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  • on october 16, 1859, a wild-eyed abolitionist named john brown led a small band of men in a raid on a federal arsenal at harpers ferry, west virginia. brown, who had fought against pro-slavers in kansas a few years earlier, planned to use the arsenal's weapons to arm a great slave rebellion. the raid was quickly stopped by the army and militia under colonel robert e. lee. brown and six others were tried, convicted, and executed. many northerners, while horrified by the violence, considered brown a martyr to the cause of freedom. southerners were worried because they feared the event was a sign that abolitionists were taking control of the north.