On this day in 1859 abolitionist John Brown led the attack on the arsenal at Harper's Ferry, West Virginia. Brown, a minister and fierce opponent of slavery, sought to obtain weapons from the arsenal to defeat the slaveocracy in the South. The raid, which some consider the opening battle of the Civil War, was unsuccessful. John Brown and his men were captured and executed. Frederick Douglass and other abolitionists did not follow Brown to Harper's Ferry, viewing the attack as ill timed and ill advised. Still W.E.B. Du Bois said the assault "did more to shake the foundations of slavery than any single thing that ever happened in America."
In a 1909 biography of Brown Du Bois said the following about Brown's legacy:
"Was John Brown simply an episode, or was he an eternal truth? And if a truth, how speaks that truth to-day? John Brown loved his neighbor as himself. He could not endure therefore to see his neighbor, poor, unfortunate or oppressed. This natural sympathy was strengthened by a saturation in Hebrew religion which stressed the personal responsibility of every human soul to a just God. To this religion of equality and sympathy with misfortune, was added the strong influence of the social doctrines of the French Revolution with its emphasis on freedom and power in political life. And on all this was built John Brown's own inchoate but growing belief in a more just and a more equal distribution of property. From this he concluded, -- and acted on that conclusion -- that all men are created free and equal, and that the cost of liberty is less than the price of repression."
Among Brown's last words were ""Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price."