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A Volcano Beneath the Snow
Cover of A Volcano Beneath the Snow
A Volcano Beneath the Snow
John Brown's War Against Slavery
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John Brown is a man of many legacies, from hero, freedom fighter, and martyr, to liar, fanatic, and "the father of American terrorism." Some have said that it was his seizure of the arsenal at Harper's...
John Brown is a man of many legacies, from hero, freedom fighter, and martyr, to liar, fanatic, and "the father of American terrorism." Some have said that it was his seizure of the arsenal at Harper's...
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  • John Brown is a man of many legacies, from hero, freedom fighter, and martyr, to liar, fanatic, and "the father of American terrorism." Some have said that it was his seizure of the arsenal at Harper's Ferry that rendered the Civil War inevitable.

    Deeply religious, Brown believed that God had chosen him to right the wrong of slavery. He was willing to kill and die for something modern Americans unanimously agree was a just cause. And yet he was a religious fanatic and a staunch believer in "righteous violence," an unapologetic committer of domestic terrorism. Marrin brings 19th-century issues into the modern arena with ease and grace in a book that is sure to spark discussion.

Excerpts-

  • From the book John Brown was born in Torrington, Connecticut, on May 9, 1800, five months after the death of George Washington. If you could step into a time machine and return to that year, you would hardly recognize the United States. It was very young: only twenty-four years old if we reckon its birth from the Declaration of Independence, eleven if we reckon it by the date the Constitution went into effect. The Union had grown to sixteen states from the original thirteen colonies. It had 5,308,483 people, of whom 893,602 were slaves brought from Africa or born to their descendants.1

    Also in 1800, a slave called "General" Gabriel led a rebellion in Virginia, the first large slave uprising in American history. It failed when another slave revealed the plot, and its leaders were executed. "I have nothing more to offer," one of Gabriel's men told the judge who sentenced them, "than what General Washington would have had to offer, had he been taken by the British and put on trial. I have adventured my life in endeavoring to obtain the liberty of [enslaved people], and am a willing sacrifice in their cause." Meanwhile, Nat Turner, destined to be a more famous rebel leader, was born that same year in Virginia.2

    Two out of three Americans, white and black, stayed within fifty miles of the Atlantic coast. The vast majority lived in villages or small towns, or on family farms; only 6 percent lived in towns and cities of more than 2,500 people. The nation's largest city, New York, had a population of about 60,500 in 1800. Philadelphia, the capital city, came next with 41,000, and Baltimore was a distant third with 26,500 inhabitants. Called "walking cities," these were small enough to allow their inhabitants reach any place on foot in under an hour. Places like Detroit, Chicago, and Cleveland were still frontier forts surrounded by stockades, walls of pointed logs.3

    That summer, the federal government moved from Philadelphia to Washington City in the District of Columbia—or Washington, D.C.—at the time a one-hundred-square-mile tract of land along the Potomac River between Maryland and Virginia. It was a leisurely move, because there was not much to do during the hot season. Besides, the Constitution strictly limited the powers of the federal government. It regulated trade between the states, ran the postal system, supported the army and navy, and dealt with foreign countries. There was no income tax, and, unlike today, the federal government had no power in matters of health, education, the environment, safety, local transportation, or labor relations.

    Washington City was hardly a city at all. Nearby marshes filled it with the stench of decaying plants. In warm weather, mosquitoes rose from the marshes in clouds, spreading diseases. For want of exact scientific names, residents lumped these together as "fevers." Now-famous landmarks like the U.S. Capitol were still unfinished. Gangs of slave artisans worked on government buildings six days a week. Contractors rented each carpenter, stonemason, plasterer, and painter from his master for between 25 and 50 cents a day. Blacks made nearly all the millions of bricks used for the interior walls of our great public buildings.

    Workers rushed to complete President's House, the original name for what we call the White House. Still, much remained to be done when John Adams arrived early in November. The second president wrote his wife, Abigail, due to come later, that he hoped "none but honest and wise men [shall] ever rule under this roof." Abigail disliked the mansion. Cold and damp in winter, it was bearable only if fires blazed in every room. There were few servants; the First Lady told a friend that...

About the Author-

  • ALBERT MARRIN is the author of numerous highly regarded nonfiction books for young readers, including Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy, Years of Dust, and Black Gold: The Story of Oil in Our Lives. His many honors include the Washington Children's Book Guild and Washington Post Non-Fiction Award for an "outstanding lifetime contribution that has enriched the field of children's literature," and the James Madison Book Award for lifetime achievement.

