Eugene Debs’s Stirring, Never-Before-Published Eulogy to John Brown at Harpers Ferry

In a previously unpublished eulogy to John Brown from 1908, Eugene Debs proclaimed Brown the “greatest liberator this country has known” and declared that ”the Socialist Party is carrying on the work begun by John Brown.” We publish it here in full.

The Last Moments of John Brown by Thomas Hovenden, 1882–84. (Wally Gobetz / Flickr)

It is fitting that the Red Special should stop here and that we should do honor to John Brown. He was the greatest liberator this country has known. He dared the whole world and gave up his life for freedom. What more can a man do?

A few years I came and followed his steps from this spot all the way to Charles Town, where he was hanged. All the way he was the only calm person. Kindly, sweetly, and not even hating those who hounded him, he went his way.

Even members of the poor despised race for which he had done so much were taught to despise him and look upon him as something vile. On that bright, sunny morning when he was led upon the gallows, he smiled. “This is a beautiful country,” he said. “I had not seen it before.” He went to his death without fear, knowing his work was done.

As I stand here on this spot where he stood, I can see him as he stood here with a rifle in his hand, and his sons on the ground, one dead and the other dying. What a heroic figure he is as I see him.

Even today he is not appreciated. But as time goes on the fog that obscures the acts of great heroic men will be swept away, and he will stand as one of the most heroic figures in the world. Emerson has said: “The time will come when John Brown will have made the gallows as glorious as Jesus Christ made the cross.” The Socialist Party is carrying on the work begun by John Brown.