What is it about December 2?
Well, on this day in history:
Britney Spears was born in 1981. The movie classic “Casablanca” was released in 1941.The Ford Model A was introduced in 1927. The first successful artificial heart transplant occurred in 1982. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was created in 1970.
And, oh yes, in 1859, radical abolitionist John Brown was executed for treason and other crimes related to his raid on Harper’s Ferry, where he and his small band of men took hostages, seized the federal arsenal and armory, and sought to incite a slave insurrection.
On the morning he was led to the gallows, he left a final message. In the martyr’s words: “I John Brown am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away, but with Blood. I had… vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed, it might be done.”
In the short term, Brown’s raid didn’t achieve its ambitious goals. But it further polarized an already deeply divided nation over the country’s original sin of slavery, and sparked a bloody civil war that ultimately led to the abolition of slavery and the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution, which abolished slavery and guaranteed due process, birthright citizenship and the right to vote (but only for formerly enslaved men).
Imperfect, to be sure, and soon to be annulled or greatly restricted by a resurgent South after the short-lived Reconstruction era, but still on the books.
Efforts to enforce both the spirit and the letter of those amendments that took a fratricidal Civil War to enact continue today, even as reactionary forces seek once again to nullify them. As the song goes, John Brown’s body lies a moldering in the grave (at his farm in North Elba, New York), but his soul and the cause he championed go marching on.
Brown was 59, “the old man” to his 18 fellow raiders, who ranged from 20 to 39. Five of them were African Americans, the subject of my book Five for Freedom: The African American Soldiers in John Brown’s Army.
Over the years, Brown has been the subject of countless controversies and biographies. But one would-be biographer largely overlooked was a West Virginia newsman who was the ultimate collector and disseminator of virtually every known document related to Brown. His name was Boyd Stutler, and, dedicated as he was to his subject, he never quite finished his life’s work.
Now, Louis A. DeCaro, Jr., a fellow traveler in the John Brown trenches, has published John Brown’s Expert: Boyd B. Stutler & His Unfinished Biography of John Brown, which seeks to raise Stutler from obscurity into the pantheon of historians who have treated (and sometimes mistreated) the fiery leader. Stutler remains the pre-eminent researcher into the life of the famed abolitionist. In DeCaro’s ably written narrative, Stutler comes across as an old fashioned just-the-facts newspaperman loath to take sides in the debate over Brown’s rightful place in history. He never completed his intended Brown biography, but his legacy lives on in the massive amount of research he left behind and in DeCaro’s important book.
Noted historian David S. Reynolds, author of John Brown, Abolitionist, and Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times, writes: “DeCaro provides us not only with Stutler’s previously unpublished narrative of Brown’s pre-Kansas years but also with a richly detailed account of Stutler’s own life, including his fascinating exchanges with publishers, scholars, and general Brown aficionados. Anyone seriously interested in the history of abolitionism will want to read John Brown’s Expert.”
In these trying times, couldn’t we all use a little Hope, Harmony, and Goodwill? You will find them all – actual places on Maryland’s Eastern Shore – in Hidden Maryland: In Search of America in Miniature. The book, a labor of love, is a collection of columns, features and profiles, many of them updated and all richly illustrated, I wrote for the late Maryland Life magazine.
“If Maryland is for crabs, then Gene Meyer is for Maryland,” writes Washington Post columnist John Kelly. A good gift for the holidays, or anytime. Available in paperback, on Kindle, and as an audiobook (9 hours, 27 minutes for your listening pleasure). The Kindle version ranks #2 for Maryland Travel Guides. Paperback edition is currently #11 for General Maryland Travel Guides.
Also popular in the Meyer oeuvre is Chesapeake Country, a coffee table book in its second edition with a new introduction focusing on climate change.
And, if that’s not enough, there is also Maryland Lost and Found…Again (2003, second paperback edition). Acclaimed novelist Anne Tyler, reviewing it in The Washington Post, wrote: “The state emerges entire: colorful and passionate and full of character, a collection of gritty, indomitable individuals.”