John Brown's raid at Harpers Ferry and his eventual hanging by the state of Virginia sparked national unrest in 1859 as some proclaimed him a martyr for his fight against slavery while others painted him as a bloodthirsty lunatic. How is John Brown remembered today in present-day Harpers Ferry and what does his commemoration reveal about how memory of the Civil War era shapes our collective American identity?

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This Honors Thesis contributes to the theory of American Civil Religion proposed by sociologist Robert by exploring the commemoration of John Brown, the abolitionist, (d. 1859) at Harpers Ferry National Historic Park. Bellah In The Broken Covenant: American Civil Religion in Time of Trial, Bellah states, “Americans have interpreted their history as having religious meaning”. Like the children of Israel, Americans bind a covenant with their national identity. The American Civil Religion therefore is a religion that mobilizes a national identity. John Brown the abolitionist complicates the mobilization of the collective American identity as theorized by Bellah because his raid represented an attack on America and a distrust of the American constitution.



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