Skip to main content

John Brown and Abraham Lincoln: The Zealot and the Emancipator

This program is over. Hope you didn't miss it!

John Brown and Abraham Lincoln: The Zealot and the Emancipator

Daytime Program

Noon Lecture/Seminar

Friday, November 20, 2020 - 12:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. ET
Code: 1L0359
This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.
Select your Registration
Powered by Zoom


  • This program is part of our Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.
  • Platform: Zoom
  • Online registration is required.
  • If you register multiple individuals, you will be asked to supply individual names and email addresses so they can receive a Zoom link email. Please note that if there is a change in program schedule or a cancellation, we will notify you via email, and it will be your responsibility to notify other registrants in your group.

In the mid-19th century, although abolitionists had been working peacefully to end slavery for decades, the most they had achieved was containing its spread in the expanding republic. Then in 1854, the Kansas–Nebraska Act reversed even that, opening two new states to slavery.

New Englander John Brown was a charismatic and deeply religious man who heard the God of the Old Testament speaking to him, telling him to destroy slavery by any means—including the sword. Meanwhile in Illinois, Abraham Lincoln was an ambitious lawyer and failed politician who believed that slavery, while surely a sin, was guaranteed in the Constitution. The only way to fight it was by political means.

Drawing on his new book The Zealot and the Emancipator, historian H.W. Brands offers a dual portrait of Brown and Lincoln as men with profoundly different views on how moral people must respond to our democracy’s most extreme injustice: by incremental change or by radical upheaval? He also examines how that historical reckoning finds relevance in today’s political climate.

Brands holds the Jack S. Blanton Sr. chair in history at the University of Texas at Austin. He has written more than a dozen biographies and histories, two of which, The First American and Traitor to His Class, were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize.

Copies of The Zealot and the Emancipator (Doubleday) are available for purchase.

Book Sale Information


Listen to H.W. Brands’ interview on the Not Old Better podcast with host Paul Vogelzang.

Patron Information

  • Once registered, patrons should receive an automatic email confirmation from
  • Separate Zoom link information will be emailed closer to the date of the program. If you do not receive your Zoom link information 24 hours prior to the start of the program, please email Customer Service for assistance.
  • View Common FAQs about our Streaming Programs on Zoom.