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It was October of 1859 when the fateful event of John Brown’s raid of Harpers Ferry took place, turning a politically tense nation into one of mutual distrust, fear, and misunderstanding. The attack on federal property with the intention to create an armed, violent insurrection alarmed the nation.

Since its founding, the country had often engaged in heated, intense, and even personal political feuds. Citizens need only think of the battles between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, or that of Andrew Jackson and central banker Nicholas Biddle, for reminders of how pressurized these contests of wills and intellects could be. However, at the end of the day, despite who “won or lost,” Americans viewed it as a natural, healthy part of the political discourse and an organic process of national growth.

Brown’s raid, however, was far from that — it was an avocation of violence, of blood, and an assault on the peaceful institutions of their Founders they so revered. A tumultuous election followed by a bloody civil war ensued, hundreds of thousands of lives were lost, cities were razed to the ground, and citizens of all regions of the country were faced with the question of whether such catastrophe could have been avoided. Regardless, post-1865 America was reunified, the ancient evil of slavery had been rectified, and Americans could be American — not Unionist or Confederates — once again. This reunification lasted for nearly a century and a half — until the country seemed to witness another outbreak of John Brown–style rage across its cities beginning in the summer of 2020.

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