(May 9, 1800 – December 2, 1859) was an American abolitionist who believed armed insurrection was the only way to overthrow the institution of slavery in the United States. Brown first gained attention when he led small groups of volunteers during the Bleeding Kansas crisis of 1856. Dissatisfied with the pacifism of the organized abolitionist movement, he said, “These men are all talk. What we need is action—action!” During the Kansas campaign, Brown commanded forces at the Battle of Black Jack and the Battle of Osawatomie. He and his supporters killed five pro-slavery supporters in the Pottawatomie massacre of May 1856 in response to the sacking of Lawrence by pro-slavery forces.
In 1859, Brown led a raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry, to start a liberation movement among the slaves there. During the raid, he seized the armory; seven people were killed, and ten or more were injured. He intended to arm slaves with weapons from the arsenal, but the attack failed. Within 36 hours, Brown’s men had fled or been killed or captured by local pro-slavery farmers, militiamen, and U.S. Marines led by Robert E. Lee. He was tried for treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia, the murder of five men and inciting a slave insurrection. He was found guilty on all counts and was hanged. Brown’s raid captured the nation’s attention, as Southerners feared it was just the first of many Northern plots to cause a slave rebellion that might endanger their lives, while Republicans dismissed the notion and claimed they would not interfere with slavery in the South.