John Brown's Speech to the Court at His Trial

John Brown delivered this speech on November 2, 1859 after receiving a guilty verdict on the last day of his trial in Charles Town, Virginia.
John Brown
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John Brown's Speech to the Court at His Trial

November 2, 1859

I have, may it please the court, a few words to say. In the first place, I deny everything but what I have all along admitted--the design on my part to free the slaves. I intended certainly to have made a clean thing of that matter, as I did last winter when I went into Missouri and there took slaves without the snapping of a gun on either side, moved them through the country, and finally left them in Canada. I designed to have done the same thing again on a larger scale. That was all I intended. I never did intend murder, or treason, or the destruction of property, or to excite or incite slaves to rebellion, or to make insurrection.

I have another objection; and that is, it is unjust that I should suffer such a penalty. Had I interfered in the manner which I admit, and which I admit has been fairly proved (for I admire the truthfulness and candor of the greater portion of the witnesses who have testified in this case)--had I so interfered in behalf of the rich, the powerful, the intelligent, the so-called great, or in behalf of any of their friends--either father, mother, brother, sister, wife, or children, or any of that class--and suffered and sacrificed what I have in this interference, it would have been all right; and every man in this court would have deemed it an act worthy of reward rather than punishment.

This court acknowledges, as I suppose, the validity of the law of God. I see a book kissed here which I suppose to be the Bible, or at least the New Testament. That teaches me that all things whatsoever I would that men should do to me, I should do even so to them. It teaches me, further, to "remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them." I endeavored to act up to that instruction. I say I am yet too young to understand that God is any respecter of persons. I believe that to have interfered as I have done--as I have always freely admitted I have done--in behalf of His despised poor was not wrong, but right. Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments--I submit; so let it be done!
Let me say one word further.

I feel entirely satisfied with the treatment I have received on my trial. Considering all the circumstances it has been more generous than I expected. But I feel no consciousness of guilt. I have stated that from the first what was my intention and what was not. I never had any design against the life of any person, nor any disposition to commit treason, or excite slaves to rebel, or make any general insurrection. I never encouraged any man to do so, but always discouraged any idea of that kind.

Let me say also a word in regard to the statements made by some of those connected with me. I he[a]r it has been stated by some of them that I have induced them to join me. But the contrary is true. I do not say this to injure them, but as regretting their weakness. There is not one of them but joined me of his own accord, and the greater part of them at their own expense. A number of them I never saw, and never had a word of conversation with till the day they came to me; and that was for the purpose I have stated.

Now I have done.


John Brown's Other Statements at His Trial

Opening remarks of John Brown to the Virginia Court, October 27, 1859

            Virginians, I did not ask for any quarter at the time I was taken. I did not ask to have my life spared. The Governor of the State of Virginia tendered me his assurance that I should have a fair trial; but, under no circumstances what­ever, will I be able to have a fair trial. If you seek my blood, you can have it at any moment, without this mockery of a trial. I have had no counsel. I have not been able to advise with anyone. I know nothing about the feelings of my fellow-prisoners, and am utterly unable to attend in any way to my own de­fense. My memory don't serve me. My health is insufficient, though improv­ing. There are mitigating circumstances that I would urge in our favor, if a fair trial is to be allowed us. But if we are to be forced with a mere form--a trial for execution--you might spare yourselves that trouble. I am ready for my fate. I do not ask for a trial. I beg for no mockery of a trial--no insult--noth­ing but that which conscience gives, or cowardice would drive to practice. I ask again to be excused from the mockery of a trial. … I have now little further to ask, other than that I may not be foolishly insulted, only as cow­ardly barbarians insult those who fall into their power.


John Brown's request for a delay

            I do not intend to detain the court, but barely wish to say, as I have been promised a fair trial, that I am not in circumstances that enable me to attend a trial, owing to the state of my health. I have a severe wound in the back, or rather in one kidney, which enfeebles me very much. But I am doing well, and I only ask for a very short delay in my trial, and I may be able to listen to it; and I merely ask this that, as the saying is "the devil may have his dues," no more. I wish to say further that my hearing is impaired and rendered indis­tinct in consequence of wounds I have about my head. I cannot hear distinctly at all; I could not hear what the Court has said this morning. I would be glad to hear what is said on my trial, and am now doing better than I could expect to be under the circumstances. A very short delay would be all I ask. I do not presume to ask more than a very short delay, so that I may in some degree re­cover, and be able to [at] least listen to my trial, and hear what questions are asked of the citizens, and what their answers are. If that could be allowed me, I should be very much obliged.


John Brown's response to claims of his insanity

            I look upon it as a miserable artifice and pretext of those who ought to take a different course in regard to me. … Insane persons, so as my experience goes, have but little ability to judge of their own sanity; and if I am insane, of course I should think I know more than all the rest of the world. But I do not think so. I am perfectly unconscious of insanity, and I reject, so far as I am capable, any attempt to interfere in my behalf on that score.

This text is in the public domain.
Text Dependent Questions
  1. Question
    Reread the first paragraph of the speech. What was John Brown’s sole intent?
    He intended to free a large number of slaves. He did not intend to commit “murder, or treason, or the destruction of
    property, or to excite or incite slaves to rebellion, or to make insurrection.”
  2. Question
    John Brown states that the result of the trial would have been different had he acted on “behalf of the rich, the powerful, the intelligent, the so-called great, or in behalf of any of their friends ... .” How so?
    He believes he would have been rewarded rather than punished or found guilty.
  3. Question
    How does John Brown believe he has been treated during the trial? Does this match what he expected at the outset of his trial?
    While he does not agree with the outcome or feel guilty at all, he does feel as though he was treated better than he expected. He assumed that the trial would be merely for show and that his execution would be imminent from the
Reveal Answers
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