Were John Brown or Charles Guiteau crazy?

If you’re in the United States, odds are good you’ve run into a perfectly pleasant person who believes God gave people certain rules to follow. Yours the the kind of edgy discourse I expect from a moody teenager who just discovered atheism and can’t wait to tell the world how stupid religious people really are. No, telling them they’re all crazy isn’t a step up. Speaking of which.

How do you define crazy and what are your qualifications? An individual who has a significant problem with their emotions, perceptions, or behavior may veryt well have a mental disorder of some kind, but most religious people don’t fit into this category. Your diagnosis is useless.

Religious people believe that, and they act on that belief, all the time. If you think that makes them all whackadoodle, fine, but if your definition of insanity is so broad that it covers almost everyone, it’s not a very useful definition.

Some people who believe in God are harmless. And some of them allow things like slavery to continue, which is not harmless.

Remember, the only thing needed for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. John Brown, whatever else was, was not a person who did nothing to stop evil.

If your definition of “atheism” is “almost no one” then it’s a bigoted self-serving definition, and leaving aside the great number of Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, agnostics and other non-Christians in this country it is at least defending the principle that the majority should be allowed to impose their religious beliefs on the minority because they are the majority. Which, just by the by, they are not.

I’m in this boat as well. We have a society that has deified men like Lee, Jackson, and Davis, and demonized Brown. In that context, I’d say the demonization of Brown should be inherently suspect. Personally, I’m starting to come around to the idea that his actions were inherently justified in light of the grave evil slavery represented and the obvious impracticality of bringing about its end through any means other than extraordinary violence,

And just to be clear, that is in fact how chattel slavery was finally outlawed in this country: through violence. It just so happens that it was the likes of Lee, Jackson, and Davis fighting a war to preserve slavery that it actually ended. And yet somehow John Brown is the villain?

Can you admire Brown’s goals but still conclude that he was out of his skull? That’s the position I find myself in.

Exactly. John Brown may or may not have been crazy, I’ve never met the guy; but his words and actions regarding slavery are no evidence of insanity. If anything, they are evidence that he was one of the few sane, clear-thinking people around at the time.

…eh, what?

I’m not religious myself. But what I said was that if you think being theistic makes you insane, you believe that the vast majority of people who have ever lived are insane. Which is true, the vast majority of people throughout history worried about their next meal, not abstract questions like “is there a God”.

Why would we leave them aside? They are not Atheist and so fall in the “almost everyone who ever lived” category.

You sure can!

Why? You’ve given no reason to find yourself in that position, other than “he believed in God”. And then you got really upset when it was pointed out that “they believed in a deity” is a statement that applies to the vast majority of humans who have ever lived.

Their glorification by a segment of the population (not “society”) has been eroding for a long time, and that’s accelerated in recent years as monuments and statues come down.

I’m waiting for an explanation of how the Pottawatomie murders can be justified.

The cleansing effect of sacred violence has a different look when you’re the one who gets caught in the cross-hairs.

I’m waiting for an explanation of how it was acceptable for anyone to hold anyone else in chattel slavery, generation by generation, torturing men, women, and children.

Ending that practice - by any means necessary - is completely morally justified.

John Brown recognized the need to kill to prevent the spread of chattel slavery, which is a gross violation of human rights, particularly as it was perpetrated—at the time—with the full protection of the law. These men were seeking to extend the range of the law’s protection of slavery into Kansas. So they forfeited their lives. I have no qualms at all in coming to that conclusion.

Don’t want to be killed in a justified conflict which has as its aim the prevention of the spread of slavery? Don’t go into such places seeking to spread slavery. Seems easy enough to me…

Meanwhile, I’m kind of wondering why Brown and Guiteau are in the same conversation, here. Is the OP trying to liken one to the other?

Yes. These men were there to perpetuate absolute gut-wrenching evil, and John Brown was there to stop them.

Also, @Jackmannii has consistently misportrayed this as some isolated incident. It wasn’t. There was continous low level guerilla fighting between pro- and anti-slavery forces. It was essentially a mini Civil War. John Brown and his men were reacting to the sack of an abolitionist town.

He’s not alone in this, BTW. That’s the sort of Lost Cause mythology that is EXTREMELY pervasive and EXTREMELY dangerous.

In a way, I see John Brown as one of the few sane white people in an insane society. Remember, this was a society in which not only were routine rape and torture (physical and emotional) tolerated, but they were encouraged and even institutionalized in some cases. In a society like that, morality goes out the window. Trying to kill every slave-owner and slave-supporter in existence is far less immoral, and far less crazy, than supporting/defending a chattel slavery system, IMO.

Exactly. I think you could make a much stronger case that someone who believes two completely conflicting ideas at the same time is “insane”, rather than someone who might be deluded about the existence of a deity.

With that in mind, if you can write the following paragraph with a straight face while owning slaves who you routinely tortue, THAT makes you 100% certifiably bananas:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness

Just a coincidence. I saw two unrelated Youtube videos this week on Guiteau’s Trial and on John Brown, both excellent, and they both stressed how competently and articulately both men defended their actions, and how thoroughly committed both men were to the notion that they following the deity’s instructions in their deeds. Both rigorously denied the insanity defense that would have gotten their lives spared, if successful, and I find both men to have been more than a little bit crazy.

What utter nonsense, as well as demonstrating a lack of knowledge of what I’ve long posted on this board about foolish and destructive activities of southern Civil War apologists.

“The fifth victim floated nearby as John Brown and his men washed blood from their swords in Pottawatomie Creek. Brown said that the killings had been committed in accordance to “God’s will,” and that he wanted to “strike terror in the hearts of the proslavery people.” His killings would provoke fear and reprisals — pushing America one step closer to an all-out civil war.”…

“On the night of May 24th, 1856, Brown banged on the door of James Doyle and ordered the men to come outside. Brown’s men attacked them with broadswords. They executed three of the Doyles, splitting open heads and cutting off arms. Brown watched as if in a trance. When they were done, he put a bullet into the head of James Doyle. Brown’s party visited two more cabins, dragged out and killed two more men — five in all.”

That’s an account from the “Lost Cause” advocates
at PBS.

Brown’s band didn’t face an armed pro-slavery band in open conflict; it dragged people out of their homes and slaughtered them. “They did it too” is far from adequate justification. Pottawatomie is also a far cry from the Brown group’s raid at Harper’s Ferry.

The tone of some responses makes me wonder about the level of violence some Dopers would condone and encourage in order to further their ideas of modern racial justice.

Who said Brown et al needed to? I said what I said: their “victims” forfeited their lives. If they didn’t want to die, they shouldn’t have come wandering into the territory to spread slavery under the law.

What can I say? The Lost Cause has been pervasive in our history of the Civil War, and sometimes PBS comes down hard on the wrong side, just like with Ken Burns’ documentary.

And anyway, I don’t see where that PBS link cite actually condemns Brown, so… what point do you think you’re trying to make? That we should be sad that a bunch of people who wanted the law to let them enslave other people got killed for taking active steps to make that happen???

To The OP

Insanity is a legal term. It means ‘the inability to tell right from wrong’. That’s all it means. It is NOT a clinical term. Being able to speak eloquently has nothing to do with it.