Law in Contemporary Society

Attorneys and Activists, Part 2

Introduction Unlike Malcolm X, John Brown was never beholden to anyone. While Malcolm was able to anticipate manner of his death, John determined the time and place.


Although both John and Malcolm facilitated enormous strides in America’s journey towards racial equality, the difference between the two men is exemplified in their relationships with their clients. Malcolm was less effective as a result of becoming too indebted to and indoctrinated by the Nation of Islam.

Less effective at WHAT? They're two different people living in two different societies, pursuing completely different goals under the impulse of very different religious convictions. Once again, what's the precise nature of the connection?

John, on the other hand, fiercely retained his independence, going and coming “under the auspices of John Brown and nobody else.” The differences between the two men can be instructive for attorneys-to-be.

The Convictions of John Brown John Brown was born at the turn of the 19th Century into a country in which nearly a fifth of the population was enslaved. Although, as he realized early in life, John was not a fighting man, he qualified his pacifism with an important exception: freedom.

In the mid-1800’s, as Americans settled the West and introduced new states into the Union, the country was finally forced to confront the issue of continued slavery.

This is not an inaccurate sentence, but it is hardly a useful description of the politics of the United States at, say, 1850. "Continued" seems wrong altogether, "the expansion of" might be more correct.

Thus, as a middle-aged man, John found himself in the midst of a country at a crossroads. His decisions would change the course of an entire nation.

I see no evidence that anything John Brown did "change[d] the course of an entire nation." What would have been different about the US in 1861 or 1865 if John Brown had never existed?

Henry Thoreau once asserted that, “it was no abolition lecturer that converted [John Brown.” Thoreau’s words ring true.

May be. But they don't mean what you seem to take them as meaning.

At a time in which thousands of men, women, and children were daily being raped, brutalized, and violently murdered, the majority of John’s contemporaries encouraged diplomacy, putting their trust in the democratic process. In Massachusetts, John attended speeches by Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass at his local church, but openly disagreed with their non-violent approach.


The Failure of Peaceful Abolition: a Prelude to Violent Action One result of the abolitionists’ patient political strategy was the slow erosion of the existing rights of free blacks in the North.

I don't understand this statement. Abolitionists didn't have any power to shape public policy: they were a fringe political movement of slight significance almost everywhere. And I don't understand what was "patient" about William Lloyd Garrison or Wendell Philips.

In 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act was passed, revolutionarily requiring that all citizens aid in the arrest of fugitive slaves.

Not an accurate description of the Act.

The Act threatened the freedom of Northern free blacks


and fugitives alike, causing a mass exodus to Canada.


Still, John Brown bided his time. He did not take action for another six years.

What demonstrates he was "biding his time"?

In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act was introduced. Rescinding the Missouri Compromise’s guarantee that the land in the Louisiana Purchase would be free,

Not a correct description of the Missouri Compromise, which was in fact "rescinded" by the Compromise of 1850. Where is your history coming from?

the Act proposed that the issue of slavery be decided by popular vote within new territories.

Not "new territories." The particular two territories at stake. Under the Compromise of 1850, Texas was admitted as a slave state, and California as a free one. Here only, Congress attempted to leave the question of the extension of slavery to forces on the ground.

This final legislative attack on freedom

What made it final, or more of an attack on freedom than the admission of Texas as a slave state in '50?

heightened tensions between abolitionists and the pro-slavery movement.

Why are you describing all free-soilers as abolitionists? It's not true, and it fundamentally confuses the political and social situation.

1856, a pro-abolitionist newspaper was sacked by pro-slavery southerners in Lawrence, Kansas.

An example of the problem created. The Kansas Free State was not an abolitionist paper. It was a free state paper, opposing the extension of slavery into the Kansas territory.

Finally, John Brown decided to act.

I don't understand this statement. Brown sent his sons to Kansas in 1854, while working to free slaves elsewhere, on the Ohio-Kentucky border. He had been "acting" for a long time. He became famous, or notorious, during the Bleeding Kansas civil war.

Massacre at Pottawatomie and Capture at Harper’s Ferry In 1856, John Brown led the Pottawatomie Massacre in response to the pillaging of Lawrence. With the killing of five pro-slavery settlers, John finally split from the pacifist abolitionist movement,

What does that mean? According to you, he was never part of it.

following his convictions to “fight fire with fire.” The success of the Pottawatomie Massacre was followed by the failure of the raid on Harper’s Ferry in 1859.

