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Had Cook remained true to the cause, history would have remembered him as a hero.

John Brown's Spy : The Adventurous Life and Tragic Confession of John E. Cook

Steven Lubet is Williams Memorial Professor of Law at Northwestern University, a leading expert in the fields of trial advocacy and legal and judicial ethics, and the author of several books dealing with nineteenth-century criminal cases. He lives in Evanston, IL. Shop the books.

Skip to main content. Description Reviews Awards. Cook, a key coconspirator in the raid on Harpers Ferry An unforgettable story.

John Brown's Spy : Steven Lubet :

Girardi, Washington Independent Review of Books. The strongest segments pertain to the legal analyses and narration of events…. By Steven Lubet. New Haven: Yale University Press, Twenty-two paths led a diverse band of abolitionists to Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in October One path conducted a grim-faced patriarch named John Brown.

The other twenty-one did not.

Civil War History

Most studies of Harpers Ferry place Brown under the microscope, focusing on important but well-worn debates about his faith, strategy, or sanity. With Brown in our peripheral vision, however, other aspects of the raid and its ramifications come into clearer view. Born in Connecticut in , he embodied the restless, romantic spirit of the era.


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After dropping out of Yale, Cook drifted between New York and Philadelphia, devoting more time to marksmanship, poetry, and ladies than to a career. Indeed, Cook—with his fondness for Sir Walter Scott and penchant for violence—strikingly resembles southern contemporaries who dreamed of Caribbean imperialism and Confederate independence.

Brown, the taciturn, unyielding patriarch, and Cook, the loquacious libertine, were a study in opposites. Nevertheless, Brown entrusted Cook with more details of his plan than anyone else and in mid dispatched Cook to Harpers Ferry to collect intelligence. Plymouth Congregational was, for its time, an excellent choice for a young lawyer. The congregation was large, politically and socially prominent; their pastor, Henry Ward Beecher, brought celebrity to his church.

Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Charles Sumner, Sojourner Truth, among others, graced the pulpit of Plymouth Church, exhorting parishioners of the evils of slavery and their Christian duty to help end the institution. He cut short his legal career in and headed west to Kansas.

The Adventurous Life and Tragic Confession of John E. Cook

His actions stunned and enraged his parents. His father called him self-willed and wayward; his mother begged and pleaded. Cook made his mind up and no one could talk him out of his decision to become a free state militiaman, known in Kansas as a Jayhawker.

By Anuk Arudpragasam

Cook arrived after the most violent episode perpetrated by John Brown and his band, the Pottawattamie Massacre, but nevertheless joined in violent raids, particularly one against the Carver family. While willing to use violence in the pursuit of human freedom, Brown remained rigidly principled in his personal conduct.


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A strict Calvinist, Brown hoped to not only create a free society in the South, but a righteous one as well. He drew up a provisional free constitution for Virginia, which included legal codifications of decent behavior.