Twice married, nineteen children had been born to him, of whom eleven were living when, in 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska bill plunged the country into the heat of political strife. Four of his sons moved away to the new Territory in the first rush of emigrants; several others went later. When the Border-Ruffian hostilities broke out, John Brown followed, with money and arms contributed in the North. With his sons as a nucleus, he gathered a little band of fifteen to twenty adventurers, and soon made his name a terror in the lawless guerrilla warfare of the day. His fighting was of the prevailing type, justifiable, if at all, only on the score of defensive retaliation, and some of his acts were as criminal and atrocious as the worst of those committed by the Border Ruffians. His losses, one son murdered, another wounded to the death, and a third rendered insane from cruel treatment, are scarcely compensated by the transitory notoriety he gathered in a few fool-hardy skirmishes.
[Sidenote] James Redpath, “Life of John Brown,” p. 48.
[Sidenote] Sanborn, in the “Atlantic,” April, 1872.
These varied experiences give us something of a clue to his character: a strong will; great physical energy; sanguine, fanatical temperament; unbounded courage and little wisdom; crude, visionary ideality; the inspiration of biblical precepts and Old Testament hero-worship; and ambition curbed to irritation by the hard fetters of labor, privation, and enforced endurance. In association, habit, language, and conduct, he was clean, but coarse; honest, but rude. In disposition he mingled the sacrificing tenderness with the sacrificial sternness of his prototypes in Jewish history. He could lay his own child on the altar without a pang. The strongest element of his character was religious fanaticism. Taught from earliest childhood to “fear God and keep his commandments,” he believed firmly in the divine authenticity of the Bible, and memorized much of its contents. His favorite texts became literal and imperative mandates; he came to feel that he bore the commission and enjoyed the protection of the Almighty. In his Kansas camps he prayed and saw visions; believed he wielded the sword of the Lord and of Gideon; had faith that the angels encompassed him. He desired no other safeguard than his own ideas of justice and his own convictions of duty. These ideas and convictions, however, refused obedience to accepted laws and morals, and were mere fantastic and pernicious outgrowths of his religious fanaticism. His courage partook of the recklessness of insanity. He did not count odds. “What are five to one?” he asked; and at another time he said, “One man in the right, ready to die, will chase a thousand.” Perhaps he even believed he held a charmed life, for he boasted that he had been fired at thirty times and only his hair had been touched. In personal appearance he was tall and slender, with rather a military bearing. He had an impressive, half-persuasive,