Saturday, June 3, 2017

John Brown to Franklin B. Sanborn, February 24, 1858

Peterboro', N. Y., Feb. 24, 1858.

My Dear Friend, — Mr. Morton has taken the liberty of saying to me that you felt half inclined to make a common cause with me. I greatly rejoice at this; for I believe when you come to look at the ample field I labor in, and the rich harvest which not only this entire country but the whole world during the present and future generations may reap from its successful cultivation, you will feel that you are out of your element until you find you are in it, an entire unit. What an inconceivable amount of good you might so effect by your counsel, your example, your encouragement, your natural and acquired ability for active service! And then, how very little we can possibly lose! Certainly the cause is enough to live for, if not to —— for. I have only had this one opportunity, in a life of nearly sixty years; and could I be continued ten times as long again, I might not again have another equal opportunity. God has honored but comparatively a very small part of mankind with any possible chance for such mighty and soul-satisfying rewards. But, my dear friend, if you should make up your mind to do so, I trust it will be wholly from the promptings of your own spirit, after having thoroughly counted the cost. I would flatter no man into such a measure, if I could do it ever so easily.

I expect nothing but to “endure hardness;” but I expect to effect a mighty conquest, even though it be like the last victory of Samson. I felt for a number of years, in earlier life, a steady, strong desire to die: but since I saw any prospect of becoming a “reaper” in the great harvest, I have not only felt quite willing to live, but have enjoyed life much; and am now rather anxious to live for a few years more.

Your sincere friend,
John Brown.1

1 This letter, which is now in possession of Mrs. Stearns, was received by me soon after my return to Concord. On my way through Boston I had communicated to Theodore Parker (at his house in Exeter Place, to which I had taken Brown in January, 1857, and where he met Mr. Garrison and other Abolitionists) the substance of Brown's plan; and upon receiving the letter I transmitted it to Parker. He retained it, so that it was out of my possession in October, 1859, when I destroyed most of the letters of Brown and others which could compromise our friends. Some time afterward, probably in 1862, when Parker had been dead two years, my letters to him came back to me, and among them this epistle. It has to me an extreme value, from its association with the memory of my best and noblest friends; but in itself it is also a remarkable utterance. That it did not draw me into the field as one of Brown's band was due to the circumstance that the interests of other persons were then too much in my hands and in my thoughts to permit a change of my whole course of life.

SOURCE: Franklin B. Sanborn, The Life and Letters of John Brown, p. 444-5

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