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J. C. Furnas

February 2024
1min read


Author of Fanny Kemble ; winner of the 1982 Georg Freedley award of the Library of Performing Arts

Most overrated:

John Brown. The classic small-time fanatic, probably paranoid at least intermittently. Buoyed up emotionally by amateur bloodshed in Kansas in the abolitionist cause. Then his fumbling filibuster at Harpers Ferry failed either to free any slaves or to demonstrate his claims to skill in guerrilla warfare. But its repercussions did go far toward committing North and South to tragic polarization. True, he had dignity and the courage of his delusions. But he belongs in a psychiatrist’s casebook.

Most underrated:

Theodore Weld, indispensable catalyst of America’s antislavery movement. He was outstanding as an orator for the cause; preeminent as an organizer of abolitionist agitation; right hand of the Tappan brothers, James Birney, and J. Q. Adams in major antislavery politics; compiler of the factual background of Uncle Tom’s Cabin . Yet he had the integrity eventually to break with the dominant segment of abolitionism when he came to suspect it of aggressive hatreds. In the Dictionary of American Biography Gilbert H. Barnes ascribed Weld’s “anonymity in history” to “his almost morbid modesty. He accepted no office, attended no conventions, published nothing under his own name, and would permit neither his speeches nor his letters to be published.”

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