by Al Benson Jr.
Member, Board of Directors, Confederate Society of America
Franklin Benjamin Sanborn was probably the youngest member of the infamous Secret Six that supported and/or financed abolitionist/terrorist John Brown. Born in 1831, he entered Harvard College in 1852, graduating in 1855, a mere four years before the debacle at Harpers Ferry, Virginia.
He graduated seventh in his class, so he was no academic slouch and obviously did not spend his college time partying. While in college he became friendly with Ralph Waldo Emerson of Transcendentalist fame. As a result of that friendship, Emerson “engaged” Sanborn to start a small private school in Concord, Massachusetts, which Emerson’s children attended. According to http://mail.colonial.net others who had their children in Sanborn’s private school were Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry James, Horace Mann, and John Brown. An interesting mix! If you are like me you might be led to wonder why Horace Mann, the Unitarian promoter of public education, had his children in a private school at that point in time when he was so strongly tryin for force public education on everyone else via compulsory attendance. You might be led, had you a suspicious mind, why that compulsion for public education didn’t apply to his own kids. But I digress.
Franklin Sanborn was an author, journalist, “reformer” and a social scientist–one of that breed that has done such yeoman duty in the public schools–at the price of your kids’ historical knowledge.
He memorialized the Transcendentalist Movement, writing biographies of many of its leading lights. Not everyone was completely happy with his efforts, though they did applaud his agenda. The website http://www.alcott.net said of his work that: “Sanborn’s editions and histories, despite being marred by editorial inaccuracies and shabby scholarship, served well to keep Transcendentalist ideas alive and to translate the movement’s idealism into meaningful social action.” “Social action”–now there’s a loaded term, even today. Not totally a glowing recommendation!
Sanborn founded the American Social Science Association in 1865, as it was said, “to treat wisely the great social problems of the day.” Seems to me that social scientists are still doing the same thing today–and we are still beset with many of the same social problems, which they apparently haven’t solved. That being the case you have to question just how “effective” they have really been.
In 1856 Sanborn became the secretary of the Massachusetts Kansas Commission, also known as the Massachusetts Kansas Aid Committee and it’s believed that this is where he came into close contact with John Brown. At that point, he had been out of college for around a year and was seemingly quite awed with Brown. College students, even in our day, are often overawed by various revolutionary types who are introduced onto college campuses via more-than-willing college administrators and leftist professors.
At any rate, this committee Sanborn was the secretary of had been formed to get provisions, clothing, and arms to settlers in Kansas so they could supposedly “defend” themselves against incursions from pro-slavery people.
Samuel Gridley Howe testified before senate committee which investigated the Harpers Ferry raid that he “believed” that 200 Sharps rifles were committed to John Brown’s tender care, and probably some revolvers as well, all to be used in Kansas, and these had been the property of the committee. “Provisions” and clothing for the anti-slavery folks in Kansas–yeah, right! Of course it might depend on how you define “provisions.” What it amounted to was that these people in Massachusetts were sending assault weapons into Kansas to aid the likes of John Brown who were, supposedly “defending” the rights of free soil Kansans. Brown and his “army” “defended” those rights really effectively the night they hacked five pro-slavery people to death in front of their families. I wonder if there were any swords among the “provisions” this committee entrusted to Brown and his “army.”
J. C. Furnas in The Road to Harpers Ferry took note of Sanborn’s youth. Having checked out some of Sanborn’s biographical material, he noted that: “His biography of Dr. Howe is a solicitous panegyric sticky with the writer’s delight in having known such a man well. In later life he widely exploited having been neighbor and disciple of Emerson, Thoreau, and Alcott in Concord, where he set up a co-educational private school…to teach the children of ‘the more aristocratic portion of the community’.” Ahh, now we know why Horace Mann’s children went to Sanborn’s school–they were part of the “aristocratic portion” of the community–no public school drivel for them! That was (and is) for the common herd.
Although Sanborn is said not to have approved of the Harpers Ferry raid, he spent much paper and ink later on defending John Brown. According to http://www.wvculture.org “In the years after John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, Sanborn was one of Brown’s most dedicated defenders, and he wrote many articles on John Brown as well as the biography The Life and Letters of John Brown, Liberator of Kansas and Martyr of Virginia. The biography was first published in 1885. Furnas said of Sanborn’s work “And his successive writings about Old Brown are like what a devoted younger brother might have written about St. Paul or Judas Maccabeus.”
As stated earlier, Sanborn was no dumb bunny when it came to academics. By the time he was eight years old he had read the whole Bible and declared himself a Universalist. It would seem that apostasy came early for Sanborn. Furnas noted that “After maturing he shifted to the eccentric Unitarianism of Parker, Higginson, and James Freeman Clark–hot Abolitionists all.” Sounds like Sanborn slid from the frying pan into the fire!
He always looked to believe the best about John Brown and he held onto his loyalty to the old terrorist. And Furnas informed us that “His loyalty survived even the discovery forced on him by eventual new evidence, that Old Brown and some of his sons had lied in their teeth about their responsibility for the Pottawatomie Massacre.” So the wild delusions of the Leftists, then and now, blind them to the truth, and the only “truth” they can ever see is “their truth.”
Furnas said of him: “Sanborn was not the most trenchant of the Six…His record does not go beyond facile acceptance of the half-baked highmindedness of the time.” Furnas referred to him as a “well-intentioned Yankee.”
Unfortunately, he was the type of well-intentioned Yankee that, in the end, seemed to have no problem with the Marxist concept that the ends justifies the means. But that’s where most of these men were really at–they were an early type of Yankee Marxists.