1 minute read

John Brown Trial: 1859

Brown Raises Sword Of Abolition, Virginia Tries Brown For Treason, Brown's Lawyers Search For A Defense

Defendant: John Brown
Crime Charged: Insurrection and murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: Lawson Botts, Thomas C. Green, Samuel Chilton, and Hiram Griswold
Chief Prosecutor Andrew Hunter
Judge: Richard Parker
Place: Charles Town, Virginia
Dates of Trial: October 27-November 2, 1859
Verdict: Guilty
Sentence: Death by hanging

SIGNIFICANCE: Tried for leading a famous but unsuccessful raid on the federal arsenal in Harpers Ferry, Virginia, with the object of arming Southern slaves, John Brown's trial and execution by the Commonwealth of Virginia made him a martyr to Northerners determined to abolish slavery.

"Ahouse divided cannot stand." These five words have been used by statesmen and historians alike to describe the condition of the United States in the years leading up to the Civil War. The tension between the Southern slave states and the Northern free states, which had never been resolved by the founding fathers, grew steadily worse after 1800 as the economic importance of cotton and slavery to the South increased. Despite repeated attempts at compromise, no satisfactory political formula could be found to reconcile North and South.

The schism widened as the newly settled territories of the West applied for admission to the Union in the early and middle decades of the 19th Century. Northerners wanted new states to be Free, and thus off limits to slavery. Southerners wanted new states to be Slave, and thus potential areas of expansion for the plantation economy of the South. Both sides wanted to have the votes of the representatives that a new state would send to Washington, particularly in the U.S. Senate, where every state, large or small, has two votes. As pro-slavery and antislavery forces from inside and outside the territories contested bitterly for control of these soon-to-be states, they turned to violence to resolve the issue.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1833 to 1882