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from March 24, 2014
    National Book Award finalist Marrin adds to his acclaimed collection of history books, and while the subject of this latest—fervent abolitionist John Brown and his efforts to end slavery in the United States—is not easy to read about, Marrin's narrative style is entirely accessible. Nine chapters effortlessly bridge topics that include Brown's upbringing, the global history of slavery, the “peculiar institution" (as slavery was known in the pre–Civil War south), and the legacy of Brown's actions. Marrin sets out “to place this man within his world and then to see how he helped bring about the most terrible conflict in American history," and he accomplishes that and more. The book winds down with Brown's execution, the Civil War, and President Lincoln's assassination, and a final chapter raises thoughtful topics for discussion. Should people in a lawful society follow the law or their own conscience? Was John Brown a martyr, a terrorist, or both? Archival photos, maps, and documents break up lengthy sections of text, and an index, notes, and suggestions for further reading are included. Ages 12 –up.

  • Kirkus

    February 15, 2014
    John Brown's fight to end slavery in the United States is presented in a broad historical context that reveals an impact far beyond the time it occurred. John Brown and his efforts to end slavery were integral aspects of the lead-up to the U.S. Civil War. Connecticut-born Brown's American roots were deep; one of his ancestors arrived on the Mayflower. Brown's religious fervor reflected that ancestry. Another shaping factor was his large family, as he experienced tragic losses and financial pressure to provide for them. The many difficulties he faced increased his sympathy for the downtrodden and served to intensify the abolitionist sympathies he learned from his father. In this detailed, archivally illustrated volume, Marrin broadly contextualizes the issues raised, considering the historical roots of slavery in the world, constitutional compromises that allowed it in the country's founding and the resistance to racial equality. His analysis of events encourages readers to explore the complexities that inform an event of this magnitude and what it can reveal about our own times. "He raised thorny questions about the use of violence at a time when democracy seemed ineffective and the road to justice blocked by self-interest, brutality, and racism," Marrin comments in an afterword that draws connections between Brown and modern-day terrorists both religious and secular. A comprehensive portrait of an ever-fascinating figure. (source notes, further reading, index [not seen]) (Nonfiction. 12 & up)

    COPYRIGHT(2014) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • School Library Journal

    Starred review from March 1, 2014

    Gr 7 Up-Marrin offers a multisided look at the events and controversy surrounding John Brown's role in the banishment of slavery and his ongoing inspiration for current events. Chapters present the history of the "peculiar institution" (slavery) both here and abroad, details of Brown's life and family, his relationship with the abolitionists, his radicalization leading to the killings at Pottawatomie, Kansas, and, eventually, the uprising at Harper's Ferry and his trial and hanging. Brown's motivations, his religious fervor, charisma, and leadership skills are all examined. The politics of the time and key players both for and against slavery, secession and disunion are introduced. Brown's role in the beginning of the Civil War and the introduction of the Emancipation Proclamation are explained. The role of slaves and free blacks before, during and after the war is also included. The Civil Rights Movement and more recent radical events, including the attack on the World Trade Center, are looked at through the lens of John Brown's actions. From beginning to end, readers are asked to consider the philosophical questions Brown raised regarding "breaking a 'bad' law in democracy." The double-column text is rich with relevant excerpts from writings, speeches, songs, and poetry of the era. Well-chosen captioned and dated black-and-white illustrations include period photos, portraits, artwork, maps, fliers, and posters. Extensive notes and further-reading suggestions are included. This will be an excellent resource for U.S. history collections.-Carol S. Surges, formerly at Longfellow Middle School, Wauwatosa, WI

    Copyright 2014 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from March 15, 2014
    Grades 8-12 *Starred Review* Historian Marrin regards the nineteenth-century zealot John Brown as being the father of American terrorism, a man who would use any means to effect what he believed was his God-given mission: to eradicate slavery in the U.S. In pursuit of his mission, the volcanic Brown didn't draw the line at violence or even murder, being personally responsible for a clutch of deaths in bloody Kansas. It is, however, his failed attempt to capture the federal armory at Harpers Ferry for which he is perhaps best remembered. It was his goal to seize the many guns stored there to arm an uprising of slaves that he hoped to foment. Though he didn't succeed, his failure was, in fact, a triumph, as his subsequent death by hanging turned him into a martyr, an inspiration for abolitionists, and a catalyst for the ensuing Civil War. Marrin has done a brilliant job of providing readers with a full-length biography of this extraordinary man who raised questions that are as valid today as they were in his lifetime. In limning Brown's colorful life, Marrin creates ample context, highlighting the horrors of slavery and offering an overview of the Civil War. His gracefully written, well-documented text is supported by 20 pages of endnotes and is accompanied by a generous selection of black-and-white period photographs and drawings. The result invites independent reading and provides an invaluable resource for classroom use.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2014, American Library Association.)

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John Brown's War Against Slavery
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