During the long weeks of his imprisonment the condemned traitor showed an unbroken serenity and nobleness. He discouraged all attempts at escape or rescue, and urged upon his friends that, as a martyr to the cause, he would serve it more substantially than by any further living effort. He corresponded widely, and his numerous letters, with their poignant directness and incontrovertible sincerity, afford the best evidence of the great qualities of his character.
On the second of December, 1859, John Brown was hanged at Charlestown, Virginia. Great military preparations were made to ensure a peaceful execution of the sentence, and it was carried out with every detail of decorum and decency, except that a painful delay at the last moment prolonged unnecessarily the prisoner's suspense. Brown's bearing was perfect, his courage and calmness flawless. There were no heroics, no rhetoric. He took an affectionate leave of his companions in arms and gave them each a quarter of a dollar, saying that he should have no further use for money.
Of an equally touching simplicity were his words as he was driven to the gallows: 'This is a beautiful country. I never had the pleasure of seeing it before'; and the phrase seems somehow to give a startling insight into the vivid and intense perception of a man who is opening his eyes upon the other world. A few hours later the eyes were closed to this, and John Brown had become a strange, great legendary figure in the complicated progress of humanity.
So died a typical incarnation of ideal, or fanatical, enthusiasm, a man absolutely convinced of the truth and justice of his own ideas of right and wrong, in certain points at any rate, and determined to impose them upon the world, by persuasion if possible, if not, by bloodshed, agony, and slaughter. He was a theorist, a reasoner, all the more rigorous in his theories because their scope was limited. You can see the rigor in the face, especially before it was bearded—in the set mouth, the cavernous eyes, the sturdy chin, the drawn brows and narrow forehead. There was a tremendous, indomitable stubbornness in the man. 'Let the grand reason, that one course is right and another wrong, be kept continually before your own mind.' He kept it always before his, and walked straight on, no matter whom his footsteps shattered.
To minds of a different type, reflective, curious, analytical, there is endless interest in studying such a temperament in weighing the good and evil of its working in the world -- good and evil to itself, good and evil to the vast body of its fellow beings. Let us trace out some of the ramifications of this as illustrated in the case of Brown.
First as to the evil, and the evil to the world at large. Such natures are intolerant; from their point of view they have the right to be so. They know what should be done and what should not. Paltry excuses, quibbling reserves, charitable allowances, what are they but devices of the Evil One, cunningly assorted to obscure the real issue between heaven and hell? 'I believe in the Golden Rule and the Declaration of Independence,' said Brown. 'I think they both mean the same thing; and it is better that a whole generation should pass off the face of the earth, — men, women, and children, — by a violent death, than that one jot of either should fail in this country. I mean exactly so, Sir.' He meant so, he acted so, he lived so.