The number of men who came to Maryland with Brown several months before the attack numbered about eighteen, if I recall. From the many books written about Brown, try this one by Stephen B. Oates, To Purge This Land With Blood: A Biography of John Brown. Here are reviews --
Oates doesn't believe Brown to have been a mental case, nor do I. Along those lines, reviews written by Brown advocates are revealing. One writer states,
However, there is hardly any material about how disgusting slavery really was. There are good reasons that John Brown was violently opposed. Basically, Oates is trying to be "balanced." What that means is he is giving both sides of the argument, even when one of them has been proven to be self-evidently stronger. Slavery was wrong, and it died out, and good riddance to the Southerners who accepted and perpetuated it.
If you want to read about how nasty slavery really was, and I recommend that you do if you are open-minded about judging characters such as Brown, then you can start with some of the slave narratives, for example the narratives of Frederick Douglass and Mary Prince.
John Brown was one of the few people who doesn't just stand around and watch while injustices abound. He acts, and that is the reason that many cannot stand him. He is a profoundly moral person, and that is threatening to people who are not. They cannot understand that it is better to kill a thousand men then to let millions rot in slavery.
This writer helps me understand why so many people don't approve of 'fair and balanced' treatment of any given subject.
Returning to Brown, one of his primary supporters was Julia Ward Howe's husband, Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe. When Brown's attempt to overthrow the government failed and people began inquiring into his supporters, Dr. Howe decided to take the opportunity to visit Canada. In his youth Dr. Howe had helped Greek revolutionaries who resisted the Turks in the native mountains. He encouraged Brown about the ability of a small number of determined men to hold against many times their number in western Virginia.
Here's a quote from Oates --
All across the land the fence-sitters turned closer toward anti-slavery sentiments. A wave of sympathy for Brown had swept the land. Herman Melville called Brown a Meteor. Henry David Thoreau called Brown a crucified hero. Dozens of editors hailed him as a martyr, some called him a saint. The Song "John Brown's Body lies a smouldring in the grave" was put to a camp meeting song music by William Steffe. (That tune is still in circulation but as "Mine Eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord." Current words by Julia Ward Howe.) The "free-soil" Lincoln, equivocating, seemed to temporize, condemning Brown while making excuses (so it seemed) for slavery. Lincoln, inexplicably, seemed to want to keep both slave states and free states happy; rejecting Brown while calling slavery a moral but not political wrong.
This may help explain my earlier post about Lincoln being perceived as a moderate alternative for the Republican candidate in the election of 1860.
Will anyone try to argue that the American Civil War had nothing to do with John Brown and his attack on Harper's Ferry VA?