America’s John Brown Moment

John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry in October 1859 shocked Americans. Some were horrified while others were disappointed. It was Brown’s execution on December 2, 1859, however, not the raid on Harpers Ferry, that changed American history. Only ten months after Brown’s death, Abraham Lincoln, the one-term congressman from Illinois who ardently opposed slavery, became president of the United States. 

Brown’s execution transformed him into a martyr and dramatically intensified anti-slavery sentiment in the North. The event compelled Americans on all sides to confront the questions: Who are we? What do we stand for? In 1861, Americans answered these questions with a war that defined America’s true priorities and fundamental beliefs.

The questions, then and now, are not political taglines for the shallow, posturing pundits on cable news or those numerous politicians in Washington, D.C. who constitute the “follower class.” Today, these questions are being raised anew because the answers are, at least, unclear..

Consider, for a moment, America’s borders.

Today, the borders of the United States are in chaos. Any American citizen in or out of military uniform who is still fixated on events in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Northeast Asia, Africa, or Europe is deluded. The life or death of the American republic is being decided along the Rio Grande, not in the Eastern Hemisphere.

With the operational reach to penetrate all of America’s major urban centers, human trafficking is now so profitable for the cartels that it has surpassed illegal drug trafficking as the number one money-maker. Although that scourge remains a serious problem. In 2020, the reach of the Mexican cartels ensured that drugs containing Fentanyl killed nearly a hundred thousand Americans.

Inside America’s cities, the rule of law is increasingly nonexistent. Horrific killings, rapes, assaults and vandalism constitute the “new normal” for American life. Money, capital, and people are leaving American cities in ever-increasing amounts and numbers.

Elected officials engage in “virtue signaling,” but money, and the rewards it brings, truly define the actions of most who sit in the House and the Senate. Major financial interests (and political donors) arguably perpetuated the global war on terror and destroyed the lives of American soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria. Meanwhile, the ruling class exported American manufacturing to China and a host of other developing states while securing the reelection and personal wealth of members of the Senate and the House.

It has reached a point in Washington, D.C. that whenever an elected representative mentions principles of any kind it’s always advisable to discover who paid for the announcement; and who ultimately is harmed. Chances are good that it’s probably an American worker.

Now, the last bastion of American national identity, the U.S. military, is under attack from within the United States. Will Americans embrace an armed forces defined by diversity, equity, and inclusion mandates or insist on a competent professional armed force with high standards? We might as well ask whether we would want to risk brain surgery under the knife of a neurosurgeon who was never board certified.

All of these developments cannot be viewed in isolation from the Biden Administration’s highly partisan $3.5 trillion climate and entitlement billlegislation that many observers fear could drag the nation into a financial meltdown and economic implosion worse than anything since the Great Depression. What should Americans do?

Well, we might begin by reaffirming the basic truths that are contained in the Pledge of Allegiance, and in the Ten Commandments, which most good men and women follow, whether they are churchgoers or not. Americans should also demand that the president and Congress care for the well-being of the American people, and not act in ways that harm the security and standard of living of Americans. But these things may not be enough.

Wolfgang von Goethe defined genius as knowing where to stop. At this point, there is no evidence for genius in the Biden Administration. The Administration is in a mad dash to transform America, whether most Americans care to be transformed or not.

The Biden Administration’s “take no prisoners” approach to policymaking is dangerous. Many Americans are now on the lookout for their own John Brown moment.

We don’t know when, or which specific issue from the laundry list of crises and disputes, will be the decisive moment. It’s impossible to anticipate precisely. But when it happens Americans will begin to answer the same basic questions: Who are we? What do we stand for? The outcome will be historic.

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About Douglas A. Macgregor

Douglas A. Macgregor is a retired U.S. Army colonel, author, and consultant.

Photo: Capture of John Brown in the engine house, Harpers Ferry, 1859. The Print Collector/Getty Images