Not Sticks and Stones, But Words

One can hardly say America was exempt from injustice and government’s shortcomings. United States was the great democratic experience, but hardly a perfect society. Of all the injustices U.S has had to see, slavery and racial injustices probably remain as one of the central issues.

Today, thankfully, America has come to a point where slavery can be seen as morally wrong and racial injustices unacceptable by most American citizens. Since slavery is now seen as a black and white issue, it is easier to immediately accept anyone who opposed slavery as good, and anyone who supported it as bad, regardless of what their actions might have meant in that historic context. John Brown is the perfect example of a man who was opposed to slavery (good), who used violence against others “illegally”. John Brown was called a traitor in his days, but is now seen in a much better light.

For instance, according to PBS resource bank, “John Brown was a man of action — a man who would not be deterred from his mission of abolishing slavery” Which describes John Brown as a man of determination and a sense of morality in a time when many people were too indifferent to do anything about slavery. At a time where Kemmis’ thinking of communal interest and identity was strictly followed (especially since John Brown WAS living in the time of pioneers and expansion to the west),  John Brown may have been one of the few who was challenging his community, because his ideals could not be represented that way.

But did he have to defy his community to a point of violence? John Brown was taking law into his own hands, because he saw that the state was failing his beliefs and a sense of morality, but was defying the law his only choice? According to Lincoln, no amount of violence against the law is justifiable. Law creates order in society, and for Lincoln, he believes that if people take justice into their own hands, law will be nothing but words. One case of mob justice may save a few souls, but it would cause law to be useless—and without the strength to protect those who needs protection.

 “While, on the other hand, good men, men who love tranquility, who desire to abide by the laws, and enjoy their benefits, who would gladly spill their blood in the defense of their country; seeing their property destroyed; their families insulted, and their lives endangered; their persons injured; and seeing nothing in prospect that forebodes a change for the better; become tired of, and disgusted with, a Government that offers them no protection; and are not much averse to a change in which they imagine they have nothing to lose.”

For Lincoln, violence is the root of anarchy that could destroy American society, because, as bad as a law can get, it is the only thing that legally binds this country together and names in a nation.

Then what can we do? Do citizens have a way to speak out against government and a community’s shortcomings? I think rather than following taking violent action against those who wrong us or others, and the law that turns the other way or allows such wrong doing, the essence of democracy shows us that mobs aren’t always violent or unreasonable. In some ways, Martin Luther King Jr.’s peaceful movement towards civil rights was to speak out, but also to educate America and bring about the awareness of racial injustice around the country. Rather than raising arms, raising awareness and bring about change that way may be more effective in the long run.


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