THE SECRET SIX by Jr. Renehan


The True Tale of the Men Who Conspired with John Brown
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 A solid, balanced portrait of the radical fringe of New England abolitionists who bankrolled John Brown's ill-fated but pivotal raid at Harpers Ferry. Was Brown the righteous ``angel of light'' eulogized by Thoreau or a cold-blooded killer and petty thief? A shepherd leading slaves to freedom or an opportunistic wolf who fooled the age's leading intellectual lights? Renehan (John Burroughs: An American Naturalist, 1992) doesn't tackle the paradoxes of Brown's character head-on. Instead, he chronicles the maneuvers and schemes of the northern intelligentsia who supported ``Old Brown'' as he cobbled together a ragtag army to fight his holy war on slavery. Renehan remains steadfastly objective, eschewing interpretive speculation in deference to primary sources--most significantly, the large body of personal correspondence that survived despite the conspirators frequent injunctions to one another to ``burn this.'' Suspicion and self-preservation were characteristic of the six principals, who ran the gamut from impoverished ministers to millionaires. Renehan's evidence suggests the abolitionists, grown weary of finding a political solution to the slavery problem, backed Brown despite believing his plan suicidal, then abandoned him when their fears proved true. After the raid at Harpers Ferry, the six vacillated between outlandish rescue schemes (one called for kidnapping the governor of Virginia and ransoming him for the condemned Brown) and fleeing to Canada. Summoned to testify before Congress after Brown's execution, those who did show perjured themselves, denying involvement. While Renehan sheds little new light on the enigmatic Brown, he provides an important historical corrective regarding the events that helped precipitate the Civil War: Northern abolitionists, not the renegade Southern states, were the first true rebels in the battle over slavery. (23 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-517-59028-X
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1995


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