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32 John Brown Quotes About Freedom, Vision and Slavery

These John Brown quotes reveal what he thought about the politics surrounding slavery, God, and country.

John Brown is a complicated historical figure. As an American abolitionist, he helped free many slaves, fought for awareness, and furthered the anti-slavery movement.

He is a hero, a martyr, and a visionary to some. To other people, his use of violence and attacks made him too extreme. The quotes below shed a light on who he was as a person, and what he believed about the cause.

Owen Brown, John Brown’s father, moved the family to Hudson, Ohio, which was a thriving abolitionist community. Owen offered a safe house to people fleeing on The Underground Railroad.

A Sketch of John Brown

The town didn’t have any formal education beyond an elementary school, so John studied at abolitionist Elizur Wright’s school. When John Brown married, he moved to Pennsylvania where he bought a parcel of land and built his cabin and tannery that included a secret room for hiding escaped slaves. John felt the need to do more, as evidenced by these John Brown quotes.

John Brown quotes about government, country, and sacrifice

1. “The angels are ministering spirits; they are not governing spirits.” — John Brown

2. “I am quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away, but with blood. I had, as I now think vainly, flattered myself that without very much bloodshed it might be done.” — John Brown

3. “Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children, and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I submit: so let it be done!” — John Brown

4. “Had I so interfered on behalf of the rich, the powerful, the intelligent, the so-called great, or on behalf of any of their friends… every man in this court would have deemed it an act worthy of reward rather than punishment.” — John Brown

5. “Talk is a national institution, but it does not help the slave.” — John Brown

6. “There is a shrine in the temple of age, where lie forever embalmed the memories of such as have deserved well of their country and their race.” — John Brown

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7. “I will have nothing to do with so mean an act. I would sooner take my gun and help drive you out of the country.” — John Brown

John Brown quotes about slavery

8. “Whereas, Slavery, throughout its entire existence in the United States, is none other than a most barbarous, unprovoked, and unjustifiable War of one portion of its citizens upon another portion; the only conditions of which are perpetual imprisonment, and hopeless servitude or absolute extermination; in utter disregard and violation of those eternal and self-evident truths set forth in our Declaration of Independence.” — John Brown

9. “I want you to understand that I respect the rights of the poorest and weakest of colored people, oppressed [to deny others their rights or liberty] by the slave system, just as much as I do those of the most wealthy and powerful. That is the idea that has moved me, and that alone.” — John Brown

10. “I don’t think the people of the slave states will ever consider the subject of slavery in its true light till some other argument is resorted to other than moral persuasion.” — John Brown

11. “I have only a short time to live, only one death to die, and I will die fighting for this cause. There will be no peace in this land until slavery is done for.” — John Brown

12. “When I strike, the bees will begin to swarm, and I want you to help hive them.” — John Brown

13. “It is not a case we are treating; it is a living, palpitating, alas, too often suffering fellow-creature.” — John Brown

John Brown quotes about God

14. “I am yet too young to understand that God is any respecter of persons. I believe that to have interfered as I have done…in behalf of His despised poor, was not wrong, but right.” — John Brown

15. “Holiness does not consist in mystic speculations, enthusiastic fervors, or uncommanded austerities; it consists in thinking as God thinks, and willing as God wills.” — John Brown

16. “Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery!” — John Brown

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17. “So far as I ever observed God’s dealings with my soul, the flights of preachers sometimes entertained me, but it was Scripture expressions which did penetrate my heart and in a way peculiar to themselves.” — John Brown

18. “Now let us thank the eternal power, convinced That Heaven but tries our virtue by affliction: That oft the cloud that wraps the present hour Serves but to brighten all our future days.” — John Brown

Timeless and personal John Brown quotes

19. “Symptoms are the body’s mother tongue; signs are in a foreign language.” — John Brown

20. “I cannot remember a night so dark as to have hindered the coming day.” — John Brown

21. “These men are all talk; What is needed is action – action!” — John Brown

22. “The intent and not the deed is in our power; and, therefore, who dares greatly, does greatly.” — John Brown

23. “I think every family should have a dog; it is like having a perpetual baby; it is the plaything and crony of the whole house. It keeps them all young.” — John Brown

24. “The same eye cannot both look up to heaven and down to earth.” — John Brown

25. “I will answer anything I can with honor, but not about others.” — John Brown

26. “Be mild with the mild, shrewd with the crafty, confiding to the honest, rough to the ruffian, and a thunderbolt to the liar. But in all this, never be unmindful of your own dignity.” — John Brown

More John Brown quotes

27. “Caution, Sir! I am eternally tired of hearing that word caution. It is nothing but the word of cowardice!” — John Brown

28. ‘Tis mean for empty praise of wit to write, As foppling’s grin to show their teeth are white.” — John Brown

29. “I was shot down by a fifth ball, which struck me squarely in the face, and passed out.” — John Brown

30. “No man, with a man’s heart in him, gets far on his way without some bitter, soul-searching disappointment. – Happy he who is brave enough to push on another stage of the journey, and rest where there are living springs of water, and threescore and ten palms.” — John Brown

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31. “I am gaining in health slowly, and am quite cheerful in view of my approaching end, – being fully persuaded that I am worth inconceivably more to hang than any other purpose.” — John Brown

32. “I have been whipped, as the saying is, but I am sure I can recover all the lost capital occasioned by that disaster; by only hanging a few moments by the neck; and I feel quite determined to make the utmost possible out of a defeat.” — John Brown

What did you learn from these John Brown quotes?

Brown suffered an immense amount of personal losses over the years. Several of his children and his first wife died. He remarried and had 13 more children, several of whom died as well. He moved the family after financial struggles, which did not get any better.

Brown would later move again to Springfield, Massachusetts. It is there where he attended lectures by Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth. He worked to make the city an epicenter for abolitionist activities, and a safe spot on The Underground Railroad. The US government passed The Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, and this was the catalyst for John’s violence.

The law stated that ‘that authorities in free states aid in the return of escaped slaves and imposing penalties on those who aided in their escape.’ John’s response was to build a militia. Thanks to his army, The League of Gileadites, not a single person was returned to slavery from Springfield.

Brown moved to NY to aid Gerrit Smith’s cause of granted freed slaves land. In 1855 he moved to Kansas, after hearing from his sons that they needed help in Kansas to protect themselves from the pro-slavery militia.

The raid on Harper’s Ferry, which happened on October 17, 1859, had been years in the making, and John lost two of his sons in the battle. The attack had taken place on federal properties, which likely contributed to Brown’s execution.

What’s your biggest takeaway from these John Brown quotes and sayings? Do you have any quotes you would like to add? Leave them in the comment section below.

Danielle Dahl, Lead Contributor
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