have in these sorts of situations. At the end of the round, the only ground my opponent has left is "chopping people up" is crazy.
Debate Round No. 3
7 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 7 records.
Posted by iq_two 9 years ago
iq_two
No, I wasn't agreeing that violence is right for a good reason, just that if it was, slavery would be a good reason. I should have made myself clearer on that.
Posted by YaleMM 9 years ago
YaleMM
The problem with voting for the John Brown is crazy side is that they bought entirely the moral standard that Princeton A proposed. "We all think fighting slavery is a good reason, right?" there isnt any contest of this statement, so this is the litmus established for "good reason to use violence"
Posted by cloppbeast 9 years ago
cloppbeast
Basically, Princeton A is suggesting that violence is acceptable only if justified by a "good reason." Frankly, this argument is extremely flawed, because ANY act of violence can be justified with a reason. Who is to determine whether the reason is "good" or not?
Posted by crusader34 9 years ago
crusader34
Violence may be justifiable in some circumstances, but John Brown went far and above necessary action. I'm as anti-slavery as the next guy, but this guy was off the wall.
Posted by iq_two 9 years ago
iq_two
In the post below, I meant 17 or 19 people, the word people apparently was deleted.
Posted by iq_two 9 years ago
iq_two
Well, the reason I said legally insane, and I did say possibly, was because 17, or was it 19, swore affidavits saying he was insane, and insanity ran in his family. Unfortunately, since he was never examined by a psychiatrist, we'll never know for sure.
Posted by Ineffablesquirrel 9 years ago
Ineffablesquirrel
John Brown was America's first terrorist...yet he committed his terrorist acts for the "good cause" of ending slavery. I think we should examine the reasoning behind many present-day terrorist acts; most often they carry out terrorist acts (or claim to support them) because they are for a "good cause" based on their own beliefs. How is he much different from present-day terrorists, yet still praised for his "good" deeds?

[About the legally insane thing...by most accounts he wasn't clearly legally insane. He designed and implemented an attack that was beyond what most thought was possible.]
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Vote Placed by Ineffablesquirrel 8 years ago
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Vote Placed by iq_two 9 years ago
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