"On March 30, 1855, proslavery forces invaded Kansas. The "Border Ruffians" seized the polling places and voted in their own legislature. John Brown, Jr. sent an urgent letter to his father asking him to supply arms to the anti-slavery cause: "We need them more than we do bread," he wrote.
The day after receiving the letter, John Brown gathered every weapon he could find and set from North Elba. "I'm going to Kansas," he declared, "to make it a free state."
On the evening of October 16, 1859, Brown and twenty-one men -- fugitive slaves, college students, free blacks, and three of his own sons -- quietly entered Harpers Ferry.
Outnumbered, the arsenal's single guard quickly surrendered. But then a passenger train started to approach and the baggage master ran to warn the passengers. He was shot and killed, the first victim of Brown's war against slavery: a free black man.
As the news from Harpers Ferry spread to Richmond, a company of Virginia militiamen stormed into town, firing along the way. Next to die was Dangerfield Newby, a former slave fighting to free his wife. The crowd mutilated his body. Then they captured two of Brown's men and killed another, tossing his body in the river and continuing to fire on it.
Soon eight of Brown's men were dead or dying, five others were cut off, two had escaped across the river. Brown gathered those who were left in a small brick building to wait out the night.
By early morning of October 18, a company of U.S. Marines under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee lined the yard. Although he was completely surrounded, Brown refused to surrender. Marines stormed the building and captured and held them while a lynch mob howled outside.
Just days after the raid, Brown's trial began. It would take a week. On November 2, the jury deliberated for forty-five minutes and reached their verdict: guilty of murder, treason, and inciting slave insurrection. The South rejoiced in Brown's execution. But hanging was not the end of John Brown; it was the beginning. Throughout the North, church bells tolled for him. In Massachusetts, Henry David Thoreau proclaimed, "Some 1800 years ago, Christ was crucified. This morning, Captain Brown was hung. He is not Old Brown any longer; he is an angel of light."
The American Experience | John Brown's Holy War | Program Description
Congress met a few days afterward, and the Senate appointed and investigating committee to inquire into the seizure of the United States armory and arsenal... Jefferson Davis, of Mississippi, Mason, of Virginia; and Fitch, of Indiana, Democratic members of the Senate investigating committee, sought diligently but unsuccessfully to find grounds to hold the Republican party at large responsible for Brown's raid....Senator Douglas,...apparently with the object of still further setting himself right with the South, and atoning for his Freeport heresy, made a long speech in advocacy of a law to punish conspiracies in on State or Territory against the government, people or property of another ; once more quoting Lincoln's Springfield speech, and Seward's Rochester speech, as containing Revolutionary doctrines.
<i>Abraham Lincoln: A History</i>, John Nicolay and John Hay, Vol. II