Ohio History Journal

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An Interview with Charles S. S. Griffing

edited by Louis FILLER

Assistant Professor of American Civilization, Antioch College

John Brown's Ohio years merit continued study. In view of

the fact that a serious shadow has been cast over his intentions and

activities in Kansas by a formidable historian,1 it is evident that the

Ohio period may be crucial in any ultimate evaluation of Brown's

role and personality. Mary Land's article, "John Brown's Ohio

Environment," in the January 1948 issue of this Quarterly consti-

tutes a supplement to Charles B. Galbreath's work in the field, which,

however, she does not appear to have used.2 Unfortunately, John

Brown's precise relationship to the undoubtedly strong antislavery

forces in Ohio, and his reputation, if any, with his antislavery

neighbors independent of his exploits in Kansas and at Harper's

Ferry, still remain largely circumstantial and have yet to be firmly


There is need for a clearer understanding than some students

seem to manifest of the seriousness of the charges against Brown.

It is often granted that Brown was guilty of "cold-blooded murder"

at Potawatomie; but the edge of this accusation is as often blunted

by emphasis upon Brown as a "fanatic"-that is, as one over-

whelmed by the urgency of his crusade. The sense of both the

Warren and Malin analyses is to impugn Brown's sincerity and

thereby the integrity of his actions.3

1 James C. Malin, John Brown and the Legend of Fifty-six (Philadelphia, 1942).

See also Robert P. Warren, John Brown; the Making of a Martyr (New York, 1930),

in which the psychological approach is maintained to Brown's detriment.

2 Charles B. Galbreath "John Brown" and "Anti-slavery Movement in Columbi-

ana County," Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly, XXX (1921), 184-289;

355-396. A variety of other material connecting John Brown to antislavery in Ohio

makes this volume of particular value; the reference to it made further on in the

present writing does not exhaust its pertinent contents. Miss Land's article, though

involving original research, is not always careful with respect to details. Thus, she

repeats the story that Missouri offered a reward of $3,000 for Brown's capture, a

story which seems to have been decisively refuted by Floyd C. Shoemaker. See his

"John Brown's Missouri Raid," Missouri Historical Review, XXVI (1931-32) 78-82.

3 The Malin analysis is particularly long and exhaustive, and there is reason to

fear that not all students who are presumed to have an acquaintance with it have

trudged its weary road to the end. A brief summary of its method and conclusions with

respect to Brown may be found in Malin, Essays on Historiography (Lawrence, Kans.,

1946), 153 et seq.