Again, this is accurate as to the facts, but inherently misleading as interpretation.

Against the advice of close friends, John led a small group of twenty-one men to West Virginia because he could only find a handful of men that lived up to his ideals. Captain John Brown would only allow men whose characters he respected to join his ranks. As his friends anticipated, the small makeshift army was unable to overwhelm its enemies.

This is not a fully accurate description of events. His "makeshift" army was adequate for the purpose of raiding the armory, as events showed. He said, and his view on this subject is trustworthy, that he could easily have escaped from Harper's Ferry in ample time if he had been willing to kill his prisoners or leave them to be fired upon by the oncoming troops. That he planned inadequately or made basic military mistakes is unestablished, at best.

Following the raid, John was captured, tried, and hung.


John and Malcolm, Juxtaposed Unlike Malcolm X, John Brown’s source of conviction was internal.

No, it was Christianity, as Malcolm's was Islam. What's the difference?

In some sense, the difference between the two men may merely be a matter of luck and circumstance. Malcolm X happened to become indoctrinated with the Nation of Islam when he was in a particularly splintered state. Young, a convicted criminal, and a new inmate, Malcolm’s soul had been whittled down to a fraction of its capacity. In this state, the teachings of the Nation of Islam, complete with a belief in the creation of white people through a mad scientist, seemed palatable, and took root firmly in his mind.

Why is that somehow different from John Brown's belief that Joshua of Nazareth rose from the dead, or Mitt Romney's belief that the angel Moroni revealed to Joseph Smith in Manchester, New York golden plates containing the text of the Book of Mormon written in "reformed Egyptian"?

On what basis do you present this story of Malcolm Little's "fractured state," his "whittled soul," etc? He was a small-time criminal doing a normal jail spell, and his brother wrote him that if he stopped eating pork and smoking cigarettes, he would get out of jail. Where's the evidence for a complex dissociative process?

On the other hand, while the genesis of John’s beliefs are difficult to pinpoint, their origin is unmistakably individual.

The evidence of Brown's own statements seems to make clear that his beliefs are unmistakably Christian. What do you mean?

Malcolm was a man of his times, but John was ahead of his era. When John wrote, before his hanging, that “the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away, but with blood,” his views were revolutionary. His raid against Harper’s Ferry was strongly advised against by Frederick Douglass. Yet, John’s critical approach and unforgettable legacy took root in the minds of other people. He is credited with starting the Civil War.

Only by people who have never studied history and who have no feel for the subject. One might as well take seriously Abraham Lincoln's joke that Louisa May Alcott started the Civil War.

The value of independent thought is that those that possess it have the ability to lead, whereas beholden people can only follow. Malcolm, despite the pureness of his character and intentions, was a follower.

I have no idea whether his character and intentions were "pure," which I think is a non-question. But it is difficult for me to understand what makes him a "follower." What aspect of your unstated definition of "leader" doesn't he meet?

As a result, Malcolm squandered the majority of his talents by preaching the wrong message and finally died at the hands of clients whom had become too powerful.

"Who." What clients? Which of his many messages was "wrong"?

At the very least, being beholden steals one’s capacity for novel ideas and revolutionary leadership. At the worst, it can kill you.

To what or whom is Malcolm X "beholden"? This word has needed definition through many drafts now. Is John Brown "beholden" to the Tappan brothers? The Secret Six? Is Malcolm X beholden to Louis Farrakhan, Wallace Muhammad, Alex Haley? Who are we saying had the novel ideas and performed the revolutionary leadership?

Advice for Attorneys-to-Be

Conclusion A comparison of John Brown and Malcolm X reveals both the follies that splintered personalities face and the strengths that are possible by avoiding becoming beholden. The two men reveal that it is possible to make even the ultimate sacrifice for the wrong cause if we have unhealthy relationships with the wrong clients. Thus, we must be cautious. As attorneys-to-be, the splintering of our characters and minds lends us to a fate similar to Malcolm—except rather than dying on the wrong side, most of us, like Carl Wylie, will never live because of it. In light of this danger, we should look to John Brown as an example of extreme independence. Like him, we must select our ideologies independently and our clients and collaborators carefully in order to avoid ever becoming beholden.


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r4 - 22 Jan 2013 - 20:09:54 - IanSullivan
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