Tuesday, October 16, 2012

John Brown's Constitution

On this date 153 years ago Northern militant abolitionist John Brown and his men descended on Harpers Ferry, Virginia, and changed American history.

After the shooting stopped, the dust settled and Brown and his men were captured, killed or put to flight, among the items found at the Maryland farmhouse Brown used to fine tune and launch his attack, were copies of his Provisional Constitution and Ordinances for the People of the United States.

Brown composed the document while a visitor in Frederick Douglass' Rochester, New York home in 1858. His goal in writing the laws of his utopia was a society where blacks and whites were equal before the law. The document's preamble bears this out.

"Whereas, slavery throughout its entire existence in the United States, is none other than the most barbarous, unprovoked, and unjustifiable war of one portion of its citizens upon another portion, the only conditions of which are perpetual imprisonment and hopeless servitude or absolute extermination; in utter disregard and violation of those eternal and self-evident truths set forth in our Declaration of Independence: Therefore

We the Citizens of the United States, and oppressed people, who, by a recent decision of the Supreme Court [Dred Scott Decision] are declared to have no rights which the White Man is bound to respect; together with all of the people degraded by the laws thereof, Do, for the time being ordain and establish ourselves the following Provisional Constitution and Ordinances, the better to protect our Persons, Property, Lives, and Liberties; and to govern our actions:

Article 1
Qualifications for membership
All persons of mature age, whether Proscribed, oppressed, and enslaved Citizens, or of the Proscribed and oppressed races of the United States, who shall agree to sustain and enforce the Provisional Constitution and Ordinance of this organization, together with all minor children of such persons, shall be held to be fully entitled to protection under the same."

And, while Brown's constitution was racially radical for the time, it was also subjective in regard to his views on moral behavior. One later article states, "Profane swearing, filthy conversation, indecent behavior, or indecent exposure of the person, or intoxication, or quarreling  shall not be allowed or tolerated; neither unlawful intercourse of the sexes."

To read Brown's constitution in full check out the following link to it at the National Archives:
John Brown's Constitution 

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