In 1837, slavery supporters murdered the editor of an abolitionist newspaper in Illinois. This event sparked protest meetings across the North. Brown attended one of the meetings and dedicated himself to the abolition of slavery. "Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, I consecrate [declare sacred] my life to the destruction of slavery," he stated. By the mid-1840s, Brown lived in Springfield, Massachusetts, and worked in the wool business. During this time he met Frederick Douglass (18187-1895,• see entry), an escaped slave who became a well-known abolitionist speaker and writer. He also organized a group of men called the League of Gileadites to protect fugitive slaves from being returned to their masters in the South.
In 1849, Brown moved his family to North Elba, New York, to join an experimental mixed-race farming community. A wealthy abolitionist had set up the community in order to prove that blacks and whites could live together peacefully. The following year, the U.S. Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act. This measure granted slaveowners sweeping new powers to capture and reclaim escaped slaves. It also required people in the North to assist the slaveowners in retrieving their property.
Many Northerners resented the Fugitive Slave Act. They were able to ignore slavery when it was confined to the South, but not when they saw black people being tracked down like animals and carried off in chains within their own cities. The Fugitive Slave Act ended up increasing the anti-slavery and anti-Southern feelings of many people in the North. Brown felt that the Fugitive Slave Act justified the use of violence in the fight against slavery. He began criticizing abolitionist groups for being too passive. He grew determined to take action.
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