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Today, America’s perception of terrorism is based on the September 11th attacks back in 2001. However, the use of force and violence to advance political means is not a new concept. It dates all the way back to the period of antebellum, where the nation’s first terrorist killed in the name of abolitionism. His name was John Brown, and was more than just a martyr for several reasons.
First, John Brown was a terrorist simply by its definition. Terrorism is defined as the use of violence and intimidation in pursuit of political goals, both of which Brown engaged in for the years preceding the civil war. Brown killed many people in hopes of preventing slavery from taking over Bleeding Kansas. He tried to prevent slave-owners and even citizens that support it but don’t own any slaves themselves from establishing a political presence there in fear that Kansas would become a slave state. He even killed abolitionists he thought weren’t passionate enough. One of them was a slave who was looking for a missing guard. Brown shot the slave dead even though he was strongly against the use of slaves.
Second, John Brown was a terrorist because he targeted specific individuals rather than killing just to make a point. Brown would “go after particular men who were dangerous to the very survival of free-state settlers in the area” (Chowder 320). In fact, Brown would kill them during the night, when it was dark and came as even more of a surprise. This had never been done before, even among criminals, and could this element of shock could considered the beginning of modern terrorism. Brown had specific targets in mind with very carefully considered plans, proving that he intended to cause harm to individuals and not just blindly fight for a cause like a martyr would.
Finally, John Brown was a terrorist because he went out of his way to be cruel to his victims. The first example is when he killed all of James Doyle’s family. They were abolitionists like him, but he went to their house to “split open heads and cut off arms” because he family didn’t fight the pro-slavery forces (Chowder 316). Then, after stabbing, Brown put a single bullet in Mr. Doyle’s head. Another example is the two slave owners in the cabin – Brown forced them to walk with him to the creek where he decapitated them. Clearly he wants to strike fear in their hearts rather than just kill them and make a point.
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