The Time Trial of John Brown

The source focuses mostly on the legacy abolitionist John Brown has left behind, using an actor interpreting John Brown’s life and opinion of his actions. Context is given for “Bleeding Kansas” and the Harpers Ferry Raid. Students then debate the legacy of John Brown with him. He gives his reasons for the use of violence, as well as his choice to be an abolitionist.

Source Smithsonian National Museum of American History
Dates and Eras 1859
Themes Leaders, Politics

Resource Links

Suggested Questions

  1. How did John Brown justify his actions? Why did he not believe in the effectiveness of non-violence? How does John Brown compare to other activists like Martin Luther King Jr?
  2. Did John Brown see himselft as a zealot? What reasons does he give? Do you think he is a zealot? Why or why not?
  3. Do you think that the John Brown painting in the State Capitol is a fair representation of the man? Why? How does the painting illustrate John Brown?

Suggested Activities

  1. Have students watch the full video, then break into groups to think of more questions for John Brown, then, have the groups write down what they believe his answer would be, based on how he answered the questions before.
  2. Have students research another well-known activist who was considered a zealot in their time. Then, have students write a page describing what made John Brown and their researched figure zealots, why, and how the two figures compare. Then, have students imagine the two figures meet, explaining how the two feel about each other and what they might discuss.
  3. Have students describe the elements they see in the Kansas State Capitol painting of John Brown and create an explanation for each as to why the painter decided to add said elements.